When the fire drill sounds at your place of work and people start filling out the building and lining up outside, you want this process to be as calm but also as efficient as possible. Once everyone is safely congregated beneath the muster point sign, then you know the evacuation has been a success. Successfully pull it off once or twice with a drill, and you can have a great deal of peace of mind that, should the worst happen, everyone knows what to do, where to go, and the proper way of getting there. However, unless you do work a few fire drills into your company’s calendar, you could be falling foul of the law.
The vital importance of fire escape plans can really be seen when you consider what the dangers are when a fire breaks out. For sure, the biggest danger is the fire itself, but it is actually not the only one. Although “don’t panic” is probably one of the cardinal rules of fire safety, the truth of the matter is that you can never actually fully avoid panic.
If a fire breaks out and people are moving in an orderly fashion towards the designated exits, then great, but they will not be calm. Furthermore, if the fire is at all within proximity, then they will be running. Herein lies some further dangers of fires that are not often acknowledged by safety experts – panic and chaos can often be just as deadly as the fire itself. Moreover, depending on how many people are present within a place of work, the potential dangers of panic and chaos could be very great indeed.
So a workable fire safety plan that takes the specifics of the location into account and is also regularly rehearsed is pretty much essential. It is also a legal requirement too, and you will face consequences if you do not check these boxes.
The Legal Dimension
Before getting on to some tips about how to fine-tune your fire safety plan and account for any extra dangers, it is worth mentioning what you need to do to stay on the right side of the law. The good thing about toeing this particular line is that it will give you a place to start by providing a clear set of requirements which you can later optimize for your specific place of work. So, what is required?
In the UK, you come under strict fire safety legal requirements if the building you are responsible for is at all open to the public. In practice, this really only means that private residencies are free of these legal requirements. The moment you are responsible for anybody else besides your immediate family, the law steps in.
Perhaps thankfully for those of us who are not experts on fire safety (and let’s face it, how many business owners and/or managers actually are?) is that the law does not require you to memorise all the specifics of creating a workable fire safety plan. Instead, it requires that you carry out an official fire safety risk assessment and then keep it up to date thereafter. These must be carried out fairly regularly, and the risk assessor will then provide you with advice and instructions.
Generally speaking, the advice given out by fire safety assessors doesn’t vary much from public building to public building. You will be required to the remove hazards, keep sources of ignition and flammable substances apart, and provide the correct fire safety infrastructure to tackle fires as and when they break out.
Another thing you will be required to do is to set up a fire safety plan, but what does this involve? Again, you will be provided with advice, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a bit of knowledge of what a top fire evacuation plan looks like.
Tips for Creating a Fire Evacuation Plan
The best way then to convey just what a good fire escape plan will look like is to provide all the pointers that are typically given out by fire safety risk assessors so business owners and managers can create one for their place of work. Here follows some of those general tips, although do keep in mind that providing top fire safety will also involve close deference to some of the more specific structural aspects of the building where the fire evacuation plan is to be implemented.
Keeping in mind that you should always defer to official advice, here follows some top tips. And remember, there is nothing wrong with going above and beyond where safety is concerned.
Imagine Various Scenarios
If you plan for the worst, you cannot be better prepared, and you will know what to do when/if the worst happens. Take a look at the layout of your building and figure out what fire hazards there are and where they are located. To take a simple example, if there is a kitchen (always a fire hotspot) located right next an exit, then that exit probably isn’t the best one to use for your main exit, so you should put the congregation point anywhere near here.
In general, you should think where fires are most likely to start and then place infrastructure such as fire doors around this area. When it comes to mapping out the evacuation route, make sure it skirts around these hotspots of danger while also making sure that it doesn’t become long and convoluted.
Establish Roles and Responsibilities
A leader is always needed in a crisis and, if a fire breaks out, it is a great idea to have some specially trained staff occupying certain roles. For example, you are going to need someone to do a headcount while everybody is at the muster point; you are going to need a floor monitor to cover every part of the building, be the last one out and make sure that the area is clear before leaving. Think about everything that needs to be done and give certain staff special training to cover these roles.
Educate Your Workforce
But it is not only those who will be fulfilling certain specialised roles during the evacuation that you should train and teach what to do in the event of a fire. It is important that everybody knows where to go and what to do when the alarm sounds. Depending on the size of the building, this could mean different things to different people, even if they all end up at the same point. For training of this kind, you can limit the time taken to less than a day, but you need to make sure you do it. And you will also need to make sure that newer recruits are up to speed.
Such is the way you plan properly for fire evacuation. It is very much in your interests – from a legal but also moral standpoint – to take the time to do this. And the experts will always be there to help you.