So the fire alarm has just sounded in your premises. On your way out you pass a man in a wheelchair. He needs help but you are not sure what to do?
Well, preparation is the key with planning at the forefront! There are a few things you need to consider first;
Do the public have access to the building? If they do, will they be escorted or left on their own?
Have you checked with your own staff if they need assistance?
So think about your plan in phases and plan for;
Staff or visitors that you know have a disability.
People in your business that clearly have a disability (wheelchair, broken leg etc)
Lastly, plan for those without an obvious disability (eyesight/hearing problems etc)
It is worth noting that disability covers a large range of conditions not all of which are obvious.
If a staff member declares that they have a disability you must make a plan to assist in their evacuation. You do not need to know exactly what the condition is but you need to know the general problem (mobility issue/cant hear the fire alarm/eye sight etc)
The easiest plan is to sit down with your employee and discuss what help they need to get them out.
These plans are called a PEEP (personal emergency evacuation plan)
Now you plan for those you don’t know have an issue. During the evacuation, you must complete a sweep to ensure everyone is out. This includes the disabled refuge points (more on these later), on each floor. The evacuation plan must include a process of notification of someone in a disabled refuge point, whether through two-way comms or fire marshalls sweeping through.
On meeting someone at a refuge point you must assist where necessary. This may include the use of an evac chair, just holding their arm and supporting or someone who is elderly and needs more time.
If the fire service arrives, they need to be informed that the evacuation is ongoing.
The disabled refuge point; now more built-in design to new buildings and rare in older buildings, these areas provide a safe place to wait until assistance arrives. New buildings will have a two-way comms box and a sign (N9) informing you of how long you may have to wait. Don’t panic is you see 10+ mins as you should be in a fire protected stairwell giving you 1 hour + of safety. These newer buildings generally have a wheelchair size area to wait and will not hinder evacuation of the main body of people.
Older buildings are more difficult to assign a refuge point due to their design and lack of fire safety design. But that is not to say that it is impossible to add these into your business! The use of a toilet or other low-risk
There are many benefits of fire risk assessment and management, and I regularly come across businesses across Belfast and further afield that have not taken any measures to protect their business or property from a fire!
One of the reoccurring reasons is the lack of the knowledge of the requirements in NI fire safety legislation. The need to comply with legislation and the need to complete a fire risk assessment are important in terms of legal requirements and every employer / landlord should do these as a matter of routine.
But the benefits if a positive attitude towards fire safety can benefit the business and employees in a number of ways!
So firstly is a positive fire safety culture. This can be seen by the employees during the fire risk management from testing fire alarms and emergency lighting to them seeing the extinguisher engineer in completing the annual maintenance. Staff will see their welfare being considered and protected by the employer.
Also to be considered is what a well-trained employee can do during a fire. Staff who have completed a fire training course will be more likely to use an extinguisher, therefore, saving lives by increasing evacuation times and limiting damage to the business!
A business with good fire safety management is less likely to suffer from a fire and the subsequent closure, lost production, personal injury claims and lost stock
If your business is badly damaged or destroyed in a fire, could you cope financially to reopen and pay the employees wages during the rebuilding?
If your insurance company can see that you as an employer were proactive in term of safety management, they are more likely to pay in full for the insurance claim!
This definitely suggests that prevention is better than the outcome!
Make sure your fire risk assessment is up to date and that you are completing the required tests and keeping records!!
Is the”stay put” policy for fires in high rise buildings still relevant?
The fires in Grenfell tower in London earlier this year and the high rise fire in Dunmurry Belfast last week (https://www.nifrs.org/fire-coolmoyne-house-dunmurry-belfast/) have brought about a discussion on whether occupants should evacuate or stay in their apartment, questioning the whole “stay put” policy!
This depends on a number of considerations. Firstly, what does the fire risk assessment say? Has the assessment stated whether the policy is still good or this building or has the assessor stated an evacuation is required upon activation of the fire alarm?
Who is in the building? Can they all self-evacuate? Persons who may have mobility issues may need to stay put or move to an after area as is currently the practice when fire alarm activate in hospitals.
What is the main risk of starting a fire in the common area (the escape route)? This area should be kept sterile for electrical items, rubbish and storage to limit fuel for the fire.
The need to keep fire doors and walls in a good condition is important to withhold smoke and fire for as long a possible. Damaged doors and walls with holes (or around pipes) with allow smoke to travel long distances from the fire, endangering occupants.
Fire alarms are not specifically required in the common area but if installed the occupants can be given the maximum time to escape if the stay put policy isn’t applied. The alarm can also alert someone to contact the fire service an early stage.
The recent talk on sprinklers needs to have some clarity. Sprinklers extinguish a fire at an early stage and will not cope with a major fire. These need to be used in conjunction with the fire doors, walls and alarms as a fire safety strategy rather than a one solution fits all!
So, should occupants stay put? I recommend that if all the systems, fire doors and compartmentation is working correctly, then yes the policy still works. Check the fire risk assessment for further details or ask the landlord or block management company
If you have disabled /mobility impaired staff or members of the public in your business, a disabled refuge will be required.
There are quite a few rules and regulations relating to where the refuge can be located but this needs to consider within the fire risk assessment for the building. The easiest way to accommodate mobility impaired users is to ask them what they need help with, what they can do themselves and what they cant!
If your business is part of a multi-tenant building the refuge points need to be accessible to all users (not just your staff or customers). Completing fire evacuation drills to include the trial of the disabled evacuation procedures. If you don’t do this, you won’t know if it works! This will allow for improvements to be made with all stakeholders.
The fire risk management of the building is also very important to ensure the two-way communication, evacuation chair etc are all maintained in line with requirements.
The refuge will always be in either a fire protected stairwell or in an adjoining lobby. This will enable the evacuation of the staff to clear prior to clearing the mobility impaired staff.
Health screening should be completed with the staff to ensure you as a business owner know who needs that assistance.
The photo attached shows an ongoing maintenance plan of works which has affected the disabled refuge point. If the fire risk management is being carried out, this would not have happened!
It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that all the staff, customers and visitors can be evacuated from the building, but remember that the local fire and rescue service cannot be used as part of the plan!
Not sure? Give us a call to discuss