Best practice for fire safety in public buildings

The FID looks at best practice for fire safety in public buildings for this year...

Like everything in life, fire safety starts with a plan. With careful planning and by sticking to the plan, you can ensure that the objectives will be met. The first place to start when looking at an existing building is the fire risk assessment. Is it up to date? Does it need reviewing? Are there any outstanding actions from the previous fire risk assessment? By ensuring that the actions or recommendations identified in the fire risk assessment have been implemented, you can reassure yourself that nothing has been missed.

One of the simplest and most cost-effective methods of improving fire safety is “housekeeping”. A key step to fire prevention is general tidiness around the workplace. Store all tools, equipment and materials away securely. Dispose of all waste properly into a designated bin store, eliminating a build-up of potentially flammable materials. Walkways and corridors must be kept clear of any debris as this could cause a trip hazard to those escaping in an emergency. By keeping the building organised and clean and tidy, you can reduce the likelihood of a fire starting and growing.

If you are responsible for fire safety within a building, here are some aspects you should consider:

Fire detection and fire alarms

A fire detection and fire alarm system, when installed and maintained correctly, is an essential part of fire safety that can provide an early warning of fire within the building. Enabling people to evacuate the building in a safe manner as quickly as possible. The quantity and placement of smoke, heat and other types of fire detector throughout the building, is based on a category of system defined within BS 5839-1, the code of practice for fire detection and fire alarm systems in non-domestic premises.

The fire risk assessment should confirm that the existing fire warning system is suitable and sufficient, and if deemed not to be, it should provide guidance on which category of system would be necessary.

Portable fire extinguishers

Portable fire extinguishers are a simple but effective means of tackling small fires and preventing them from growing into large fires which can do serious damage to a building. It is important the correct portable fire extinguishers are provided in sufficient numbers for the appropriate risk, as not all portable fire extinguishers are suitable for every fire.

It is also important that the portable fire extinguishers are regularly maintained and kept in good condition. Portable fire extinguishers are rarely used in a well-managed building but if they are required to be used, it is critical that they operate correctly. Without regular maintenance and training of people on how to use them, their usefulness can be diminished.

Evacuation plan, emergency exits, fire drills

It’s important that all emergency exits are kept clear of obstructions, enabling them to be used at all material times, and they should not be locked when there are people in the building. Emergency lighting should be provided on all the escape routes. This will need to be regularly tested. To ensure that if there is a power cut, people can still navigate their way to the emergency exits and away from the building. In the context of emergency preparedness, a fire drill is a practice run of the evacuation procedure in case of a fire emergency. This exercise should be conducted routinely to ensure that all employees are familiar with the evacuation procedures and are able to evacuate the building safely and quickly.

Fire evacuation training is an essential aspect of workplace safety. The UK government mandates that employers must have a fire safety and evacuation plan in place. The plan should include a clear passageway to all escape routes, clearly marked escape routes that are as short and direct as possible, enough exits and routes for all people to escape, emergency doors that open easily, emergency lighting where needed, training for all employees to know and use the escape routes, and a safe meeting point for staff.

When you are carrying out fire drills. It is good practice to block off the normal regularly used entrance to the building. This will force people, to use the alternative means of escape, which might not be the one that they regularly use. A rear stairway and fire exit for example. It is the nature of people to use the things that they are familiar with. In an emergency, the normal regularly used exit might not be available because it might be blocked by fire.

By training people to look for alternative means of escape, it can aid them in a real fire situation and avoid confusion if their normal way of egressing the building is not available.

RACE is a simple four-step fire plan for people to remember. It is often used as a training tool to call on in emergency situations. There are four steps; rescue anyone in immediate danger; alarm or alert others and call the fire and rescue service; contain the fire by closing doors and windows; extinguish the fire if possible, using portable fire extinguishers, but only if it is safe to do so.

It’s important to ensure that your team is trained in how to use portable fire extinguishers and that they are instructed to carry out your fire plan in the form of fire drills or simulations, including when there are visitors to the premises.

Electrical safety

When it comes to electrical safety with a fire perspective. Building occupants need to make sure that electrical sockets are not overloaded and that if extension leads are used, their leads are not left trailing, creating a trip hazard, and that they too are not overloaded. The use of portable heaters, especially fan heaters, should be discouraged. When a fan heater is blocked it can easily overheat and start a fire. Even storing combustible materials near heaters could present a risk of fire. Therefore, good housekeeping needs to be adopted to reduce the likelihood of this happening.

Portable appliance testing for appliances used within the building is essential to ensure that they are electrically safe to use, in good condition and not likely to start the fire.

These tips are general guidelines for fire safety in public buildings. For more specific information about fire safety regulations in your area, you may want to consult with a local fire and rescue service or other relevant authority.

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