Fire safety tips for your business before and during a firefighters‘ strike

Please note that this cannot be a definitive list of all of the points that you may need to consider because all businesses and premises are different, as are the people within them.

What you should do

  • Make sure that you think about all of your premises which are located in areas affected by a strike.
  • If you are a building contractor, don’t forget contract sites for which you are responsible, particularly where the building under construction is not secure or if timber frames are exposed.
  • It is most important that the relevant persons legally responsible for fire safety ensure that competent persons review the fire safety risk assessments for each premises and make suitable emergency arrangements for strike periods based on those re-assessments and any relevant current government and fire and rescue service advice which may be in force at the time.
  • Please ensure everyone understands that, even during strike periods, in the event of a fire, a 999 call to the fire and rescue service should still be made in the usual way. You will not know what response you will get, if any, but you should make the call anyway.
  • Voice calls should also be made via the 999 system in addition to any automatic signals (e.g. from your fire alarm systems) in order to ensure that the fire and rescue service have all of the information needed to give the call the priority that it deserves.

Risk Assessment Review

  • Make sure that a fire safety risk assessment has been completed by a competent person and that this assessment is up-to-date.
  • If the Dangerous Substances & Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) applies to your business and premises also make sure that you have had a DSEAR risk assessment completed by a competent person and that this assessment is up-to-date.
  • Have these assessments reviewed by the (or another) competent person, in the light of the proposed strike, so that they can tell you, as a matter of urgency, what additional precautions, or other changes, may need to be taken for the period of the strike(s).
  • Make sure that the review includes the emergency procedures and arrangements, and what measures you have in place to ensure that all persons have reached a place of safety in the event of a fire. Don’t forget that you may need to put into place additional measures (a) to ensure that disabled and other vulnerable persons reach safety and (b) to help persons who are monitoring the evacuation know that the evacuation has been completed by everyone.
  • Ensure fire alarms are tested immediately before any strike periods.
  • If additional equipment needs to be purchased or rented, make sure that you allow sufficient time for this to be done.
  • Don’t forget any additional training that you may need to provide as a consequence and keep a record of this. Get your employees to sign for the training they receive.
  • Carry out a routine normal fire drill prior to any strike. Assess how well the evacuation went and put any lessons learned to good use.
  • Some healthcare and residential care home premises normally use staged progressive horizontal evacuation of patients in the event of a fire but this arrangement relies upon the early intervention of the fire and rescue service. The person(s) who reviews your fire safety risk assessment should consider what additional evacuation arrangements need to be made if the normal fire service response cannot be guaranteed and what additional resources (human and otherwise) this will require. For example, some healthcare premises, at night, have only a minimal number of staff. The assessor may decide that this number is not sufficient on strike days.
  • If the assessments and reviews identify work that needs to be done or repairs that need to be completed (including to security systems), ensure that you have robust arrangements to make sure that the work is actually carried out and with the right degree of urgency.

Business Continuity Plan Review

  • Make sure that you have a suitable Business Continuity Plan and that it is up-to-date with copies held off-site by relevant persons.
  • If you have made copies of vital computer data but only keep them in one building (even if within a fire-resisting safe or cabinet), consider making a further copy and keeping this in a suitable secure place away from the premises. Fire-resistant safes generally only provide a short period of fire protection. A serious fire in a commercial premises can last for many hours and even days.

Playing it Even Safer During a Strike!

  • Maintenance and repair work which involves “hot work” e.g. work which involves flames, sparks or the application of heat, such as welding, grinding, soldering, brazing, use of heated tar boilers (for roofing work) etc can significantly increase the chance of a fire occurring. If at all possible try and avoid having such work carried out in the hours immediately prior to, and during, a strike period. Where possible reschedule non-urgent work, at your premises, by contractors, so as to avoid strike periods.
  • Some manufacturing processes have an inherent increased risk of fire. Where these are routinely carried out every working day it may not be possible to avoid them, however where such processes occur only periodically, consider whether they can safely be scheduled for non-strike days. Where they cannot be re-scheduled consider the extra precautions you might safely take to reduce the chance of a fire.
  • For the same reasons, where possible, avoid leaving manufacturing machines operating during periods when the premises are unattended. Where this is unavoidable, have an appropriate competent person assess what fire safety and automatic fire protection is provided to the machine or is needed. If you need advice on possible temporary forms of fire protection then please let us know. If you are leaving machines operating unattended make sure that you have told your insurance broker about this.
  • During strike periods it may be prudent, where possible, to avoid holding meetings, conferences or extraordinary events where this involves a large number of people assembling in one building, especially if this will mean them sleeping there also.
  • Avoid having any servicing work undertaken on security, fire safety/fire protection, explosion protection and other safety systems which might cause it to be out-of-action (or in any way impaired) in the hours immediately prior to, and during, a strike.
  • If your premises include any commercial kitchens or commercial cooking areas, make sure that any associated extract ducting is clean inside and free of an accumulation of grease, as this may help a fire to spread. If necessary arrange for additional cleaning of the ducting, extraction hood, grease traps etc over and above what is usually planned.
  • Don’t overload electrical sockets and extension leads.

Waste Materials and Arson Prevention

  • A large proportion of fires in commercial premises and on contract sites are believed to be started deliberately by children, vandals or malicious persons. Combustible items (including waste bins and skips, pallets, crates etc) outside of a building are often set alight. Avoid having combustibles outside of your premises, particularly when the premises are unattended. Where this is not possible try to keep the amount of combustibles as small as possible and secure them away from buildings, fuel and gas tanks, flammables stores etc.
  • If your business produces combustible waste which is periodically removed, try to have the waste removed prior to a strike, so that the amount at your premises is at as low a level as possible.
  • Do not allow any bonfires at any time.
  • Try and keep your premises as clean and tidy as possible at all times but particularly during strike periods.

Employee Cooperation

  • Encourage your employees to report to management anything which may increase the chance of a fire occurring or which affects life safety, fire safety or which may reduce premises security.

Site Security and ‘End-of-day’ Procedures

  • Review your site security arrangements. Consider where additional/temporary security precautions are needed for strike periods e.g. additional security guards, more frequent patrols, temporary CCTV cameras or temporary external movement detectors for yard areas etc. Where there are outstanding repairs for security systems ensure that they are completed as soon as possible.
  • Where your premises are left unattended at night and/or weekends, or at other times, make sure that you have suitable safe and effective arrangements in place to ensure that the premises is thoroughly checked before being locked up and are left in a safe and secure state. Don’t forget any outbuildings that you may have and particularly vital ones such as sprinkler system pump houses and vulnerable ones such as construction sites.
  • Avoid one person locking up on their own. Discourage persons who can safely use stairs from using a passenger lift within the building after the lift service company’s normal working hours (in case they get stuck in the lift after hours).
  • Check what arrangements you have in place for people stuck in a lift to get help during a strike period. Ensure that this has been covered by your health and safety risk assessment review.
  • Before the premises are closed-up, turn-off electrical equipment where it is safe, sensible and practical to do so, other than equipment essential for fire / security / safety systems. Have such items included on a end-of-day checklist used by the persons who will be locking up.

Fire Doors and Escape Routes

  • Ensure that all fire exit doors and fire escape routes are free from obstruction and are not being used for storage (particularly combustible items). Include this check on the end-of-day checklist so that you will know that the premises are safe to use on the next working day but also carry out additional checks during the day as well. Make sure that emergency lights (where provided) are functioning.
  • Do not allow internal fire resisting doors to be wedged open. Make sure that access doors serving any vertical service shafts are kept properly closed.
  • Check internal fire resisting doors at least weekly to ensure that they are functioning properly and are free from damage.
  • Where your premises have internal automatic closing fire shutters/doors (designed to delay the spread of a fire from one part to another) consider (if it is safe to do so) closing these at times when the premises are to be left unattended.

Sprinkler Systems and Fire fighting Equipment

  • If you have an automatic sprinkler system for fire protection purposes then it is most important to ensure that it is in full working order and that all of the necessary spare parts, (including spare sprinkler heads) that you need to keep, are provided at your premises. If you are not sure then speak to the company who maintain the system for you. If you have diesel engine driven pump(s), don’t forget to check that you have a full quantity of diesel oil for it. You will find details of the special precautions, to be taken during any periods of impairment to the sprinkler system, on the Allianz sprinkler system test card.
  • Routine non-urgent servicing of a sprinkler system which has been arranged for a strike period should be rearranged for another day.
  • Make sure that sprinkler isolation and drain valves which need to be chained and padlocked in their normal operating position are so secured.
  • Check that all of the fire extinguishers, which your fire safety risk assessment says should be provided, are in place, their pressure gauges show them to be okay and they have been serviced within the last 12 months.
  • Consider providing your employees with appropriate refresher training on your fire safety arrangements, including fire extinguishers. Make it clear that, if they are considering trying to extinguish a small fire, and are competent to do so, they should not, in doing so, put their own lives at risk. They must also ensure that they can, at all times, safely exit from the fire.

Further Information

Government information can normally be found at www.gov.uk. You should also check the website for the fire and rescue service in whose area your premises are located.

What to do next

If you would like more information regarding risk management please call our insurance experts today.

Call 01789 761660

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