Fire Safety Advice

Weekly fire tests and evacuation drills for crowded places

As Fire Risk Assessors one of the most common non-compliances with fire safety legislation we find is lack of weekly testing and evacuation drills. This in the average workplace is easy to address and implement swiftly.

However in large buildings that entertain vast numbers of the public (such as hotels or shopping centres) then implementation is not so straight forward. How do you carry out weekly tests and evacuation drills without causing mass panic and economically penalising the business (e.g. if a shopping centre evacuated everybody how many would actually bother to return).

But safety of life must come first and a practicable solution must be sought. Good information and regular, expected regimes of testing would help.

But there are perhaps some tools out there that can help implement systems in public places and crowded spaces, one such example is Alert Innovation’s Shop Alert – Muster Point App which can integrate tests, drills and emergency evacuations.

It is true that regular tests and drills are more challenging in public places but are they not even more important in such an arena?

fire alarm design often undervalued

When it comes to fire alarm design it is amazing how many trades, professions and professionals just don’t get it. Firstly there is the misconception that the designer will choose the category of the system – Wrong! It’s not their job. The choice of system category is ultimately that of ‘the responsible person’. They may have help and guidance from other stakeholders e.g. fire risk assessor or insurer. Occasionally they will be given a category by an enforcing authority such as the Fire Brigade or Building Control. Once the category has been chosen it is the job of the designer to ensure the specification meets the category entirely.
Being the official designer brings a lot of legal responsibility. A person remains ‘the designer’ in perpetuity (unless wholesale changes or re-design takes place) even if a different maintaining company takes over the system in the future. Therefore a designer will not cut corners. In a commercial, competitive environment ultimately they will provide a design to your specification but the category on the certificate will reflect that. Indeed if the design meets no specific category this too will be noted on the design certificate.
Many building contractors give designers a schematic with devices already in position. However they often don’t quite realise this means legally they are now the official designer. A fire-alarm designer will be completely unwilling to certificate somebody else’s poor design, and why should they? Many architects, consultants, builders and electrical contractors completely misunderstand and underestimate the design process. It involves understanding detectors, coverage patterns and spacing. They need to know how different structures, particularly ceilings, affect detector coverage and spacing. They have to understand how to incorporate loop calculations, battery calculations control-panel design software etc. etc.
Often it is at the end of a contract when the trouble starts. This when the Fire Authority, or more likely building control, will require all the correct certification before they sign the building off. Often because nobody understood or perhaps were unwilling to pay for the design element problems now ensue. A finished building, a Building Control official who won’t sign it off and a designer who won’t certificate someone else’s poor design.
The design process can take days and cost hundreds of pounds and all too often this is not factored in. However skimping on design can be very costly in the long run.

For UK businesses what legally represents ‘Fire Extinguisher Training’?

 
Fire extinguisher demonstration
 
 

 

What is clear under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 is that when you provide extinguishers for your staff then they must be trained to use them. Training must take place on induction to the company and at regular intervals thereafter.
This is one of the most frequently non-compliant areas of fire-safety legislation for the vast majority of British businesses. The problems are obvious:

1 - It is logistically difficult to organise a large group of staff to take part in practical extinguisher training.

2 - It is cost restrictive (anywhere from £30 - £120 per head).

3 - Organising practical training for one person (on induction) is even more costly and many trainers have a minimum number of trainees before they will offer their services.

The alternative of a fire-extinguisher training DVD therefore seems more practical. It is certainly more cost effective and much easier to deliver to groups and more particularly single inductees.
Obviously it does not hold the currency of physical hands-on training but compared to what most companies settle for ‘Nothing’ – it is perhaps the best alternative. Factor into this also the ability to get most fire-extinguisher servicing companies to deliver ad hoc and free training when extinguishers are due a discharge / extended service and as a whole this becomes quite a reasonable approach.
So far so good eh? – However simply playing a training DVD would be most unlikely to pass for ‘training’ in a court of law. The trainees could have chosen to watch it and take everything onboard or alternatively daydreamed the time away enjoying the paid break from work. Then there are the trainees who watched it avidly but misunderstood or just plain got it wrong. Training without ‘a test of understanding’ is just not training.
Therefore a fire-extinguisher video training course / DVD should be accompanied by supporting test materials and have a minimum pass mark to prove competency. If you don’t pass you can’t use the extinguishers.

This is an example of just such a DVD 

 

fire extinguisher training
Many businesses recognise the requirement to have portable fire-fighting equipment but the vast majority are untrained or poorly trained. Fire-safety legislation requires that persons who are able to use extinguishers are trained to do so.

When carrying out fire risk assessments we ask ‘Have your staff been trained in the use of extinguishers?’ Nine out of ten answer in the affirmative but when we then test understanding a similar ratio prove to have poor or insufficient knowledge.

What people regard as training differs greatly from reading the instructions on the extinguisher through watching a DVD or very often by listening to a quick run through from the extinguisher chap!

As with many aspects of the ‘Fire Safety Order 2005’ just a token gesture towards compliance will hold no water in a court of law. Assuming that the ‘extinguisher chap’ is qualified to train you can be a big mistake. When choosing any fire-safety supplier, whether a service or a training provider, then you must prove due-diligence in your choice of contractor. Government guidelines suggest the easiest proof of due-diligence is via third-party certification schemes such as BAFE or FETA.

Training without any test of knowledge has little value therefore merely playing a DVD to staff would not suffice. Watching a presentation then having to achieve a minimum pass mark on a test afterwards may well be acceptable.

There is however no substitute for the real thing and live, real-time training delivers the best results.

Training cannot be a one-off ‘been there – done that’ experience. It must be re-delivered at appropriate intervals and whenever circumstances change within a workplace.

Fire safety training, like all safety training, is a positive boon to everyone whether they are in the workplace or not. Much like first-aid training it should be taught in schools. A topic covered well in this blog entitled ‘The Importance of First Aid Training’.

If you walked around the corner in a hotel tomorrow to discover a small fire between you and the lift would then be a good time to start learning which of the three available extinguishers to use?