Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service: Coronavirus pandemic

Information published in response to the coronavirus pandemic and what impact this will have on our service.

Fire safety advice for home workers, schools and businesses

Last updated 18/5/2020 (reviewed daily)

A message from our Chief Fire Officer, Mark Hardingham:

“We are continually monitoring the coronavirus situation so that we can keep our staff safe and continue to protect our communities. We will of course continue to respond to emergency 999 calls."

“We have stopped some work to minimise risks, including cancelling some home visits, some firefighter training and closing stations to community meetings and events. But we are adapting our operations to continue to protect the most vulnerable members of society."

“We continue to follow the Government guidelines, the operational guidelines set out by the National Fire Chiefs Council and our own business continuity plan.”

Following the updated government guidance for employers and businesses, you may be considering re-opening your business premises (even partially). If so, please take into account the following fire safety considerations.

If you have any questions, contact the duty Fire Safety Officer on 01473 260588 or email fire.businesssupport@suffolk.gov.uk

Fire Risk Assessment

On your return to work it may be necessary to review your Fire Risk Assessment to ensure that it is current and reflects the way your business now operates. Consider changes such as working practices, stock levels, alterations made to the premises and staff numbers. It is essential that assessments are undertaken and reviewed where there are significant changes in ways of working, processes or building layout. This may include the holding open of fire doors with unsuitable devices, this is not permitted.

Means of Escape

Ensure that your escape routes remain available and open correctly - remember, they may have seized up whilst not in use. If you share an escape route with other businesses, remember that they may not be open. This should be supported with adequate escape signage and lighting to identify the escape routes to be used in event of fire.

Risk of arson

Due to the potential increased stock and the period of closure, the amount of rubbish you generate may increase. Care should be taken when dealing with this rubbish as accumulated rubbish outside of the building provides a potential target for arson which could damage your business.

Training

Where staff numbers have changed, businesses must ensure that they continue to provide appropriate staff training. If you haven’t undertaken staff training for some time, on your return ensure that all staff know what to do in a fire situation. If those people with specific tasks have not returned to work, ensure that other suitably trained staff are available. You must consider the needs of lone workers and their fire safety.

Maintaining Fire Safety Measures

Whilst you have been closed have you maintained your premises fire safety features, i.e. fire alarm, fire extinguisher and emergency lighting? Timely maintenance is vital for the safety of your business and those that use the premises.

Further information can be found in the sections below for businesses, schools and at home.

Fire safety for business and premises owners should be a priority at this time, while following government guidance to protect against the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service can support you, if you have any concerns or questions about fire safety in your premises, contact our Fire Safety Protection team Fire.BusinessSupport@suffolk.gov.uk

Information on this page is available as a PDF (99KB)

Fire Risk Assessments

If you have made significant changes at your premises to control the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), these should be identified and recorded in your Fire Risk Assessments.

Fire Risk Assessments should be reviewed frequently at the moment. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Risk Reduction: Have you taken all reasonable measures to reduce the risk of fire? e.g. isolating all non-essential equipment and machinery
  • Fire alarm systems: Is your fire alarm system in a good working order? Ensure it is still tested regularly.
  • Interim measures: If you have had to implement some interim measures do all your staff know and understand why and what they are?
  • New or emerging risk: Has risk changed? Have things been put in place as a response to the situation that have, on reflection, increased fire risk? (e.g. introduction of oxygen use / storage)
  • Vulnerable people: Are the most vulnerable receiving support and are Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPS) being conducted and reviewed to assess individual needs/ changes in their vulnerability? Who is caring for the vulnerable and can they still maintain it?

Evacuation Plan

All staff, residents and visitors must be familiar with the evacuation plan (including all temporary and bank staff).

Maintaining minimum staffing levels to undertake the evacuation plan is very important. Where appropriate, PEEPS must continue to be conducted and reviewed.

Fire Alarm Actuation and Emergency Procedures

Here is a suggested emergency procedure to follow, which will reduce disruption and minimise the need for visitors to enter your premises.

This is important to protect those you may be shielding (e.g. in a care home setting), and to protect visitors (e.g. firefighters) from potentially exposing themselves to coronavirus (COVID-19)

  • If the fire alarm activates, commence your normal emergency procedures.
  • Suitably trained staff should investigate the source of the alarm seeking to establish if it is a fire or a false alarm.
  • If, at any point during the investigation a fire is discovered or there is a smell of burning or smoke that cannot be accounted for, dial 999 and ask for the fire service immediately – stating that an evacuation is in progress.
  • If, following the investigation, you are certain that there is no fire, and no suspicion of a fire, then the emergency procedures can be cancelled. Under these circumstances, do not call the fire service, unless your system is monitored by a 3rd party.
  • The fire alarm system should be reset by a competent member of staff and the fire alarm log book updated with a record of the event  
  • Please ensure that any known problems causing false fire alarms are immediately corrected. This gives confidence that if a fire alarm does occur, it is likely to be genuine.

Fire Alarm Systems

Fire alarms, emergency lighting and other fire safety systems must continue to be tested and maintained in good working order.

You may wish to delay the maintenance of your systems by a qualified engineer, to limit the number of visitors to your premises and prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

If you delay this maintenance work, you must record it as a significant finding in the Fire Risk Assessment. You must continue to regularly test your systems.

If you are uncertain whether maintenance schedules can safely be extended for the systems in your premises, contact a qualified fire safety system engineer.

Fire Doors

We strongly advise against wedging open fire doors and asks responsible persons to consider other control measures.

We are aware that some building users are wedging open self-closing fire doors as a coronavirus (COVID-19) control measure, to reduce the need to touch locks and door handles, etc. Whilst this is understandable, it is essential that this hazard is balanced against the risk of uncontrolled spread of fire and smoke when a fire occurs.

If you have decided to wedge fire doors, this must be fully considered in the fire risk assessment. Suitable control measures must be put in place to ensure fire doors will be closed when needed (particularly in buildings providing sleeping accommodation or care for the vulnerable).

Buildings Not In Use

If your building is temporarily closed there are some simple measures to safeguard against both accidental and deliberate fires:

  • Isolate utilities and machinery that are not required – but ensure your security/fire alarms are still operative.
  • Close all fire doors
  • Don’t store combustible materials against the building and consider other measures to prevent arson
  • Where possible ask your local community to help keep an eye on your premises

Blocks of Flats, Houses In Multiple Occupation and Student Accommodation

Fire safety within dwellings is an especially important at this time, especially in mixed use premises and those where unrelated occupiers, share common areas of the same building.

Any change of strategy needs constant review and robust management.

Key considerations should be:

  • Ensure that safety systems (e.g. fire alarm and smoke control) are in good working order, are being tested appropriately and are maintained well.
  • Ensure that common areas and means of escape routes are clear from combustible items.
  • Ensure refuse compounds and other storage areas are not overflowing and are not stored immediately next to buildings – minimum distance of 6m should be maintained where possible.
  • Ensure that all occupiers are familiar with the building’s evacuation strategy 
  • Ensure that all fire safety features are maintained, i.e. fire doors are closed and not wedged open

Useful guidance documents

As people are now instructed to stay at home, here is some advice to keep you safer:

  • Smoke alarms: Ensure you have working smoke alarms in your home. If not, purchase alarms which should be installed on each floor of your home. Also replace batteries to ensure your alarms are working.
  • Night-time routine: Follow a night-time routine by turning off/unplugging as many electrical items as possible before you go to bed, shutting doors to reduce fire spread should an incident occur. Take a mobile phone, keys and torch to bed with you at night in the event that you have to evacuate.
  • Unattended appliances: Do not leave kitchen appliances such as washing machines and tumble dryers running unattended. Most fires start in the kitchen.
  • Escape route: Plan an escape route out of the home with all family members to ensure no time is wasted if the smoke alarms activate. Try out our escape plan quiz.

Don’t forget, if you smell smoke or your smoke alarms activate: GET OUT, STAY OUT, CALL 999.

Safe and Well Home visits

Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, we adopted a risk-based approach with regards Safe and Well Home visits.

We will consider the spread of the Coronavirus before we respond to faulty alarms calls where the smoke alarm equipment has been installed by ourselves as part of a previous home visit. We will establish by phone whether there is a fault resulting in inoperable equipment.

We will also risk assess new home visit requests on a case by case basis regarding fire risks. You may receive a call from one of our Prevention Practitioners to establish the risks within your home or that of your family member and to offer advice by telephone.

Suffolk’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response

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