Evacuation procedures during Covid-19

Covid-19 has changed the way that evacuation procedures should be monitored and take place. FIA has released a guidance paper to help aid the industry

The Fire Industry Association (FIA) has published guidance on fire procedures during the Covid-19 pandemic. The guidance in this document is intended to clarify the requirements for ensuring that adequate fire evacuation procedures are in place in reoccupied and partially reoccupied premises. It offers answers to some common questions that have arisen due to COVID-19, and it also provides some suggestions as to how these requirements might be achieved. In addition, this guidance also examines the associated fire safety arrangements that support the evacuation procedures and that will need to be maintained while COVID-19 pandemic controls are in place. The guidance states:

“Traditionally, the objective of a fire evacuation drill has been to provide staff and building occupants with the opportunity to practise the established evacuation procedures. These procedures would have been first explained as part of the induction training when a person joined the organisation. The fire evacuation drill provided an opportunity to test and time those procedures under simulated fire conditions, and to identify any anomalies that needed to be addressed. 

“Owing to the potential risk of contracting COVID 19, the testing of procedures through full building evacuations is, in the case of many buildings, considered to present an unacceptable risk of person-to-person infection. Furthermore, the manner in which buildings are used and occupied is likely to have changed, and might have an impact on the pre-COVID 19 fire procedures. 

“The guidance in this document is intended to clarify the requirements for ensuring that adequate fire evacuation procedures are in place in reoccupied and partially reoccupied premises. It offers answers to some common questions that have arisen due to COVID 19, and it also provides some suggestions as to how these requirements might be achieved. In addition, this guidance also examines the associated fire safety arrangements that support the evacuation procedures and that will need to be maintained while COVID 19 pandemic controls are in place.”

Core requirements 

“Irrespective of the risks arising from COVID 19, any applicable national fire safety legislation remains valid, and the duties arising therefrom are unchanged. However, fire safety legislation is not prescriptive, so providing that appropriate supplementary or alternative fire safety arrangements are implemented, and that they ensure that the overall objectives of the legislative requirements are met, then the Responsible Person will have discharged their duty. 

“In all cases, the initial starting point must be a review of the existing fire risk assessment, fire safety arrangements and fire procedures to determine whether they remain valid, when considering the changes in the premises that have been introduced in response to COVID 19. Relevant changes to the premises can include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following: 

  • Reduced occupancy numbers 
  • The absence of key personnel, such as fire wardens, assembly marshals and the like 
  • Reduced ability to record the presence of, and account for, staff, contractors and visitors in the event of an evacuation. 
  • The implementation of one-way or queueing systems 
  • The erection of screens and barriers 
  • Waste collection arrangements 
  • The size and location of assembly points 
  • The ability to establish the evacuation status of parts of the building that are under the control of others 
  • The storage of significant quantities of alcohol-based hand cleanser. 

“Having reviewed the changes that have been implemented within the premises, it will then be necessary to review the fire safety arrangements and amend them so that they remain suitable and sufficient, and most of all, workable under the prevailing circumstances.”

The guidance document then begins to outline what changes might be needed to procedures to mitigate the issues of COVID 19? There are many policies and procedures that impact on the fire safety arrangements in a building or organisation. Any changes to the scope, scale and complexity of the activities being carried out within the building, might require amendments to those policies and procedures and will necessitate a review of the fire risk assessment.

Matters that need to be reviewed include:

Fire wardens: Are there sufficient present at all material times of the day, do additional

wardens need to be appointed, do their duties and responsibilities need to be revised?

Fire Risk Assessments: These should be reviewed to ensure that changes in occupancy

numbers and working practices have been captured and properly assessed. To reduce the

time that risk assessors need to spend on site, alternative arrangements for reviewing

documents and records, such as electronic transfer of documents (preferably prior to the fire

risk assessment) should be considered.

One-way systems, safety screens and queuing systems.

  • Do any of these arrangements impact on the escape routes and travel distances?
  • Do screens obstruct fire detectors or sprinkler heads?
  • Are sufficient, suitable fire extinguishers provided on one-way systems?
  • Can fire alarm call points be accessed on one-way systems?
  • In an emergency, can occupants easily leave the one-way system to access the
  • nearest escape route?
  • Does the one-way system lead occupants away from the nearest fire exit?

Where considered relevant, there should be consultation with interested parties (insurers,

fire and rescue authorities). Doors should not routinely be propped open to reduce contact points. Where it is considered that this is necessary, door hold-open devices are often acceptable, but care should be taken to conform to the recommendations of BS 7273-4 in this respect. For example, a “Critical (Category A)” interface between the fire alarm system and the door hold-open devices is necessary in certain circumstances, such as doors to staircases in single staircase conditions, sleeping risks and assembly or recreation buildings; under these circumstances, acoustically activated hold-open devices would not be appropriate. Assembly points:

  • Does the current assembly point facilitate social distancing?
  • Does the location of the assembly point bring the assembled people into close
  • contact with passing members of the public?
  • Can people safely disperse from the assembly point after they have checked in?
  • Are a number of assembly points required to enable social distancing?
  • Can you establish virtual assembly points or roll calls using technology?
  • Can Assembly point communications be improved through the use of technology or
  • social media, so that they remain effective but help in maintaining social distancing.
  • Where relevant, fire procedure notices need to be amended.

Read the full guidance document at: https://www.fia.uk.com/news/guidance-on-fire-procedures-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.html 

The guidance document also covers a wide range of other fire assessment and procedure protocols during Covid-19 including false fire alarms, fire drills, fixed assembly points, PPE, PEEPs and fire detection systems. The document is a clear example of how the industry and organisations leaders should be looking to fire associations in this time of uncertainty for clarity and guidance. 

Commentary: Ian Moore, CEO, Fire Industry Association (FIA)

The impact to the fire safety industry is as damaging as many others. Restrictions on movement, economic hardship and an unknown conclusion place companies in unknown territory and just trying to get through it as unscathed as possible. That being said, the need for fire safety is as strong as ever and still required (and still a legal requirement in a number of areas) – it’s just a matter of convincing some people!

How we at the FIA are helping is by informing the industry of the latest changes, lobbying Government in key areas and clarifying what these messages mean. This is done by way of daily updates in a dedicated COVID section of our website. One important clarification we sought was that of who is considered a Key Worker. This is vital to know as engineers need to get to site and factory workers need to continue to produce life safety products. We received a letter from the Secretary of State directly, informing us that people working in the fire safety industry were considered Key Workers – our members have been carrying a copy of this letter when they are travelling to a necessary site to confirm their status.

Commentary: Dr Peter Wilkinson, CEng FIFireE CSci MIScT, Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) Technical Director

COVID-19 has impacted the industry in a huge way, and IFE is aiding the industry. It has remained very much business as usual at the IFE however, it was important we adapted our CPD offering quickly to ensure there was an avenue for members to build up their knowledge and accrue vital CPD hours throughout the year, despite the challenges faced by the pandemic. We were delighted to launch a free online CPD Hub for IFE members and registrants not long after COVID-19 restrictions started to take effect worldwide.

The hub is divided into three areas containing presentations developed with industry professionals made specifically for the hub, re-issued content from previous IFE conferences and a useful links section which provides external online CPD opportunities. Upcoming webinars and events are also promoted in the hub, providing quick access for members and registrants to sign up.

Despite the pandemic, we were delighted to hold the Fire 2020 digital conference in conjunction with the Fire Protection Association (FPA) and National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) at the end of the year, providing fire professionals with a much-needed opportunity to explore the latest sector issues and developments whilst gaining CPD hours. Conferences were far and few between last year and it remained a priority for all three organising parties to host this event.

Commentary: Martin Jones, Divisional Manager – Rescue and Industrial, Vimpex

The UK government’s recent announcement has probably come as a relief to most, the thought of going back to normal, albeit slowly, is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Now is the crucial time to start preparing for a return back to normality with essential fire and safety equipment to protect buildings and its occupants. Vimpex manufactures and supplies the essential equipment needed for businesses/schools/entertainment venues and many more premises to return safely.

  • Fire-Cryer: Research has shown that voice alarm messages result in quicker reaction times in the event of a fire. Fire-Cryer provides clear unambiguous messages to ensure fast, efficient evacuation or reaction in cases of fire, evacuation or other life-threatening situations such as lockdown scenarios. With the re-opening of non-essential retail, providing a simple yet effective solution to keep people safe is essential.
  • Wired and Wireless Door Holders: Door holders can safely allow doors to be kept open to encourage ventilation around a building and avoid the need to constantly touch door handles to enter and leave a room. Door holders react to the sound of a fire alarm by closing to stop the spread of smoke, by far the greatest cause of death in fire situations, thus allowing building occupants to evacuate safely
  • Power Supplies: Our range of power supplies compliments our door holders and other 24 V dc devices and are EN approved
  • Sycall Re-settable Call Points: Call points should be mounted on all escape routes and exit points so that they can be activated as occupants are leaving the premises in the event of a fire or emergency. Sycall Re-settable Call Points mimic the feel of breaking glass and once installed will never need to be opened for test or reset
  • Smart+Guard Call Point Covers: BS 5839 recommends the use of manual call point covers in vulnerable areas to mitigate against false alarms. False alarms can cause costly and troublesome interruption and can be avoided by using Smart+Guard call points covers to protect against malicious or unwanted false alarms. This is especially important as children start to return to the classroom. With many children out of school for the past year, keeping them inside the classroom is essential which is why preventing the misuse of a call point is crucial
  • Identifire: Our VID design is superior in performance with bright LEDs across a range of lens colours for all different applications, clearly notifying occupants in the event of an emergency. Aesthetically pleasing, Identifire can be flush or surface mounted to fit in with existing building design
  • ClamBell: A modern take on a traditional fire alarm warning device, the ClamBell has an innovative hinged design that swings shut after installation and a permanently fitted gong meaning no disassembly is required during installation. The distinct tone of the ClamBell can be used in a manufacturing facility where machinery emits similar tones to a fire alarm sounder often creating confusion. The ClamBell can also be used in educational establishments to signify lesson change.

 

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Media contact

Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, International Fire Buyer

Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922
Email: editor@firebuyer.com

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