Health and safety compliance is a topic that businesses need to be covering at all stages of their growth plan. Yet, many companies struggle to identify hazards and to understand how to avoid them. But, as powerful examples like the tragedy at last year’s Grenfell Tower show, neglecting safety can result in seriously damaging consequences – both for the business and for the lives of the people involved.
London health and safety consultant Arinite provides a 5-step guide on how to approach fire safety in the property industry.
1) Realising responsibility
Especially in larger facilities, finding out who is responsible for taking care of the building’s safety can already be a difficult task. Multiple levels of management can hinder people from fulfilling – or even realising – their duties.
From the facility manager to the building owner, to the safety consultancy – who can be blamed when an accident happens? To take things even further, what part does the architect play, that designs the building, what about the construction company, or even the manufacturer of the materials used in the process?
Clearly, the way in which these roles are intertwined is impossible to retrace. Instead of hoping there will be someone else to point at, everyone needs to clearly understand what part she or he plays in the bigger picture. Teamwork and communication are crucial, as well as complete transparency in the process.
Safety legislation might be difficult to grasp but there is always a way of finding out who is responsible for what. Consulting a professional safety auditor, for example, is a safe method of making sure all duties are assigned to the correct person. This is a crucial step to realising how building owner, manager, and staff can work together to safeguard against lawsuits.
2) Fulfilling duties
Once responsibilities are allocated, following those responsibilities will naturally be the next step. If the facility manager has been identified as the person in charge of ensuring fire safety, for example, they will need to do so immediately.
This is where the importance of realising responsibilities comes in; if a facility manager hires a company to install safety measures in the building but the work is faulty or insufficient, the person held responsible for the hazard will be the manager and not the installer. That is why the manager needs to understand the full degree of responsibility, in order to act accordingly.
Making sure that all contract work is carried out by competent, reliable and highly-trained workers is extremely important. In the end, sloppy installation can cause hazards and potential accidents, which the responsible person will be held accountable for.
3) Seeking help
Self-training and a do-it-yourself attitude are commendable but not always the safest approach when lives might depend on it. In many cases, the responsible person is not very well versed in safety compliance or does not possess the technical know-how needed to install safety systems.
Consulting a professional is always a good idea, even when the responsible person is experienced. A professional safety audit will be able to uncover all potential hazards and help with finding the best solutions to individual situations. No workplace or building is like the other, so well-tailored safety plans are important.
Once the assessment has identified all sources of danger, a complete list of all areas that need to be covered can help with making sure that every issue is taken care of. Such issues will usually include automatic fire alarm and detection systems, escape routes, emergency lighting, exit signs and notices, and firefighting equipment and facilities. Again, every building is different, so some might need to take extra care of structural and passive fire protection or means of escape.
4) Taking action
After every risk has been identified, the responsible person needs to make sure they have been eliminated or at least prevented as best as possible. Precautions can include signs and stickers on dangerous goods, setting up safety instructions and evacuation plans at highly frequented spots in the building or installing protection measures, such as fire dampers or fixed extinguishing systems.
In some cases, parts of the building might need to be restructured or moved when the means of escape are blocked. An assessor will need to consider how quickly the fire might grow on the premise, and whether evacuation on smoke-free escape routes can be guaranteed in the whole building. Often, doors will need to be replaced for special fire doors that can contain heat and smoke effectively.
Again, the responsible person should make sure that all installations are carried out professionally and thoroughly. If in doubt, a safety officer can help double-check the facility again after the recommended changes have been made.
Once the building has been equipped with all the necessary precautions and control systems, the work is not yet finished. In fact, one of the most important steps still needs to be done: safety training.
Even the most expensive, up-to-date technology will not shield from accidents if no one knows how to use it. That goes for fire extinguishers, fire blankets or smoke curtains, but also applies to safety signs or evacuation systems. Everyone in the building needs to know how to behave in case of a fire and only then can these precautions come into effect.
5) Staying proactive
As time passes, new personnel comes and the memory of past safety training goes, training needs to continue. Health and safety consultancies advise to have staff attend safety training at least every six months, or more often if the team changes frequently. Only regular training can ensure that instructions on how to prevent accidents are present in everyone’s minds.
As part of the ongoing maintenance of the fire safety plan, the responsible person will need to take care of all equipment, installations, and facilities. Especially life-saving tools, like extinguishers and first-aid kits, need to be renewed, checked on and tested regularly.
Fire drills should happen during working hours and should not just include the evacuation itself, but also best practise on how to stay calm and call for help. From discovering the fire to raising the alarm and alerting the fire brigade, everyone should be confident in how to behave in extreme situations.
All of these steps should be taken equally seriously. In the end, only dedicated team-work and effort from all parties can ensure a safe facility. Non-compliance can not only lead to a bad reputation, public scandals, and large breaching fees; it is the people at risk that employers need to think about first and foremost.
Risky Business – A Five-Step Plan to Ensuring Building Fire Safety