Health & Safety / Hybrid working
Fire safety in a hybrid working world
Sarah Cope, Business Development Manager
26 January 2023
It goes without saying that since the worldwide COVID pandemic working practices in the UK have fundamentally changed.
Pre-pandemic the working culture, specifically in Local Government, was very much office based. Some colleagues may have worked from home on the odd day a week, but it was very rare to have fulltime home workers. In the post-pandemic world, we find ourselves with a hybrid workforce who have home-based office setups, and where virtual meetings are the norm rather than the exception. While, personally, this is fits brilliantly for me and my family, there are ‘traditional’ office processes where the hybrid workforce has caused some head scratching not least in the work of Health and Safety.
At each of the most recent South East Health and Safety network meetings we’ve found ourselves on the topic of Fire safety and, in particular, how Fire Marshalls and office evacuation are now managed. Among the members of the network we have found the majority of the workforce are part working from home, and part office based and that has resulted in a lack of consistent numbers and staff always on the premises. This in turn has made it impossible to recruit the same colleagues to be Fire Marshalls and indeed First Aiders.
“…there is no definitive answer to ‘how do we manage our evacuation procedure in the hybrid working world’. There are too many variables…“
To offer some advice and clarity Will Page, Fire Safety Inspecting Officer from the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service came along to our January meeting of the South East Health and Safety Network. Will works within the protection team who carry out regular inspections mainly at high risk premises including hospitals, hotels and care homes – risk is higher where there are people sleeping on the premises or maybe are not familiar with the layout. Offices are generally considered low risk, if an office premise follows the Fire Safety Legislation & Guidance – Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 then the premises can be considered broadly compliant.
We found out during the meeting there is no definitive answer to ‘how do we manage our evacuation procedure in the hybrid working world’. There are too many variables, it must be considered on a case-by-case basis, but some of our members were able to share the innovative approach they had adopted.
Several member organisations have put the emphasis on all employees taking responsibility. One member displays a number outside each room, in the event of a fire evacuation the last person to leave must close the door and collect the number to give to the Fire Marshall at the evacuation point. Once a door is closed and the number taken under no circumstances should any member of staff re-enter the room. They are introducing more regular fire safety training to ensure all staff are aware of the procedure.
Another member has recruited staff who are work at least 3 days in the office as Fire Marshalls in higher numbers than they used to. Each Fire Marshall has an area of responsibility and have printed plans of that area at their desks. They are asked to tick off each area after a physical sweep of the building.
We heard lots of different ways of managing fire evacuation which just goes to prove how adaptable our members have had to become.
Some extra best practice advice was also shared by Will. In your emergency and contingency plans you should:
- Identify those who may need extra help – those who need to use a lift, new starters, vulnerable visitors.
- Identify who is responsible for calling the Fire Service
- Identify who should meet with the Fire Service when they arrive, it is recommended high visibility tabards are used so Firefighters can easily identify those to liaise with.
Lastly, it is vital you consider how you run your fire safety drills. Will suggested best practise is to actually simulate location of a fire. Pick a location which would stop people going out the usual way they come in. Force people to use the alternative fire exits like external fire staircases etc. Test if they know how they get to the assembly point. It is so important to get feedback and measure the time, ensure lessons learnt from each fire drill you run.
Fire safety risk assessment: offices and shops – gov.uk/government/publications/fire-safety-risk-assessment-offices-and-shops
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