Whatever your business, it's not just a sufficient fire risk assessment that should be considered (which you must have done, by the way - regularly!), but also staff training in fire safety awareness and a fire safety strategy need to be in place. And, if all that sounds like a bit of a pain, have a little chat with yourself about the reputation of your business and the implications of a prosecution landing at your doorstep should a fire in your premises cause anyone any harm. With these considerations in mind, here are several common issues that illustrate the importance of competent staff training provisions.
At my last place of work, I managed the company's editorial and content for their international journal on fire risk management (that's right, queue up ladies!). One of our on-site fire risk assessors wrote quite an eye-opening article on his observations while attending premises around the UK and outlined the failings that are simply overlooked by business owners and employees. I felt it had such wider-reaching relevance that I turned it into an editorial piece, got it out through various other publications and then also created a landing page on our website specifically to raise awareness on this subject. And now I'm gonna share the key findings with you too!
Quite often during building assessments, kitchen areas are found to be in a deceptively poor state. Depending on whether the business is or has a restaurant or if it is simply a kitchen area in an office, a focus on cleanliness is usually evident with sparkling chrome surfaces that mask some dangerous flaws. Typically, extract ductwork, which should be professionally deep-cleaned and reports issued by a competent contractor annually as a minimum, is not always carried out.
Further common problems include damaged fire doors that have suffered years of being rammed with trolleys (I mean who's got time to reach around the trolley and press the exit lever with their hand, right? Crazy!), hidden or out of date extinguishers, covered detectors and poor housekeeping. Also, it is often discovered that the automatic suppression systems (sprinkler systems, water mist systems etc.) no longer protect things such as deep fat fryers, because the chef had a creative moment and felt the need for a kitchen move around. I'm all for creativity and feng-shui, but c'mon guys!
The types of people who make up the body of staff members and visitors to your premises alike can vary greatly at any one time. This can include mobility impaired team members or guests, those with visual or hearing impairments, a wide range of ages or mental health considerations alongside people originating from many different countries who first language may not be English. These factors have huge implications for who is responsible for your evacuation procedures and how they are implemented when they are needed.
When ensuring your staff training and fire risk strategy is in place you need to consider many factors, but ultimately the question you need to ask is, "With a transitory and oftentimes unpredictable cohort in mind, can your premises and its staff members facilitate a full evacuation without the intervention of the fire and rescue service?". There are response times to consider here. Dialling the emergency services number and expecting them to arrive in thirty seconds would be foolhardy to say the least.
Once you've asked yourself that question and you begin to unpack all that is necessary to ensure you can achive this, you see that it is about more than just having some signs put up on the wall and having that fire assembly map on every door. I honestly have never been able to work those things out - and putting a big "you are here" arrow on it doesn't help either because I then just start vacantly shuffling around, trying to work out which way I'm supposed to be pointing. Do make these provisions, but also think beyond them and consider what else is needed. This can include effective and safe disabled escape points wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair without impeding the escape, or ensuring there is adequate provision for alerting hearing impaired guests and the provision of visual aids, such as strobe lighting and language-free signage.
Finally, a commonly overlooked part of your fire safety strategy is to ensure that a plan is in place for staff and visitor welfare after an evacuation. On a cold winter evening after evacuating everyone into a car park assembly point, it is vital that a contingency plan is in place for where they can be re-located that is warm, dry and safe.
So, staff training is clearly vital, but when you think about your own staff training, whether you are an employer or an employee, are you quite sure you are equipped to prevent fires and could you handle a fire situation if it occured? While considering the common issues outlined above, questions you should now ask yourself might also include the following:
In addition to ensuring staff are inducted to meet these expectations, it may be relevant to have an on-going training strategy in place, such as making regular fire safety training mandatory for all team members with on-going easy access to the training course and materials. This way, if you have a high turnover of staff new team members can be trained promptly in-house and refresher training is always on hand. This approach not only ensures your fire risk strategy and your health and safety compliance needs are met, but also saves significant amounts of time and money on employers having trainers come in, or worse, the aftermath of a fire.
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