How good are your fire evacuation plans when they are needed? That is the burning question!
STK Associates' assessors have been involved in many fire drill scenarios (and, in their past lives, some real fires!) in workshops, commercial premises and leisure venues. Here the company's Keith Parr shares his views with you to help get the best from your evacuation exercises and, hopefully, make your premises a little safer for staff and guests.
By now the vast majority of Pitchcare readers will be aware that you need to have carried out a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) in your premises if you employ five or more people. Part of the assessment process is to be assured that your staff are able to react appropriately in the event of a fire emergency. This article focuses on that duty.
Frequent fire drills ensure that evacuation procedures are comprehensively and competently assessed as being fit for the purpose under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, therefore it is essential they are carried out.
General pre-drill hints and tips
1. All of your staff should understand their own roles and be suitably trained. Make sure you practice at different times of day or night and that all shifts and staff get the chance to carry out a fire evacuation drill.
2. It is also crucial that staff take the evacuation exercise seriously and follow through the whole thing to the end to ensure all parts of the plan are tested. It can be helpful to carry out the exercise after fire safety talks or fire extinguisher training.
3. All of your staff should receive information on fire evacuation on induction, and this should include information on your plan for agency recruits.
4. Remember to carry out a safety check before your drill, especially when unfamiliar or new staff are taking part. This hazard spotting is to ensure that exit routes are clear (which they should be anyway), maintenance teams have not left physical barriers or tools in places where they could injure staff or visitors, and other obstacles can be assessed or removed.
5. Avoid bad weather if possible (if you are carrying out a full evacuation) as you won't want to be outside with your visitors and staff for lengthy periods in the cold or wet if you can help it. Get the roll call done quickly so staff can get back into normal roles without waiting around.
6. Make sure alternative routes are used as part of the drill so staff to get familiar and confident about opening doors they don't usually touch and they may think of as 'out of bounds'. Don't forget to consider the effect of this on your premises security.
7. Remember to include visitors if they are on the premises.
8. Try to avoid making people anxious.
9. Debrief each drill. Record the outcomes so other shifts can benefit from positive and negative findings. This should include evacuation times so targets can be set and staff know that the systems work. (In general people should be in a place of safety within a range of two to three minutes).
10. If you have escape chairs or similar escape devices as part of your FRA make sure all staff know how they work and are trained.
11. Make sure absent staff are noted so they can be given advice later. This should include long term sick who should be given the updates on return to work.
12. Practice and discuss different sections of the plan.
Full Evacuation or Phased Evacuation?
In our experience most premises carry out a full evacuation for fire drills. Whilst this is a useful exercise, some leisure establishments have a phased evacuation plan for fires and emergencies, but don't tend to practice it during fire drills.
Phased evacuation is designed to allow a controlled egress of the premises for those who are not able to immediately evacuate under their own efforts, for example, non ambulant or physically impaired people or, in some cases, where the buildings are large and complex.
Phased Evacuation is best described as three stages of evacuation
Stage 1 Evacuation
Evacuate person or persons from the compartment or room in which the fire originated to a place of immediate safety behind one fire resisting door.
Stage 2 Evacuation
Evacuate person or persons from the compartment or room in which the fire started to a place of safety behind two fire resisting doors and, if necessary, down a level i.e., first floor to ground floor.
Stage 3 Evacuation
Evacuate the whole premises completely.
As can be appreciated there can be real benefits for staff practising phased evacuation phases as it is likely that, in the early stages of a fire, it will be confined to a single compartment or room. This system will allow more time to evacuate staff or visitors who are less able to help themselves.
Common Observations from Fire Evacuation Exercises
Here we list a few of our findings from evacuation drills at different premises we have witnessed in the recent past:
1. People not checking the fire panel to identify the location of the alarm. The fire alarm was ignored for up to 10 minutes by staff. When asked why, they said that it was always going off and they expected it was another false alarm.
2. The alarm was ignored and staff carried on cooking and cleaning.
3. Following a complete evacuation the manager declared everyone was accounted for. However, two visitors were still inside, one in the toilet and one contractor repairing machinery in the workshop.
4. Disabling of the alarm system by the managers and staff from previous accidental/false alarm actuations the day before. When the break-glass call point was operated for the fire drill, the alarm did not work.
These are just some of the issues that can be identified during a fire drill, there is no substitute for regular training.
Checklist for a Successful Fire Evacuation Exercise
• Is the aim of the fire drill clear?
• Raising the alarm
• Recognising the alarm signal, especially if different signals are used for alerts to evacuate
• Staff roles and responsibilities
• Calling the Fire and Rescue Service
• Operational equipment requirements
• Are disabled people catered for?
• Securing the workplace
• Data security
• Search procedures
• Fire Marshall duties
• Reporting concerns
• Roll call registers
• Staying at the assembly area until released
• Inclement weather procedures
• Liaison with the fire service
• Return to work procedures
• Do staff understand the stages of an evacuation relevant to their building?
• Have staff had adequate instruction and practice?
STK Associates are offering members of Pitchcare a chance to have a full evacuation exercise drill observed by one of their assessors. They will offer feedback in a simple format to help you debrief your staff and make an appraisal on your system. This service is available free of charge for companies purchasing a Fire Risk Assessment from STK Associates.
STK are a Fire and Safety consultancy with expertise in a wide range of business sectors for fire safety, health and safety, and associated training modules.
STK are also preferred consultants to West Midlands Local Government Association, Dudley LEA, Walsall PCT, and Mobis.
For further information telephone 01902 824493, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website: www.stk.org.uk