Firestopping Contractors London
Fire Safety Guide #6
Fire Procedures During the COVID-19 Pandemic
This fire safety technical guide discusses how building owners and responsible persons need to adapt their fire safety procedures with the requirements posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adapting Fire Safety
for the COVID-19 Pandemic

Typically, the intention of a fire evacuation drill has been to provide the opportunity for employees and building occupants to practise the evacuation procedures created in advance. As part of the induction training, these protocols may have been first clarified when an individual entered the organisation. Under simulated fire conditions, the fire evacuation exercise offered an opportunity to evaluate and time certain procedures and to detect any anomalies that needed to be tackled.

Because of the probable risk of contracting COVID 19, in the case of many facilities, the testing of procedures by complete building evacuations is considered to present an existential threat of person-to-person infection. In addition, it is possible that the way in which buildings are used and occupied has changed, which may have an effect on the pre-COVID-19 fire procedures.

In order to explain the criteria for ensuring that sufficient fire evacuation protocols are in effect in reoccupied and partially reoccupied premises, the guidance in this document is intended. It provides answers to some common questions that have arisen because of COVID-19, and it also provides some suggestions about how to meet these requirements. In addition, this guidance also discusses the related arrangements for fire protection that support evacuation procedures and that will need to be retained when pandemic controls for COVID-19 are in effect.

Legal Requirements

Notwithstanding the risks arising from COVID-19, any relevant national legislation in the field of fire protection remains true and the duties arising therefrom remain unchanged. Fire safety regulations, however, are not prescriptive, thus ensuring that adequate supplemental or alternative fire safety measures are enacted and that they ensure that the overall purposes of the legislations are fulfilled, their responsibility will be discharged by the responsible person.

In both cases, a review of the current fire risk assessment, fire safety arrangements and fire policies must be the initial starting point in order to decide if they remain relevant when making improvements to the premises that were made in response to COVID-19. The following can include, but are not necessarily limited to, specific changes to the premises.
· Reduced occupancy
· The shortage of key employees, such as fire guards and assembly marshals
· Reduced capacity in the event of an evacuation to document the presence of, and account for, workers, contractors and tourists
· One-way or queueing schemes
· Erection of screens and obstacles
· Arrangements for waste management
· Location of assembly points
· The right to assess the evacuation status of parts of the building under others' control
· Storage of large alcohol-based hand cleanser amounts.

After reviewing the improvements that have been made within the premises, the fire protection arrangements would then need to be reviewed and amended so that they remain acceptable and adequate and, most of all, workable under the present conditions.

Making Adjustments for Minimising COVID-19

There are many policies and procedures in a facility or corporation that impact on the fire safety arrangements. Any adjustments to the nature, size and complexity of the activities carried out inside the building may require revisions to certain policies and procedures and require a fire risk assessment to be assessed.

Matters that need to be reviewed include:
  • Fire wardens. At all relevant times of the day, ensure appropriate presence, name additional wardens and revise their roles and responsibilities
  • Fire Risk Assessments. These should be assessed in order to ensure that improvements have been captured and correctly analysed in occupancy numbers and working practises. Alternative arrangements for reviewing documentation and records, such as electronic transfer of documents (preferably prior to a fire risk assessment), should be considered in order to minimise the time that risk assessors need to spend on site.
  • One-way schemes, protective screens and systems for queuing.
  • Escape routes and travel distances influence of the revised arrangements
  • Verify that fire alarms or sprinkler heads are not obstructed by screens
  • Appropriate one-way systems equipped with suitable fire extinguishers
  • Positioning of alarm call points within routes of one-way systems access
  • Nearest escape route within reach for the one-way schemes
  • Consultation with stakeholders should be carried out where deemed necessary (insurers, fire and rescue authorities)
  • Doors should not be propped open regularly to decrease touch points. Door hold-open devices are often appropriate where this is deemed necessary, but care should be taken to comply with the guidelines of BS 7273-4 in this regard. For example, in some situations, a 'Important (Category A)' interface between the fire alarm system and door hold-open devices is required, such as doors to stairs under single stair conditions, sleeping hazards and buildings for assembly or recreation; in these circumstances, acoustically enabled hold-open devices will not be sufficient.
Assembly points - revise procedures considering the following:Assembly points allow and encourage social distancingCommunication with members of the publicSafe dispersal from the assembly point following termination of evacuation drillsNumber of assembly points required to allow social distancingFire procedure notices need to be amended where necessary.

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