The best laid plans….

So, you have sought lots of fire safety advice and have undertaken your risk assessments and have an emergency plan. You know exactly what to do if there is an incident. Are you sure that your staff know what to do? Even if you have told them you will often have to reinforce the message before they are comfortable and confident in dealing with a fire alarm.

We possibly make assumptions about how people will react – Fire alarm sounds, staff leave all belongings and makes their way to the nearest exit to the designated meeting point.

Or – how many people have had this conversation at work?  – Alarms sounds

“Is that the fire alarm?”

“Is it a drill? We only have a drill on a Tuesday morning”

“Hang on, I’ll ask”

“I’ll grab my phone and car keys just in case”

We might think that on hearing an alarm people panic – actually the opposite is probably true they are often ambivalent. Often making the assumption it’s (just) a drill

Research undertaken by Ironmongery Direct in 2014 asked 1000 employees how they would react to a fire alarm at work:

22% Would see what everyone else did

13% Would ignore it and carry on working

4% Would go and look for the fire

It’s really important that employers regularly share fire safety information with staff as train them to react quickly and appropriately.

In a 2014 survey by Atomik Research on behalf of BWF- Certifire  47% of employees say they have never been shown or told about fire safety procedures where they work. Employers may think they have relayed information but this does not mean an employee has taken it on board.

If staff don’t know what they should be doing lives of staff, and depending on the business, customers can be endangered. Training can also give staff the confidence to react.

Many people delay reacting to an alarm and look for confirmation that is a real fire alarm. This might involve seeking people out  to ask and in a small number of cases going to have a look for evidence of a fire.

This is time lost in evacuating themselves and customers. It’s important that people are advised not to do this and treat the alarm and confirmation of an incident and react accordingly.

If employers take fire safety seriously then employees will too. It’s very important that good training and reassurance from employers make staff confident in being proactive if  there is an incident.

This means being comfortable raising the alarm if you find a fire – you are meant to break the glass in event of fire, you don’t have to go and tell someone and well as being able to get out safely and quickly.

A customer or visitor to a business will look to staff to see what they should do. If staff are carrying on normally and not reacting then the customer is unlikely to react. Chances are they will only evacuate themselves if a staff member tells them to.

It’s important that staff are comfortable stopping their activity and reacting to the alarm. This might mean hanging up on an important call, ending a meeting, or not serving a customer.

Additionally, staff may have to stop customers in their activity. Are they confident and persuasive enough to tell them not to tuck into their meal and get out for example?

Fire drills are often practised out of hours – when no customer or visitors are in. Consider where customers are likely to be in your business and how staff can evacuate them.

Ensure staff use the nearest exits not just the ones they know. People are often wary of opening a door which they are not normally ‘allowed’ to use.

Allocate responsibilities to staff. For example, appoint willing fire wardens for the various areas of the business. This will ensure event of an evacuation all areas have been checked, cleared and staff accounted for at the designated meeting point. This will stop slower evacuation as areas won’t be checked multiple times or not checked at all as people assume someone else will do it.

On a day to day basis they can keep a look out for problems such as damaged fire doors and blocked exits or be a point of contact to escalate employee’s fire safety concerns.


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