Businesses across the UK are working diligently to implement measures that help minimize exposure to and spread of COVID-19. While much emphasis has understandably been placed on associated issues and concerns, it’s critical that levels of fire and life safety continue to be maintained.
Here, Jamie Allam, CEO Amthal Fire & Security looks at the support available for Facility Managers as they continue to adapt to the changing pandemic environment, and not lose sight of the key aspects of risk assessment to protect their premises, staff working within and visitors able to access the premises.
There is no doubt, COVID-19 has been a particularly difficult and challenging period for businesses, whatever their size or sector.
Many businesses have been focusing on keeping their customers and guests safe and rightly introducing COVID-19 risk assessments to ensure work is protected. But in doing so, there may have been other aspects of their management processes that have not had the same time and attention paid to them as they would normally.
The National Fire Chiefs Council, is one calling for businesses to be mindful of everyday workplace fire risks, not least with the legal and moral responsibility to ensure premises and occupants are safe.
Role of Facility Managers
Facility managers, in their core position, are charged with ensuring the built environment is functional and safe and supports the organizations they serve.
During the pandemic, that role has risen to prominence as the world has recognized the essential role facilities play as the backdrop and host to the daily interactions of occupants and visitors.
Facility managers today are learning to work outside of their normal bubble, actively engaging with leadership, legal, human resources, IT, communications and marketing, and others to create a cohesive response on behalf of our organizations. The part that Facility Managers play in helping their organizations effectively manage a pandemic strategy is critical.
But underlying this, the core role cannot be diluted. Facility Managers must continue to determinate exactly what is needed to keep all of the people, as well as the stock of materials, safe.
This includes regular fire risk assessments, especially to ensure changes made in line with Government Guidelines in response to the pandemic, including how premises are used, staffed and managed, do not adversely impact on fire safety.
This is true whether the business is open and operating, or if operations have been temporarily closed.
In line with the Government’s three-tier structure, the complexity of managing this in a highly volatile environment is challenging, especially as Facility Managers continue to be stretched in resource, time capacity and increasingly budget with the difficult economic climate.
Maintenance Challenges and Fire Safety Solutions
Throughout the pandemic one of the biggest challenges for Facility Managers in ensuring a safe premises, has been access. This is especially in the realms of fire safety.
Whilst in theory, the risk of fire when there are less people in a facility may seem lower. In practice, under normal circumstances, however, those same people regularly take steps to reduce the risk of fire. Given the changed circumstances caused by the pandemic, people may also be taking actions that can actually increase the risk of fire.
For example, one of the things that Facility Managers need to consider now, more than pre-pandemic, is the use of hand sanitizers and surface disinfectants. We have known for years that these products kill germs, but these substances also carry a risk. To be effective, hand sanitizers should have an alcohol content above 60-70%, as recommended by the CDC.
Surface disinfectants, which also contain high levels of alcohol, are technically classified as a Class 1 flammable liquid. This means that at room temperature, they can easily ignite.
And there are external risks, associated with increasing vacant buildings as less workers return to office environments. Facility Managers should assess a susceptibility to arson and produce a specific risk assessment covering areas such as waste collection, access to the building, who might be coming and going, removing ignition sources etc.
Fire alarms, physical security, fire door inspections and sprinkler systems should all form part of any risk assessment. Leading industry bodies such as BAFE and Fire Industry Association (FIA) has updated guidance on installation, service and maintenance requirements on and obligations on premises management.
The need to monitor emergency lighting to ensure a safe and timely escape is critical, even in the event of a powercut. Weekly or monthly light flick tests, even for an empty properly ensure the integrity of the system is maintained.
Overall, with a reduced work force there may be an increased likelihood of people working alone within buildings; Facility Managers need to ensure that these people are provided with adequate warning in case of fire so they do not become trapped.
Fire Safety Solutions
Whether buildings are in use or not, all fire maintenance checks must be up to date. Failure to do so can result in fines and potential litigation for businesses. Systems need to be maintained, inspected, and tested regularly.
Amthal is working closely with Facility Managers to provide initial support and guidance to ensure staff and premises remain safe throughout this challenging and rapidly evolving period.
From operating in a social distanced capacity, ensuring all necessary PPE is worn, Amthal has been functioning throughout the pandemic as a key worker to ensure a constant review of premises fire risk assessments. This includes citing whether any changes made to customer’s premises or staff to control the spread of COVID-19 are managed and mitigated. Any significant changes have been identified and recorded in a Fire Risk Assessment.
In summary, the risk of fires and other emergencies has not disappeared in the midst of the pandemic. It’s imperative that measures remain in place to adequately protect staff and visitors from these potential threats, even at a time when they’re not necessarily at the forefront of many people’s minds.
Extra precautions, awareness of new hazards, both on an internal and external basis, together with an adherence to an inspections and maintenance schedule will ensure that a facility will be safe and operational for years to come, even if its use or capacity has changed.
As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, Amthal is committed to supporting businesses and facility managers ongoing with the resources, systems and solutions required to help minimise the fire risk.
As featured in Tomorrow’s FM – November 2020