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Although it is a rare occurrence, a fire can be devastating to a business and can cost lives. Sometimes fire safety protocol and drills might seem extreme to staff and employees, but a fire only has to happen once to cause devastation. These protocols and drills have been established over many years and the professional advice is to ensure you have a fire evacuation plan in place.
A fire evacuation plan will look different to different businesses. In many cases it will be a simple procedure of leaving the building in an orderly fashion and assembling in an outdoor space for a roll call. In other, more extreme cases, people may have to stay in the building while firefighters handle the blaze as quickly and responsibly as possible.
So what do you need to create a Fire evacuation plan for your business that is effective and responsible? The answers are in this article. We look at what a fire evacuation plan is and why it’s important. We also look at the different types of Fire Evacuation Plans available and why they might be effective or not for your business. Read on to find out more.
What is a fire evacuation plan?
A Fire Evacuation Plan is a document that is drawn up by your business. It outlines the steps to be taken for staff members and members of the public to safely evacuate a building in the event of a fire alarm. These steps taken in the event of a fire are designed to protect the welfare of staff and individuals until the fire brigade arrives.
The type and quantity of Fire Evacuation Plans you have will depend on the size of your business. Smaller businesses tend to have a General Fire Evacuation notice. This may take the form of some simple instructions located on a wall or stairwell. It is easy to read and visible to everyone in the building.
Larger businesses, or ones at greater risk of fires, may have a more detailed Fire Evacuation Plan for employees. This type of Fire Evacuation Plan will be more substantial. Along with the general advice it will also contain areas and staff members most at risk. The notices will give clear and concise instructions on evacuation procedures.
Why is a fire evacuation plan needed?
While it may seem like a fire in a business or commercial premises is a rare occurrence, that’s only because of the fire prevention safety measures put in place, and the commitment to testing and adhering to best practices. According to Home Office statistics there were a total of 15, 815 avoidable fires in the workplace in the UK in the years 2016/17. These figures are fairly average.
The fact is that businesses are at a high risk of fire due to many electrical devices being left on and possible faulty wiring in the system. Generally businesses are checked routinely by inspectors but there is still a high incidence of accidental fires in offices, call centres and retail premises. This cannot be ignored, and typically isn’t, especially by insurance companies.
Without an appropriate Fire Evacuation Plan in place staff and employees would be at a greater risk of injury or loss of life. A Fire Evacuation Plan is enacted after careful planning to determine the best fire safety protocol for the business type and the premises. As a result it is the safest and most effective way of keeping people safe in the event of a fire.
The Importance of a fire evacuation plan
In the absence of a Fire Evacuation Plan staff and employees are at a greater risk of being trapped in the building and losing their life in the event of a fire. The evacuation plan is designed and tested to ensure individuals follow the safest route out of the building and conform to the best safety practices.
The year 2019/20 recorded the lowest ever rates of fire related fatalities (FRF) in the UK since the year 2000. The reduction in these FRFs is due in large part to effective Fire Evacuation Plans that work in conjunction with modern alarm systems and modern fire training methods to ensure individuals exit the building safely.
Having a Fire Evacuation Plan in place in your business means that everyone is on the same page in the unfortunate event of a fire and knows the protocol. It means that nobody decides to pursue self interests and thereby put themselves and others at risk. As a business it is important to instil the protocol of a Fire Evacuation Plan into your employees, with training and regular revision.
Evacuation Plans for different business types
It doesn’t matter what size your business or what industry it operates in, if it’s a commercial enterprise it will have an associated fire risk. Some business owners might think that since they only operate out of one office, or run their business from home, that it doesn’t require a Fire Evacuation Plan – this is probably an irresponsible attitude.
Any commercial enterprise, regardless of its size or shape, will be at risk of catching fire and endangering the lives of employees and surrounding premises. Along with adequate insurance to cover your business and third-party losses, you need a Fire Evacuation Plan that safeguards the lives of your staff and business associates.
If you run a small, one office business, your Fire Evacuation Plan and routine inspections will be simpler to arrange. However, you will still have to test your alarm system and sprinkler system as regularly as any multinational business. Often fires are caused by unlikely events and occurrences: you need to be ready for all eventualities.
What is individual responsibility?
In the event of a fire in the workplace it is crucial that individual staff, workers and contractors follow the fire safety protocol to the letter. A Fire Evacuation Plan has been carefully designed to ensure the safety of everyone in the building. This requires individuals to follow protocol, and in some cases take action.
Every Fire Evacuation Plan is different. It depends on the type of building and the nature of the industry. However, some strategies call for individual actions such as setting off fire alarms close to them in the event of a fire or incident. In other cases, individuals might be expected to call the fire brigade.
Mostly, individual responsibility simply means following the Fire Evacuation Plan protocol set out in the training and displayed on the walls. This asks employees to stop what they’re doing and to leave the building in a quick and orderly manner. They will gather at a fire point outside the building.
Why does individual responsibility matter?
A Fire Evacuation Plan is normally developed by a responsible person within a business. This could be a CEO, a manager, or a senior employee. The task of this person is to work with the fire safety authorities to determine the fire safety risk of the building and for particular staff members.
This research is then integrated and developed into an effective Fire Evacuation Plan. The plan is given to new and existing employees and displayed openly on the walls, stairwells and in the building’s lifts. It will be someone else’s responsibility to ensure that all staff members know and understand the fire safety protocol. It is then up to individuals to be responsible.
If someone in the building decides not to follow the protocol, they put themselves and others at risk. If they are not where they should be during a fire event it will mean someone has to look for them in the building. Individual responsibility matters, because it’s integral to the success of the Fire Evacuation Plan.
What is included in a fire evacuation plan?
Not every Fire Evacuation Plan will be the same. You will have to research your building and consult with the local fire service for advice on best practice. Nevertheless, you are likely to include items from the list below to incorporate into a tailor-made fire safety solution for your business.
A Fire Evacuation Strategy
The fastest way to alert people to the existence of a fire. Account for deaf and hard of hearing people.
Ensure there is adequate and visible signage and explanations of how people can exit the building.
There should be ample signage throughout the building to show people the fastest route to a safe outdoor space.
These have a push bar system making them easy to open. They are also heavier than normal doors and more fireproof.
Fire extinguishers for different types of fire need to be situated throughout the building.
Fire Alarm Locations
Fire alarms must be situated at easy to reach locations so they can be switched on without delay.
Emergency Services Contacts
You must assign the role of contacting the emergency service to a staff member.
You will need emergency lighting in the stairwells and other windowless locations in case the power fails.
Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs)
Some people will require special dispensation in the event of a fire. Individual requirements should be understood.
Everyone in the building should be fully aware of where the assembly point is and know their personal responsibilities.
Procedures for Roll Call
Develop a roll call system to ensure everyone has left the building. Have a strategy for those not present.
Types of fire evacuation strategy
Your business’s Fire Evacuation Strategy will largely depend on the type of premises you operate and the number of employees in the building. You may need a Fire Warden to direct and instruct large groups of people during a serious fire.
A Simultaneous Evacuation is the most common Fire Evacuation Strategy. It is used for businesses that have relatively small premises and not many employees. Staff will calmly follow fire safety protocol and exit the building together in the direction of the assembly point. There will then be a roll call.
Vertical/Horizontal Phased Evacuation
Vertical/Horizontal Phased Evacuation refers to the process of evacuation of those most at risk first. This means those in the vicinity of the fire, below it and above it will get priority. Others will be evacuated later. This style is for larger, more complex buildings like hospitals and care homes. Although effective, this strategy can be risky and requires enhanced protocols like voice alarm systems.
Staff Alarm Evacuation
In some buildings, such as cinemas, it is not appropriate to set off a fire alarm. Due to the number of people at risk it would cause widespread panic. Instead, there is a silent alarm that sounds for staff members only. This allows them to put some arranged plans in place and evacuate people calmly and in an orderly way.
Defend in Place
A Defend in Place Strategy is when the occupant of the building stays where they are while the fire services extinguish the fire around them. This is needed for those in hospitals and care homes connected to life support machines and other patients who can’t easily move from their beds. This strategy is highly risky and should only be considered in extreme cases.
The best evacuation strategy
The best Fire Evacuation Strategy is the one that suits your business and industry. There’s clearly no point in putting people at risk with a Vertical or Horizontal Phased Evacuation plan if you only operate a small office with a handful of employees. Equally, a Simultaneous Evacuation may not be appropriate for a hospital or care home.
You will have to work with your senior managers and fire safety service to determine which Fire Evacuation Plan is best for your business. When developing this plan you will assess the building and access routes, and take into account the locations of employees and their operating hours. When you have drawn up your initial Fire Evacuation Plan it will be clear which strategy is most appropriate.
What about people with disabilities?
Every office and business today contains individuals with disabilities and special requirements. These might include those in wheelchairs, people who can’t hear and those with trouble seeing. Such people must be integrated into the Fire Evacuation Plan to ensure they are not vulnerable. For this, a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) is needed.
A PEEP is a plan that’s designed specially to incorporate vulnerable persons and ensure they are given the protection needed from the first sounds of an alarm until the roll call is taken outside. The PEEP covers all aspects of the Fire Evacuation Plan including a person’s ability to comprehend instructions and signs, to their general mobility. This plan should be specially tailored to your office or business.
Since every office/business situation will be different you will have to issue an emergency evacuation assessment form during orientation. This will provide management with the data needed to make intelligent decisions regarding the company’s Fire Evacuation Plan. Following the integration of new data, arrangements can be made to protect vulnerable individuals.
The dos and don’ts of fire evacuation
In the event of a fire there are some clear do and don’t strategies that every employee should know and understand. These can be typed up easily and displayed visibly on the wall. Perhaps in the canteen or lifts.
- Turn on the nearest fire alarm.
- Escort visitors off the premises.
- Evacuate to the assembly point.
- Assist any PEEPs.
- Use lifts.
- Run or cause confusion and panic.
- Collect belongings when leaving.
- Try to fight the fire untrained.
A Fire Evacuation Plan will only work if it’s been tested and if everyone knows their individual responsibilities. Remember to practise fire drills routinely and ensure that all staff understand their duties in a crisis situation.
An Emergency Fire Action Plan is a strategy designed by the owners of a company to protect the staff and employees in the building. The plan is tailor-made to suit the building, the company and the industry. The plan also takes into account individual requirements such as vulnerable persons. This is carried out using a PEEPs plan.
For a fire evacuation plan to work effectively, the staff and employees of a business need to understand their individual responsibilities in the event of a fire. In the case of Fire Wardens this might mean escorting vulnerable individuals to the assembly point or using fire extinguishers. For most, however, it will mean simply following their instructions and training.
There are four types of fire evacuation plan. There is simultaneous, vertical and horizontal, staff alarm, and defend in place. Your Fire Evacuation Plan will eventually fall into one of these categories depending on the nature of your business. Finally, for a fire evacuation plan to work successfully, your staff and employees must be on the same page. Signs, training and drills are crucial.