Fire safety should always be on the agenda for any business regardless of whether you employ hundreds of workers or are a smaller, family-run operation. If you suffer from fire damage, it takes months to recover, and sadly many businesses never re-open. The right alarm system is key to protecting your property and business and even saving lives, but fire protection is about more than when the fire happens.
People and technology working together
The bottom line is that the approach to fire and crime should always be prevention first. Fire has the potential to do a great deal of harm to the lives and livelihoods of those it affects. The fire services reported attending just over 145,000 fires in 2021. Of these, over 61,000 were primary fires which means they had the potential to harm, took place in non-derelict buildings, and damaged property. The positive note, though, is that the number of fires decreases yearly. That said, any fire is one too many, so how should a business go about fire prevention and safety?
There are three general areas that need to consider and then integrated into an overall approach. So, the first piece of advice is to try not to think of any part of your fire safety as isolated from any other. To get maximum protection, you need to have everything working together.
1 – Fire prevention and detection
Every business should have a responsible person when it comes to fire safety. That will vary depending on your circumstances. In smaller businesses, it is likely to be the owner, manager or landlord, while it may be a facility or building manager in a larger business. Some companies may also have an appointed Safety Manager. Whoever the Responsible Person is, though, they will need to ensure that fire safety rules are in place and followed.
Main kinds of fire detection
There are four general ways a system will use to detect a potential fire.
- The presence of smoke
- Changes in heat
- Increase in carbon monoxide
- A combination of the above
Many fire protection systems for larger premises will use a combination of these methods. Some areas, such as kitchens or extremely hot areas often found in industrial premises, may not be suitable for certain detection units.
In terms of detection systems, we should probably add a further one, human beings. It is a part of the responsible person’s duty to ensure that all employees are aware of fire safety, and that really should include spotting fires and triggering the manual alarm points.
2 – Responding to a fire
Response time is top of the agenda when a fire is detected. Therefore, a fire alarm system will alert people in the immediate vicinity in at least two ways: an audible, very loud siren or bell and a visual warning.
A good system will also call the emergency services immediately if a problem is detected, and they will respond immediately. Unless they receive information that the alarm was false from a trusted source, they will always attend. A blaze can spread incredibly quickly, so the priority of the fire service will arrive as fast as possible and control the situation. Unless it is a minor fire and you are confident you can control it, always alert the fire service and let the professionals handle things. Once they arrive, the best support you can offer is to comply with their instructions and let them get on with controlling the damage and saving lives.
The most significant immediate danger to the well-being of anyone in a fire situation is often smoke inhalation. Smoke can be superheated, toxic and reduces the available oxygen. Sadly, it can often incapacitate people quickly and cause injury and death in a short time. Smoke alarms should always be in working order and should never be ignored.
Once a fire is detected, a priority for the Fire Marshals is to evacuate the area. You should have clear signage indicating escape routes, evacuation points, and fire alarm zone charts (signs and notices are very important to your safety plan. This is a major reason why businesses fail fire inspections). The alarm and Fire Marshal combination is the perfect example of the need to understand the necessity for a complete fire protection overview. While most people react well and leave when an alarm sounds, some will hesitate until a Fire Warden tells them to leave.
When the emergency services arrive, they will want to confirm some information, such as any missing persons and which zones are seemingly affected. Many more sophisticated alarms will be able to provide some exact information that will help them minimise the damage.
3 – Resilience
Once the fire incident is over, your business needs to be back in service as fast as possible. Therefore it’s a good idea to have a resilience plan in place. Much of this will depend on the severity of the damage and your specific circumstances, but you will need to secure things while you get up and running again. If you had the right system installed in the first place, the fire will hopefully have been contained and controlled quickly, and you will not need to relocate.
Your fire protection will need to be an early concern in your resilience plan because the system could have been damaged. It will undoubtedly need resetting, checking and maintaining to get it back in operation. Sadly around 50% of fires are arson-related, so re-securing your premises will also be a priority to prevent further attacks.
Hopefully, you will never need your fire alarm system, but it should be ready to protect you and your premises if you do. To comply with fire regulations, the alarms must have the correct specification to begin with, then be maintained and tested regularly to ensure they are in full working order. This all goes hand in hand with the human element. Much of complying with legislation is about ensuring your team and visitors respond appropriately when the fire system is activated. Without compliance and correct response, the cost to your business is likely to be higher. Much worse is the possibility of unnecessary injury or even fatalities.
Call us to discuss your commercial fire protection needs, and we will be happy to chat about your specific requirements. We are here to help you comply with the regulations and keep your business and staff safe.