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A guide for fire drills in the workplace

In any workplace, safety should always be a top priority. One crucial aspect of maintaining a safe environment is conducting regular fire drills. While we may hope that a fire emergency never occurs, it is imperative to be prepared for such situations. Fire drills provide employees with the knowledge and confidence to respond effectively in the event of a fire, minimising potential harm and property damage. In this blog: A guide for fire drills in the workplace, we will explore the significance of fire drills in the workplace and how they contribute to a safer and more secure working environment for everyone involved. So, let's dive in and discover why fire drills are more than just routine exercises.

A guide for fire drills in the workplace: Why fire drills are important

The necessity of fire drills is underscored by various factors, including:

Adherence to law – The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 imposes a legal obligation on the accountable person to establish protocols for serious and imminent danger (Article 15). They are also required to back these protocols with suitable training and guidance, which encompasses fire drills. Regular execution of fire drills ensures that fire safety laws are upheld.

Life-saving – In the face of a fire, unfamiliarity with what to do or where to go can result in life-threatening indecision and delays. Regular fire drills aid in acclimating both new and current employees to the company's emergency procedures. Being well-versed in emergency procedures mitigates panic and facilitates quicker and safer evacuation. As the adage goes, "practice makes perfect".

Evaluating effectiveness of emergency procedures – If emergency procedures are flawed, it can have grave repercussions during a real fire. Regular fire drills serve as a platform to test these procedures for efficacy and to evaluate the effectiveness of escape routes. If things don't proceed as expected, a fire drill becomes a learning experience and an opportunity to modify procedures.

Checking warning systems – If inhabitants can't hear the fire alarm, it could result in delayed evacuation. A weekly fire alarm test is recommended. However, a fire drill offers a chance to ascertain:– The alarm is functional.– Sounders are operational throughout the building (including secluded areas).– The alarm is audible to everyone.– Alternate alert systems, like vibration devices for those with hearing impairments, are functional.

Testing PEEPs – Individuals who cannot evacuate the building independently must have a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP), such as those with a disability or mobility issues. It can be challenging to assist others in evacuation, particularly when special equipment is needed. A fire drill allows those tasked with assisting others in evacuation to implement the PEEP.

Everyone must understand their role and responsibilities during a fire. Practical exercises like fire drills help occupants remember their tasks. Fire drills are also crucial for those with specific fire safety roles during an emergency, such as fire wardens.

In summary, fire drills are of vital importance as they equip individuals with the knowledge and readiness needed in the event of a real fire on the premises.

fire drill sign

What to do before a fire drill

To ensure an effective fire drill, it is necessary to establish the goals and objectives of the exercise beforehand. For instance, you might want to focus on shortening the evacuation time or a specific aspect of the evacuation procedure. To achieve these objectives, preparation is key. Here are some steps to take before initiating the fire alarm:

Safety of Equipment – When planning the drill, consider any equipment that might need to be shut down or left behind during the exercise to ensure safety.

Participant Selection – While ideally everyone should participate in the fire drill, it may not always be feasible due to certain roles or workplace constraints. For instance, employees engaged in critical processes that cannot be interrupted may not be able to take part. However, you should rotate employees to ensure everyone gets to participate at least once a year.

Observer Nomination – Appoint a sufficient number of observers throughout the building to monitor and evaluate the drill. These observers should be trained and instructed on what to observe and record.

Staff Notification – Some prefer unannounced drills to simulate a real fire situation, while others argue that surprise drills could induce panic and potential health and safety risks. The decision to inform staff about the drill will depend on your workplace. If you choose to inform them, provide relevant details and stress their required participation. Also, brief those with specific roles on the details and ensure they avoid using firefighting equipment like extinguishers during the drill.

Coordination with Building Occupants – If the building houses multiple employers, coordination among them is crucial for fire drills. Make other occupants aware of planned drills as they might want to join or conduct their own.

Alarm Company and/or Fire Service Notification – To avoid a false alarm situation and potential charges, inform your alarm monitoring company and/or fire and rescue service about the planned fire drill.

Public and Visitor Notification – If visitors and the public are expected on the premises during the drill, they must be informed to avoid unnecessary panic.

Health and Safety Risk Assessment – Look for any internal or external health and safety risks that could compromise people's safety during the drill, such as severe weather forecasts or obstructions along escape routes.

If any issues arise during the planning phase, like extreme weather conditions, postpone the drill until it can be conducted safely and effectively.

fire drills

How to conduct a fire drill

On the day of the fire drill, once all preparations are complete, you can proceed with the exercise. The exact procedure will be determined by the nature of your workplace, the occupants, and the evacuation strategy in place. However, here are some general steps to follow:

Send nominated observers to their spots – The individuals assigned to monitor the fire drill should move to their observation points. They should take notes on both commendable and problematic practices during the drill.

Have a random staff member trigger the alarm – Ask a random employee to activate the nearest alarm call point using the test key. Make sure to note whether they know the location of the nearest call point.

Time the evacuation – As soon as the alarm rings, someone should time how long it takes for everyone to evacuate. Using a stopwatch for accuracy is recommended. The timing should stop once the evacuation is completed.

Monitor actions and difficulties during the drill – The responsible person and nominated observers should watch the drill and note any inappropriate behaviour (like stopping to collect personal belongings or using elevators), instances of windows and doors being left open, slow reaction times, and any challenges faced by those with disabilities or mobility issues. They should also check whether people are using the nearest escape route and whether those with specific roles, like fire wardens, are correctly executing their responsibilities.

Conduct a roll call at the assembly point – At the assembly point, perform a roll call to ensure everyone has exited the building. If anyone is missing, determine why. Observers should note any communication difficulties during the roll call. Fire wardens should report to the assembly point and confirm that their designated areas were clear. Only after the roll call is complete should people be allowed to re-enter the building.

Inform the fire alarm monitoring centre – If your fire alarm system is monitored by a receiving centre or the fire and rescue service, notify them that the drill is complete.

Debrief and provide feedback – After the fire drill, hold a discussion with participants to get their thoughts on the drill and to identify any problems they noticed. Ask them for suggestions to improve the evacuation process. Record and review the observations made during the drill, and promptly carry out any necessary remedial actions.

Remember, the goal of a fire drill is not just to practice evacuation procedures, but also to identify and rectify any issues in the current plan. By following these steps, you will ensure that your workplace is better prepared in case of a real fire.

image of fire drill role call

In conclusion, Fire drills are a crucial component of any comprehensive fire safety plan and should be conducted at least annually. By practicing and preparing for emergencies, individuals can increase their chances of a safe evacuation and minimise potential risks. Regular fire drills not only enhance response time and confidence but also serve as a reminder of the importance of fire safety in our daily lives.

So, let's prioritise fire drills, be prepared, and stay safe!

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