Fire alarms are an essential safety measure in most premises, be that a factory, office, restaurant or garage, but they are only effective if people know how to react in response to them.
The best way – perhaps the only really realistic way – is to carry out regular practice fire evacuations. This is recognised in the legislation covering fire safety in non-domestic premises.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, requires staff to be informed and trained about the fire safety risks in your premises and the actions that should be taken in the event of a fire.
All staff should receive training in fire safety awareness which should be refreshed annually. Anyone with additional responsibilities, such as fire marshals, will need more thorough training.
"All staff should be familiar with the sounders, beacons or other warning devices in their place of work!"
When the fire alarm sounds, they should not be wondering what that irritating noise is. Fire alarm systems should be regularly tested so, if that testing is done when the premises are in use, the test also serves the purpose of familiarising staff with the alarm itself.
All staff should know where the exit routes and assembly area are by taking part in regular practice evacuations. These drills give everyone the opportunity to find the fire exits and not just go out the way they came in, which is what most people naturally do.
A practice evacuation should be as realistic as possible, so many organisations do them with no warning or when the premises are busy. Some even add smoke canisters, turn the lights off or close off a popular exit route as if it were blocked or inaccessible through fire.
"That may not be necessary, but it certainly adds to the sense of drama and helps make the drill memorable!"
As well as getting used to making their way out quickly and quietly, some staff may also have to assist visitors or disabled colleagues. All these variations require rehearsal and lots of practice so that they become automatic.
How often to carry out practice evacuations will depend on the premises and the staff. Twice a year is probably adequate for most places, but if there is a high turnover of staff or frequent changes to the building, then more frequent drills may be necessary.
Even if you are carrying out regular practice evacuations, it is still important for someone to observe them, to monitor how staff reacted and to record any issues to be dealt with afterwards.
- How long did it take to evacuate the building?
- Did anyone stay behind?
- Did anyone dawdle on the way out?
- Who went back in before the all-clear?
- Did anyone lock doors on the way out or leave doors and windows open?
- Were there any issues with staff or visitors who needed assistance?
These questions and more should be addressed, so that next time the drill will be better and, eventually, it will be as near perfect as possible.
In a real evacuation, everyone stands the best chance of getting out safely the more and more you practise. But ensure you practise right because if you get things wrong, you'll embed bad habits.
"Practise makes perfect!"
If you'd like to know more about how to run a regular fire evacuation and what to look out for to improve in future, call Picaw on 0845 287 3622 or send us an email and let's see how we can help you.