Improvements in fire prevention technology and the efforts of the emergency services mean that it is possible to achieve a greater level of fire safety than ever before. However, when it comes to fire prevention it is vital to remember that businesses and organisations can never afford to lapse into complacency.
As a recent fire breakout at a chemical factory in Aldermaston, Berkshire reminded us all too clearly, major fires in commercial, industrial and municipal buildings can and do still happen. Given that as many as two-thirds of businesses which are impacted by a building fire will cease trading, the severity of the threat posed by fire risks could not be more clear.
Installing a suitable fire alarm system should, therefore, be a top priority for anyone responsible for ensuring optimal safety for any business or organisation. With this in mind, here is our overview of some of the major concerns which an effective workplace fire prevention strategy should address.
Under the terms of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order of 2005, UK law requires that all buildings with the exception of private homes have a clearly documented fire safety strategy in place. This should include:
- Adherence of the property to the required fire safety standards.
- Adequate fire safety training for all employees.
- A thorough and effective fire risk assessment.
Additional legislation could apply depending on the nature of the building in question, for example if it is used to store chemicals, so it is vital that building owners, site managers and anyone else with responsibility for fire safety take steps to identify and address any relevant legislation which might apply.
'Fire Risk Assessment' refers to the process of conducting a comprehensive inspection and review of a property with the purpose of identifying all the factors which have the potential to increase the possibility of a fire event occurring. In the case of commercial buildings with five or more occupants, UK law stipulates that this should be accompanied by clear documentation, together with a detailed description of how any issues are to be addressed. In practice, a Fire Risk Assessment should address:
- Who is more likely to be at risk.
- What reasonable actions can be taken to eliminate or reduce the risk of fire.
- What general precautions can be taken to prevent fire.
- What flammable or explosive materials are present and what measures can be taken to deal with the additional fire risk they pose.
A fire risk assessment should also:
- Include a plan of how to deal with fire emergencies and record any previously unidentified vulnerabilities in order to mitigate them in future.
- Establish general fire precautions and provide fire safety equipment e.g. fire extinguishers for firefighters.
- Record all findings and maintain continual review of the fire safety assessment itself.
UK law requires that a Fire Risk Assessment is conducted by a 'competent person'. Exactly what constitutes 'competent' in this context is not clearly defined, however for the avoidance of doubt it is advisable to engage the services of a certified fire safety professional to undertake this process.
Quite apart from fulfilling the relevant legal obligations, conducting a proper Fire Risk Assessment should meet a number of highly important objectives which will be or great benefit to your business or organisation.
- Identifying fire hazards and people at risk so the potential for these threats to cause harm is as low as possible.
- Determining what management policies are most suitable for protecting the safety of the people in the building.
- Ensuring that the premises can be evacuated safely in the event of a fire.
- Limiting the effects of a fire.
In order to achieve these objectives, your business or organisation will need to utilise safety solutions which have been chosen according to the nature of the premises, its contents, and the activities which take place there. Any equipment must be properly installed, tested, and maintained, and staff should be given appropriate training.
Before making a decision regarding which fire alarm to install at your premises, it is advisable to have a broad understanding of the different types of system which are available. This will enable you to match the most suitable fire alarm type to the specific demands and requirements of your premises. Types of fire alarm available include:
- Conventional: A low-cost option. Will not identify which detection unit initiated activation and is therefore incapable of identifying the location of the fire within the building.
- Addressable: Consists of a series of fire detectors and devices that are connected back to a central control panel. Capable of integrating with other systems for a complete fire strategy, creating the potential to reduce false alarms and increase safety across your site.
- Analogue addressable: Designed for large commercial premises and more complicated network systems, analogue-addressable fire alarm systems have all the same requirements of an addressable system but have the capacity to provide details and monitoring from individual detectors.
- Wireless systems: Equipped with detectors which are connected wirelessly to a central control to the panel. A practical option for buildings without an existing fire alarm system, heritage buildings or large open spaces where cabling is not cost effective. They can be installed relatively quickly and easily.
Once a fire alarm has been raised, the main priority is to notify anyone present as promptly as possible. Beyond this, an efficient fire alarm system should help to facilitate the most efficient response possible.
This can include incorporating measures which will provide guidance to anyone present as they evacuate the building (for example by using lighting to indicate the location of fire escapes), providing voice guidance on evacuation procedures, notifying the emergency services, and even identifying a potential false alarm.
While, in many cases, a conventional alarm accompanied by a red flashing light will be sufficient to notify anyone present that a potential fire situation is underway, there are also circumstances in which this will not be enough. One clear example of this is instances of possible fire which occur when there is no one in attendance at the building.
Also, certain individuals who are away from the building but are responsible for it may need to be notified of a raised fire alarm in the first instance. Finally, additional technology can be used to ensure that anyone who might be less able to react to a conventional fire alarm - perhaps due to a visual or hearing impairment - is still alerted quickly to an ongoing fire emergency.
Available Technology Includes:
- Pager Systems: Used to notify specific individuals of which actions they should to take in response to specific events. Pagers are also used to notify the hard of hearing of a fire in the building in lieu of Visual Alarm Signals. This, of course relies on the person who is hard of hearing requesting a pager on arrival to the building which puts your business at risk if one isn’t provided to them.
- Visual Alarm Signals: Enables property owners/managers to provide deaf or hearing-impaired staff with an effective fire emergency warning and comply with UK government directive BS5839-1:2013 which stipulates that “Visual alarm signals should be used to supplemented audible alarm signals in situations where the latter are likely to become ineffective”.
- Tactile Devices: Typically availed in a vibrating pager format, these devices can be used to wake sleeping building occupants in the event that a fire alarm is raised. Most often used in buildings which feature overnight accommodation, these devices can be linked to a central fire alarm system
Increasingly, a combination of these systems can be used alongside intelligent technology to create a fully integrated fire alarm system. Messages can be transmitted wirelessly to help direct responders and streamline the way in which a fire emergency is handled. Modern pager systems in particular are able to:
- Monitor events in real time.
- Make decisions based on pre-programmed rules.
- Prioritise real-time events.
- Notify building occupants and other relevant individuals of the location of fires and the most efficient escape route via text message.
- Organise and prioritise notifications according to who is receiving them and the level of urgency.
You are also able to get fire alarm detectors with integrated voice speakers to assist in phased evacuation of buildings, pre-notify of building fire alarm tests or notify certain areas of what to do in the event of a fire. They can also be used to evacuate the building in any other emergencies such as terrorist threats, bomb scares, chemical spills or safety emergencies.
Example Messages Include:
“An incident has been reported in the building, please await further instructions.”
“Attention please, this is an emergency. Please leave the building by the nearest available exit.”
“This is a fire alarm! Please leave the building immediately by the nearest available exit.”
The purpose of a Fire Suppression Systems is to attempt to combat a fire automatically as it occurs. Which type of the type system is most suitable for your premises will depend on numerous factors including the materials on site, layout of building, and whether humans are present.
Fire Suppression Systems types include:
- Water Sprinkler Systems: The most common type, can be ready at all times with a full connection to the mains water supply.
- Inert Gas: Displaces the oxygen in a room, which can have the effect of 'starving' the fire.
- Automatic Wet and Dry Chemical Systems: A good option if your building contains materials which are sensitive to water or inert gases.