It is sometimes easy to occasionally forget that we work in an industry in which lives are at stake. But every time I or a member of my team comes across a business with a huge gap in fire safety knowledge, we are reminded of the risks being played with.
I’m talking about the lack of fire exit signs, blocks to escape routes and absence of practical fire drill awareness that undoubtedly contributed to the 162,000 fires that the services attended to between April 2015 and March 2016 – the last recorded period.
If you asked them, how many business owners, or their senior staff, could tell you what a muster point is? This knowledge gap comes down to what appears to be a relatively widespread failure to understand the risks, and how to safeguard against them. And it’s a worry, because of the increasing prevalence of DIY fire safety, which we have seen businesses dabble in when trying to cut costs.
This isn’t a problem confined to shady companies trying to save a buck by cutting corners. A glance at some of the most recent £20,000+ fines to be handed out shows the recipients include the owners of one of the country’s top independent schools, a major supermarket chain, and an international corporation.
We’ve witnessed it in the form of inadequate equipment, untested alarms, faulty wiring and flammable materials piled high in offices. Locked or blocked fire exits, obstruction of fire escapes, and even missing fire doors are cropping up, and some organisations have a habit of leaving doors wedged open, offering insufficient fire separation.
While the lapses in fire safety vary in their nature, the lack of an adequate fire risk assessment seems to be something that many of the offending buildings have in common.
Organisations are taking a cavalier approach which might save the money in the short run, but could ultimately end up with them forking out more than they could have possibly imagined. Not only that, but they are displaying an enormous dereliction of duty when it comes to their employees.
I believe that in the end, it all comes back to the effective communication of fire safety as a necessity, not something that can be rushed or carried out as a half measure. That feeds back in to the importance of training within the work place – elements like staff being given fire safety guidance on induction, and employees learning that they shouldn’t gather directly outside the entrances to buildings, which can cause havoc with the emergency services. These are the things that can make all the difference in the event of a fire.
A commitment to impress the importance of adequate fire safety – from equipment, to planning and testing – is something we hope organisation bodies such as the FIA, BAFE and The Independent Fire Engineering & Distributors Association (IFEDA) will continue to impress upon companies in the UK.