Following on from Grenfell, the Fire Safety Act passed into law in April 2021. A complementary piece of legislation, the Building Safety Bill, is currently working its way through parliament and will pass into law in due course.
Both seek to improve fire safety, especially within residential buildings, but with the latter applying to all buildings over 18 metres high.
It therefore seems timely to look consider ways to reduce the risk of fires in office environments. We’ve drawn some of the following facts and advice from the London Fire Brigade (LFB) website and added some of our own insight.
To start, here are some sobering facts.
The Association of British Insurers reported that around 60% of private businesses fail to recover from a fire. But as the LFB highlight, many office managers mistakenly think that fire safety is not their own responsibility, but their landlord’s.
In fact, by law, every business needs to complete a Fire Risk Assessment and make a emergency plan. Doing so is also good practice as it helps you identify and mitigate against risks.
Four of the most common fire-related risks in offices
1. Not planning appropriate escape routes
Always take different people’s abilities to respond to and escape from a fire into account. This is partly about ways of safely vacating the building via fire exits, but also about the more day-to-day elements of your office layout.
Would the density of occupation lead to a bottleneck in the event of a fire? Will those funky changes you want to make to the layout, or exciting alterations to the walls and corridors help or hinder escape should the worst happen?
2. Electrical faults or misuse
The LFB cite several different kinds of electrical fault among the most common causes of office fires. These include improperly tested or poorly maintained portable items; the electrical system itself not being in good condition; and lighting being placed too close to flammable materials.
At Procol, we take electrical safety extremely seriously, which is why we have NICEIC Approved Contractor status.
This gives our clients peace of mind that the electrical work we undertake is done properly. And our awareness of fire safety means we consider some aspects of an office fit-out that others may not, such as the need for fire detection in ceiling and flooring voids.
3. Wedging fire doors open
Properly installed-and-maintained fire doors can hold a fire back for 30 minutes… but only if they’re closed. At Procol, we’ve seen countless occasions of fire doors being propped open – ironically, often by fire extinguishers!
We understand that closed doors get in the way of people rushing to meetings and the like. We know that heavy fire doors feel like a hinderance 99.99% of the time. And that’s why we often specify and supply fire doors that can be held open by electromagnets which connect to the building’s fire detection system. When the alarm sounds, the doors are automatically released and closed.
While smoking has been banned in most working environments since 2007, it is still a common cause of office fires. Chiefly, this is due to materials being disposed of carelessly (think matches, cigarette butts and even lighters).
Many businesses have been incredibly active in encouraging their employees to be healthier, including by quitting smoking. But acknowledging and managing smokers’ behaviour is still important to ensure that smoking doesn’t take place ‘under the radar’ in places where carelessness could cause a fire. (Behind the bins or in the stationery cupboard sound like clichés, but we’re sure UK’s fire brigades have been there, seen it and dowsed the flames.)
Further ways Procol can help improve the fire safety of your office
We work with expert specialists who can carry out a fire risk assessment of your premises. Then, in line with their recommendations and your requirements, we can specify, install and – importantly – certificate a wide range of fire safety measures. These include active systems such as automated fire doors (as mentioned above) and fire detection and suppression systems, and passive fire protection such as containment barriers and seals that preventing or slow the spread of fire and smoke.