Business In Community - Hybrid Working

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 As workplaces have evolved over the past year or so companies should have a flexible mind as to how to best keep your office/workplace compliant. The first point is often to check your risk assessment is up to date and make sure it stays adaptable to reflect your current working practices. 

If you have implemented a new hybrid working practice, altered the building layout, or changed how the building is used there is an onus on the Responsible Person to consider in the Fire Risk Assessment; 

  • Change in travel distances 
  • Escape Routes 
  • Frequency of fire alarm testing and Maintenance 
  • Frequency of fire evacuation drills 

The recent pandemic has impelled many businesses into offering new ways of working to keep their staff safe, including working from home. 

While staff has welcomed this new flexibility, understandably it has generated a number of restrictions, particularly on the availability of trained staff to fulfil required safety roles, such as that of the Fire Warden. 

As you have acknowledged traditionally, fire safety has been shared amongst a dedicated group of trained individuals selected from within the workforce. Often referred to as Fire Wardens or Fire Marshals, each should have received dedicated training for their role. 

Along with the organisation’s evacuation and fire escape plan, Fire Wardens play a crucial role in preserving the continuity of the workplace and are prepared for a fire emergency, often acting as first responders in a fire situation, and raising awareness regarding fire hazards that exist within the workplace. 

‘How many fire marshals do I need?’ was a question we were often asked during the Pandemic by a range of businesses, of course the number of fire marshals you need will be dependent on the nature of your business and size of your workforce. 

In the UK, it is a legal requirement for organisations to have trained people in place to assist with a range of activities such as firefighting, evacuation, and providing fire safety assistance. The challenge is to achieve this with the now limited people available in the office. 

Article 21.2 of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (The FSO) The Responsible Person must ensure that the employee's safety training includes suitable and sufficient instruction and training on the appropriate precautions and actions to be taken by the employee in order to safeguard themselves and other relevant persons on the premises. (Emphasis added)

It is obvious that a high-risk business with many employees will require more fire wardens than a low-risk business with just a handful of employees. If your staff work shifts, then you will also need to ensure that there are an appropriate number of fire wardens on-site during each shift.

Firstly, decide if you are a low risk, normal risk, or high-risk business. The level of fire risk in your business will dictate how many fire marshals you should have. 

There is no legal definition of low, normal, or high risk with regards to fire safety as it depends on many factors. If you feel unqualified to determine the risk level of your premises, or uncomfortable doing so, then check your Fire Risk Assessment, as it should have classified your premises for you. 

Some considerations; 

i. Low Fire Risk: 

Premises where there are: 

  • limited combustible materials 
  • virtually no sources of ignition 
  • premises that are traditionally built and well maintained 
  • no high-risk groups, such as the young, elderly, or disabled 
  • occupants that could escape quickly and safety in the event of a fire 
  • fire safety measures that are considered adequate and well maintained 

ii. Normal Fire Risk: 

Premises where there are: 

  • some combustible or highly flammable materials 
  • some sources of heat which could ignite a fire 
  • premises that may not be traditionally built 
  • a small number of high-risk individuals, (see above) 
  • a fire is likely to remain confined to room of origin or spread slowly, allowing people time to escape 
  • fire safety measures are adequate and well maintained 

iii. High Fire Risk: 

Premises where there are: 

  • substantial quantities of combustible or highly flammable materials 
  • sources of heat which could easily ignite a fire 
  • an unconventional layout or construction making it harder to escape easily 
  • risks that a fire could spread rapidly 
  • a large number of high-risk individuals, (see above) 
  • fire safety measures that are poorly maintained 

To estimate the number of fire wardens required, you should have a system in place to know how many workers will be in the office on any day. A rota or schedule is an effective way to ensure coverage while also seeing immediately who your fire wardens are if something should happen. 

Not stipulated but commonly for low-risk commercial properties one fire warden for every fifty staff would be sufficient, medium risk properties require one warden for every twenty staff, and high-risk properties require one warden for every fifteen staff. 

That said there is no set figure, you need to use your discretion during a risk assessment for fire safety to determine the level of risk and calculate the amount needed for your premises. Consider the number of buildings and floors, the number and type of occupants, the type of work conducted, the number of shifts, sickness, and leave. 

Businesses should review their resource options and possibly create an intermediate role of a dedicated ‘Evacuation Marshal’ requiring less training. This position simplifies and separates the role away from the Fire Warden so they can help as necessary during an emergency evacuation, this role deals specifically with the task of checking if each area of the building is clear, and reporting that information to the relevant person, building evacuation can then be achieved quickly and efficiently. 

Basically, everyone in your organisation needs some form of training/understanding from basic fire awareness to know what to do if they see a fire, or if they need to evacuate the building in response to a fire alarm, through fire wardens to Incident controller, the numbers are dictated by the risk. 

Communication with employees is key to ensuring everyone understands what is required of them when they are working in the office with regards to fire safety. Training for your team can be delivered online on site or at a bespoke venue allowing flexibility on the number of people trained. 

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