Fire Safety. What You Need to Know by Mark Lee

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Prevent spreading through your premises

                Anyone who uses or occupies a building expects that the building will be fitted with protective systems that will assist with protecting the building should a fire occur. Unfortunately this is not always the case, the Grenfell tower disaster is now, an all too recent example of inadequate fire safety systems and poor maintenance, despite many of the residence raised concerns.

The inquiry into the Grenfell tower disaster reported amongst other things that “A number of key fire protection measures inside the tower failed. Although some fire doors held back the smoke, others did not. Some were left open and failed to close because they lacked effective self-closing devices”.

https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/

Security personnel, fire and fire prevention

                Security personnel are likely to be the first responders at the scene of any fire alarm activation at their workplace. If they are not the first responders they will probably be the first to be alert to or notified of a fire alarm activation, monitoring of fire systems normally falls under the remit of onsite security personnel or offsite monitoring facilities.

                The role of security during emergencies such as fires is determined on the training provided and expectations of the service by their employer. Expectations should be thoroughly documented and explained and the appropriate level of training provided before the security personnel attend any incident.

What additional assistance could security personnel provide to prevent fires from initially starting to measure they could instigate to prevent a fire from spreading?

                After all, fire training provided to most security personnel often only involves the basic information such as the type of fire extinguisher that are available to use and the fire triangle. Image ML 2020

At work

                Under Section 19 of the Health and Safety Welfare at Work Act 2005 “every employer shall identify hazards, assess risks, including any unusual or other risks such as fire”. To comply with Section 19, employers are required to carry out risk assessments and to record these. A fire safety risk assessment should be conducted. As part of this assessment fire doors should be included.

                Furthermore any business is also required to comply with fire safety law. The main law is Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, also known as Fire Safety Order.

                Fire doors are a huge part of a building’s fire protection systems, a vital requirement for all buildings where people congregate, and are just as vital a part of the overall fire prevention system as would be sprinklers and the actual fire alarm system.

                Fire doors, as with any other door, must perform its base task on a daily basis, however unlike a regular door must be regularly inspected to ensure that during a fire, it performs correctly e.g. closing to its correct position, not wedged open or catching on the floor to ensure a flush fit so that it can create an effective barrier. This will ensure that the specialised nature of the door is utilised to its full potential allowing when an actual fire occurs that the fire is slowed and potential escape routes are accessible and lives could ultimately be saved.

So what could security personnel do to prevent fires spreading through your premises? 

The role of a security officer involves the patrolling of premises, internal and external inspection of buildings and equipment.

1. Whilst patrolling, and as part of equipment checks – add fire door checks.  When checking doors consider:

  • Do they close and fit snug in to the frame of the door?
  • Is signage present?
  • Has the door dropped?
  • Are hinges and door closures in good working order?
  • Are there any visual signs of damage?
  • Door hardware, (Locks, handles) does it operate correctly?
  • Are smoke seals fitted and in good order?
  • Are there excessive gaps between the door and frame? (no more than 3mm)

2. Report any build-up of waste. Organisations often have waste, paper, plastics etc. Waste should not be allowed to build up, especially inside or near to buildings.

3. Ensure Fire exits are kept clear at all times.

4. If discovered, report these findings to the appropriate departments with the organisation and record these in the Safety Statement and fire safety risk assessment.

                You may be wondering why this Security officer is recommending checking fire doors as part of my buildings patrols? Ultimately, the responsibility of maintenance and inspection of all fire doors would fall under the remit of that company’s Facilities Management team. However the very nature of the role of security is that they are more likely to use and monitor most doors across a site and are able to spot and report faults to ensure that doors are working correctly. The facts are that fire doors save lives by holding back and preventing fires from spreading quickly. Ensuring they are at their most effective could be the difference between a minor fire and a major disaster.

                If we as security professionals were checking fire doors on a regular basis it is quite possible recent events such as the fire at the Sir Robert Peel Community Hospital and Holiday Inn hotel in Walsall, may have resulted in the majority of the buildings being saved by preventing the spread of the fire into other areas.

Hospital fire

Sir Robert Peel Community Hospital. George Bryan Centre Tamworth. 

Fire cause:  Arson.

Whist the majority of the hospital building was saved a significant amount of damage was caused.  Part of the building was sacrificed to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the hospital.

Hotel fire. Holiday Inn, Walsall.

Fire cause: Accidental. Two storey building completely destroyed.

                Furthermore during a recent survey carried out by The Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS) on 677 fire doors in total, inspected at 31 different sites, a disturbing 2506 faults were identified!

  1. Over 61% of internal fire doors had fire or smoke seals either missing, installed incorrectly or not filling perimeter gaps correctly
  2. Over 1/3 had incorrect signage
  3. More than 230 (34%) of the internal fire doors inspected has excessive gaps between the door and its frame (i.e. over 3mm)
  4. Over 15% had noticeable damage to the door leaf/frame
  5. Almost 1 in 5 internal fire doors had unsuitable hinges

Added Value

                Regrettably fire, no matter its size, will cause some form of disruption or damage to any organisation’s operation for some amount of time. In 2008 UK insurers payed out £3.6m every day due to fire related damage.

                It was estimated that fires cost the UK economy £8.3 billion in that same year.

Source: fire-magazine.com

                Since austerity started (budget cutting) in the UK in 2010, it is anticipated that these figures will have risen as organisations have reduced their budgets and may be relying on minimal prevention, which in turn could be a false economy.

                In any workplace this would be an opportunity for security department’s to increase their value within the organisation and assist in a greater role in fire prevention.

                As security personnel we could benefit the organisation by helping to limit the damage caused by preventing fire spreading, possibly saving lives and potentially saving the organisation significant amount in damage and litigation.

Mark Lee. CSMP® M-ISMI® MInstLM

Mark is currently employed as a Security officer within the National Health Service (NHS), based at a large acute hospital located in inner city Birmingham. He is a Certified Security Management Professional (Dip-CSMP®), and holds a number of qualifications in the security and management field. He calls himself “far from academic, but lives to learn.” LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/mark-lee-csmp