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Having had your Fire Risk Assessment recently completed, you have now written an emergency plan and you now know what to do in the event of a fire alarm. How will your staff know what to do?

Like most things, if you don’t use it you lose it! So having told your staff shortly after the Fire Risk Assessment was completed and the plan written, you’ve not had a fire and four or five months have passed. Unexpectedly the fire alarm is activated without notice, what can you expect from your staff?

How will your staff react when a fire alarm activates?

In most cases, even if you have told them you will have to reinforce the message to ensure they are comfortable and confident in dealing with a fire alarm situation.

You may possibly make some assumptions about how people will react, the Fire Alarm activates, staff then leave all belongings and exit the building safely to the designated meeting point.

In reality, unless the staff are constantly trained and informed you will get a very different reaction, the Fire Alarm activates, staff start asking’  “Is that the fire alarm?” “Is it a drill?” “Hang on, I’ll ask someone” “I’ll take my phone, coat and bag in case it is real”.

What happens in reality when a fire alarm activates?

It is often thought that upon hearing a fire alarm sound people will panic, but the opposite is most likely to be the case, with people believing it is either a practice or a false alarm.

What does research show?

Research undertaken by Ironmongery Direct in 2014 asked 1000 employees how they would react to a fire alarm at work:

  • 22% wait to see what everyone else did
  • 13% ignore it and carry on working
  • 4% go and look for the fire

It’s really important that employers regularly share fire safety information with staff and train them to react quickly and appropriately.

In a recent survey, 47% of employees say they have never been shown or told about fire safety procedures where they work. Employers may think they have relayed information but this does not mean an employee has taken it on board!

If staff don’t know what they should be doing, lives of staff and other persons in the building can be endangered, providing training will give staff the confidence to react correctly.

Many people delay reacting to an alarm and look for confirmation that is a real fire alarm. This might involve seeking other persons for answers and some people will have a look for evidence of a fire.

This is time lost in evacuating themselves and others. It is important that staff are told not to do this and treat the alarm as confirmation of an incident and react accordingly.

If employers take fire safety seriously then employees will too. It’s very important that good training and reassurance from employers make staff confident in being proactive if there is an incident.

This means being confident in raising the alarm if they find a fire you are meant to activate the Fire Alarm call point in event of fire, you don’t have to go and tell someone as well as being able to get out safely and quickly.

What impression does lack of fire training give your customers or visitors?

A customer or visitor to a business will look to staff for instruction in what they should do. If staff are carrying on normally and not reacting then the customer or visitor will do the same. The chances are they will only evacuate themselves if a staff member tells them to.

It is important that staff are comfortable stopping their activity and reacting to the alarm. This might mean hanging up on an important call, ending a meeting, or not serving a customer.

Additionally, staff may have to stop customers in their activity. Are they confident and persuasive enough to tell them not to queue up to pay, but to put their shopping down and leave the building for example?

When are your fire drills carried out?

Fire drills are often practised out of hours when no customer or visitors are in, so you must consider where customers are likely to be in your business and how staff can evacuate them.

Ensure staff use the nearest exits not just the ones they know. People are often wary of opening a door, which they are not normally ‘allowed’ to use, make sure the appropriate fire safety signage gives them the correct instructions.

Have you assigned fire wardens and are they appropriately trained?

Allocate responsibilities to staff, for example appoint willing fire wardens for the different areas of the building and business. This will ensure event of an evacuation all areas have been checked, cleared and staff accounted for at the designated meeting point. This will stop slower evacuation as areas won’t be checked multiple times or not checked at all as people assume someone else will do it.

On a day-to-day basis they can keep a look out for fire safety in general, such as missing Fire Extinguishers, damaged Fire Doors and blocked Fire Exits. Additionally, if they are trained and confident, the use of a Fire Extinguisher can prevent a small incident from becoming a major disaster.

Are your fire wardens appropriately trained?  Is your fire training out of date? Do you feel confident your staff and visitors would be instructed correctly in the event of a fire?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of these questions and want to find out more about fire training contact one of our expert team on 08000 234114 or visit our fire training pages.

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