Is your office Christmas fire safety up to scratch this year? The countdown to Christmas has well and truly begun. Homes across the nation are dusting off fairy lights and dragging decorations down from the loft. But among the festive cheer, it’s also important to think about fire safety. This applies to offices as well as homes.
Christmas celebrations bring with them a multitude of potential hazards which don’t necessarily occur at any other time of year. Here at Fire Safety Services, we’ll be running through a number of checks with customers and in our own offices to ensure they’re fully fire-safe. We’ve put together this blog to help you do the same. You can also download our handy top 12 checklist for the office noticeboard.
Let there be light (as long as it’s fire-safe!)
Creating that holiday feel in the office lifts everyone’s spirits and Christmas lights are a great way to do this. In many offices, this task will fall to whomever is sufficiently motivated but it’s rarely done with fire safety in mind.
Stringing a few chains of fairy lights around the office printer is common, yet it’s also a significant fire hazard. And those lights are likely to have been bundled in a box and stored at the back of a cupboard since last Christmas. If this is the case in your office, we recommend that you have all your lights portable appliance tested to check for any faults.
It’s easy to overload sockets with Christmas decorations plugged in but once a year. Avoid doing this as it’s a definite fire safety hazard. Also, lights should conform to current British Standards so check yours first (you’ll see the BS number on the plug or transformer).
Remember that putting lights near sources of heat or flammable materials is highly dangerous. If you are decorating a warehouse or laboratory, there are likely to be danger hotspots which you should avoid. All it takes is a quick mental audit of your surroundings.
Finally, make sure someone is responsible for switching all light off at the end of the working day.
What if fire does break out?
Christmas trees and decorations cause fires every year. The number varies but it’s clearly a problem. Safety organisations around the world spend time collating and publishing information on how to prevent them. And this video shows how rapidly a real tree fire can progress. In under a minute, the entire tree is ablaze and fire has engulfed the room.
So, what can you do to manage the risks of fires starting in your office or other business premises at Christmas?
Do whatever you can to prevent the fire
Clearly, prevention is better than the cure. Our top 12 picks for Christmas cover all areas of fire safety so it’s worth downloading and sharing with colleagues.
Fire doors are an excellent passive protection tool and should be regularly inspected all year round. If you suspect your doors have been neglected in the run-up to the holiday season, now’s the time to book an inspection. Think of it as an early Christmas present to your business!
Are your fire detection systems up to the job?
If fire does break out, consider that your building might be empty at the time during the holidays. Undetected fire can spread in minutes and be devastating to business continuity.
And if there are people in the building, the long-term ramifications are even more serious. The ‘responsible person’ has a legal responsibility to inhabitants and this shouldn’t be taken lightly. Courts are enforcing ever stricter penalties on lax fire safety attitudes including prison sentences.
Effective fire detection relies mainly on a fully-functioning alarm system. This is your first line of defence and alerts people to the emergency. What’s more, if people are in the building, it is the best chance of guaranteeing speedy and safe evacuation.
That said, fire detection systems can be compromised by certain environments. We find that warehouses in particular are challenging. Read our blog on this subject which talks in more detail about warehouse environments.
How to ensure your fire alarms are Christmas fire-safe
Your alarm system is unique to you. Its design depends on the layout of your office and associated buildings. It may include smoke detectors linked to the audible fire alarm system. What’s crucial is that you’re confident it’s the right system for your buildings. Your Fire Risk Assessment is the tool you’ll use to confirm this.
Regular maintenance of your fire alarm system will keep you safe, not just at Christmas, but all year round. (And it’s a legal requirement.)
What do I need to know about Fire Risk Assessments?
If you’re new to fire safety, a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) is something you should do as soon as possible. It’s a legal requirement, if you are the responsible person. Furthermore, it’s a handy document which outlines how you should approach fire safety in your business.
The rules around who conducts the FRA are not crystal clear. They only state that a competent person must carry it out. But what is clear, is that with an up-to-date FRA, your fire detection systems will protect you, should the need arise this Christmas.
Evacuating people quickly and safely when fire breaks out
We’ve already talked about legal requirements and evacuation is no exception. It is your legal duty to ensure the safe evacuation of everyone on your premises (referred to as ‘relevant persons’).
Christmas is a busy period for many businesses. With more people on site coming and going, a comprehensive evacuation plan is essential. Does your business have one in place? If not, you leave yourself vulnerable to prosecution. Your Fire Risk Assessment should make specific recommendations and help you to determine what’s needed.
What you need to know about evacuation plans
An evacuation plan doesn’t need to be complex, unless your business is large. For smaller premises, it may be fire action signs posted in visible places so that people can read them. We do recommend more detailed, written documents for large businesses. Whatever the size of your plan, it should cover elements including:
- escape routes (sufficient in number for the size of the building)
- how to access escape routes from all areas of the building
- details of emergency doors and lighting (if required)
- designated staff congregation areas
- staff training
Don’t forget vulnerable people
Do you employ people with disabilities? Anyone who uses a wheelchair, for example, is at ‘significant risk’. So, you’ll need to ensure that your evacuation plan addresses their needs in addition to the needs of the general population. Again, the fire risk assessment should come in useful here.
Keep all escape routes clear
It’s particularly important that you keep escape routes – corridors and walkways – clear. In smaller premises, there’s often a temptation to store boxes and other items in these corridors. At Christmas, this temptation rises when you need valuable space to store additional stock. This can prove deadly during an evacuation, especially when visibility may be lowered due to smoke.
We hope you’ve found this office Christmas fire safety information useful. Remember to check out our top 12 picks for Christmas for more useful hints and tips.
And please contact us if you need any further advice regarding fire safety. Remember, fire safety is for life, not just for Christmas.
Qualified marketer Nikki has over 20 years’ professional experience. She is responsible for our strategic marketing planning and implementation, including branding, website, lead generation, social media and PR.