Your essential guide to keeping your commercial premises protected with regards to fire safety and security as we all weather the storm of the COVID-19 outbreak…
A must-read if the day-to-day running of your business has been affected by the pandemic.
No one could have predicted that we’d be welcoming spring 2020 under these circumstances.
Many are being encouraged to work from home, if they have not already been instructed to quarantine themselves or have self-isolated for other reasons.
For business owners and site managers, this now means that premises are being left vacant or with skeleton staff to keep everyday operations afloat.
Your business is your prime investment. It provides a service your customers rely on. It provides income and careers for your workers. It’s your blood, sweat and tears.
And so is everything that comes with it – your people, your data, your stock, and so on. So, we need to keep them all protected.
Here’s what you can do to help mitigate the risks of spreading the Coronavirus within your premises where fire and security is concerned, and how you can continue to protect your business when there’s limited staff on site, or if it’s left completely vacant:
1. DO NOT Switch Off Your Mains Power Supply to Your Fire Alarm System
If you are closing your building, you can turn off all non-essential electrical appliances and other appliances that need to be left on, such as a fridge/freezer, whilst taking care that they are well ventilated, unobstructed and fault-free.
You must not, under no circumstances, turn off your fire alarm system or the mains power supply to your fire alarm system. This is your life safety system and must remain operational, with regular checks (such as your weekly fire alarm test) to ensure it is working as it should, with any issues or faults to be reported immediately to your fire alarm service provider.
2. You MUST Still Have Fire Alarm Maintenance, Even If Your Building is Unoccupied
This means you should continue to service your fire alarm and other life/fire safety systems, even if your building is currently empty.
Schools and office buildings, in particular, are using closures as an opportunity to also get essential remedial work carried out, which they originally would have had to schedule to take place outside of normal working hours to minimise disruption, or stomach the disruption in a full and operative building.
If you have essential repairs or installation work which is needed, use this time wisely to get it done. Many of our engineers, for instance, are granted access from site support and skeleton staff, giving them free access to all areas without disruption to carry out much-needed remedial work, maintenance services and installations, which otherwise may have taken longer when adhering to normal day-to-day building operations.
3. Make Sure Your Fire Risk Assessment is Up-to-Date
Fire Risk Assessments exist to help you prevent and manage fire safety risks within your building and are a legal requirement for all buildings (and records must be kept for those containing 5 or more persons). The need for fire risk assessments is just as important during the COVID-19 outbreak, and must be carried out as usual, whilst adhering to government guidelines. It could be that you’re having to implement interim measures, or there could be new or emergency risk, which could affect fire safety, and so you mustn’t neglect having a fire risk assessment.
Thousands of businesses are penalised and prosecuted each year following fire-related incidents where they have neglected to either have a fire risk assessment, or act on the assessment’s stipulations and recommendations to rectify identified risks. Don’t think that just because we’re in a pandemic, you’d be excused for delaying your responsibilities. Right now (April 2020), hearings and prosecutions are still being carried out – over Skype!
4. Consider Alarm Monitoring
If you have a fire alarm and/or an intruder alarm in your premises but you don’t have monitoring, that means if the alarm was activated when no one was there (e.g. overnight and during school holidays, or in our present circumstances for some, during the day) you are fully relying on someone else in the proximity of your premises to hear the alarm and contact you and/or the emergency services.
Monitoring means that your alarm system is connected to an Alarm Receiving Centre, which will contact the emergency services and/or designated key holders as soon as the alarm is activated.
This, for many, is 24/7 reassurance and peace of mind that if the fire alarm was activated (e.g. due to an arson attack) then the fire brigade will be called out immediately to attend. Similarly, if the intruder alarm had monitoring, then upon an intrusion, this would activate, giving the offending individual a very limited time to create any damage before the police would arrive to investigate.
You can have both your fire and intruder alarm connected with monitoring to cover both eventualities so if either alarm is activated, you/designated keyholders will be notified and the emergency services can also attend.
You can even have monitoring for your alarm which creates an alert when there is a fault on the system, so if you’re not on the premises to learn that the fault exists then you can be notified of this to get it rectified, so there is zero downtime of your alarm system.
For approximately £1 a day you can achieve this peace of mind, which will undoubtedly benefit you, even long after the Coronavirus is a distant memory.
5. If You Do Have Monitoring, Look into Who Your Keyholders Are
With monitoring in place, you should have a minimum of three designated key holders listed to be called if the alarm is ever activated.
Now is the time to revise this and it’s important to keep revising this, as if you have someone listed who is in quarantine then they cannot attend site to investigate if the alarm is activated.
6. Take Other Measures to Prevent Arson
As mentioned above, alarm monitoring is a great way to have peace of mind so you and/or the emergency services can be alerted if there is an unwanted intrusion (if you have intruder alarm monitoring) and if there is a fire (if you have fire alarm monitoring). You can also ask your local community to keep an eye out on your premises. And make sure that you don’t leave combustible materials in plain sight.
7. Check Who Your Fire Marshals & Responsible Persons Are
Similar to the above point, it’s important to keep tabs on who your designated fire marshals/wardens are, as they could now be furloughed or absent. The same also goes for your Responsible Persons, including the person(s) who would usually conduct your weekly fire alarm test. Your fire safety requirements have not been paused during this outbreak! If the only people who know how to use the fire alarm and how to respond in a fire-related emergency are on leave, and your building is still operative to any degree, then you are not fulfilling your duties to mitigate fire risks. Plus, no one wants to be in the position where the fire alarm is sounding and you don’t know what to do.
If further training is required for any new persons to temporarily take on any of these roles then you must take action. WFP, for instance, can send you videos on how to test and reset your alarm, and even set up a Zoom training session with our training experts – simply get in touch if you need help!
8. Revise Your Evacuation Plan to Adhere to Social Distancing Rules
Social distancing rules are highly likely to be a way of life for us for some time following lockdown. It’s important to revise your evacuation plan regularly anyway, but under these circumstances we urge you to do so right away if you haven’t already. Fire drills often send people into a blind panic (and sometimes, the complete opposite, where people ignore them or evacuate at their leisure), so do ensure everyone is up to speed on how reacting to an emergency situation and evacuating differs now compared to normal circumstances. Don’t forget to factor in any vulnerable members within your building, such as the aged and disabled, with Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPS).
9. Wipe Down All Alarm System Panels and Interfaces
Click the below video to see top tips from Paul, our Founder & Managing Director, for your intruder alarm during the Coronavirus pandemic, including alternatives to keying in codes and how to clean it:
If you’re a site or building manager, and you’re constantly touching areas such as your fire alarm panel to carry out weekly tests or intruder alarm panels (and particularly if your building has a door entry system with buttons touched by all to enter) then it’s important to keep these areas as clean as possible. Anti-bacterial wipes can be used to clean these, with particular attention to be paid in areas of high footfall. (It’s a good idea to keep these clean anyway, and kudos to you if you do!)
10. Switch to Prox Tags for Your Intruder Alarm
If you (and others) currently use a code which you manually type into your intruder alarm, then this is one way in which germs can easily spread. A ‘prox tag’ (proximity tag) uses the same technology as contactless cards and identifies you as a key holder, so you can simply tap it onto your intruder alarm’s panel instead of having to manually type in a code.
Other than the benefit of it being more hygienic, you’ll also find it faster, which is also particularly useful if you’ve got different secure access points across your site. Plus, if someone leaves the company, you won’t have to worry about resetting the codes, as they’ll simply hand in their prox tag upon leaving, which will be disabled. Many also find this more secure, as proximity cards and tags are difficult to duplicate and counterfeit.
11. Install the App for Your Intruder Alarm on Your Smartphone
Thanks to modern day technology, you don’t even need to be on your premises to activate your intruder alarm. Simply with an app on your phone you can set it, giving you complete peace of mind if you’re at home.
12. Ensure Your CCTV is Functional & You Can Monitor Your Premises on Your Phone
Many who have CCTV installed may not have had it serviced in quite some time could have cameras or a playback system which is not fully functional or needs updating, so it’s a great time to ensure they’re all running efficiently.
Plus, if you don’t already, it’s super easy to set up the app on your smartphone to enable you to check in to the office and the surrounding site from your mobile.
13. Check with Your Insurance
It’s crucial that you contact your insurance company to make sure you’re adhering to all of their requirements at this time, and if there is anything further they expect of you to mitigate risks. If your building is empty or operating in any way different to how it was before the pandemic, they will need to know. It’s always a safe bet because you never know if you need to make a claim!
14. Consider a No-Touch Exit Button
One massive effect of the Coronavirus pandemic is the realisation of just how much we TOUCH EVERYTHING. And companies are already starting to take precautions by implementing systems which will allow staff to touch less in their day-to-day. Take the push-to-exit (PTE), or sometimes called release-to-exit (RTE), solution, whereby the recognition of movement, for example a hand movement or simply walking towards a door, releases the door, negating the need to touch the door or handle. We’re already seeing lots of these in public toilets whereby you wave your hand to engage the flush mechanism or to release water within taps, and no doubt we’ll continue to see this rise.
Automatic responses via movement, facial and speech recognition is the future – perhaps it’s time your business took on a “no touch” solution?
15. Thermal Body Temperature Measurement
You know in those police dramas where the criminal would go running off into the night, and a special team would crack out their thermal imaging to find them, resulting in a climactic chase between officers and the criminal, flitting between them running in the dark and the scene of their orange bodies on the thermal cameras…
Well, it turns out they’re pretty useful, and not just in police dramas, and not just as thermal imaging. Many are now turning to temperature measurement technology to register if someone may be symptomatic with the Coronavirus.
A primary symptom of the virus is a high temperature (37.8C or higher), but obviously you can’t really know if a person’s got it without touching them or giving them a thermometer. One office we went to had a thermal body temperature measurement camera on a temporary tripod and the image displayed on a screen in front of you. If you are found to be over a pre-set temperature, an alert was then raised.
Perhaps it’s worth considering if this is a solution your business premises could benefit from? As once lockdown ends, we’ll still going to have to continue mitigating risks for some time; hopefully with as little disruption as feasibly possible to everyday operations.
We’re here for you and to ensure that your business is protected throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, so you’ve got complete peace of mind that you can return to operating normally without any further downtime as a result of a lack of precautionary measures. If you have any questions, please get in touch.
And if you found this article useful, please go ahead and share in on social media so others like you can benefit!
Post by Verity Stone
Hi, I’m Verity! WFP’s Head of Communications. As well as ensuring our customers are happy with their service, I’m a huge fan of spreading the word about fire safety and security to help keep businesses safe and legal.More posts by Verity Stone