Fire Evacuation Procedures In The Workplace
Despite all the work carried out by businesses, the government and the emergency services, fires cannot be avoided entirely. This is why, no matter how good your fire risk assessment and fire prevention strategy, you must also have a sound procedure in place for evacuating people from the workplace should a fire break out.
Fire safety planning and evacuation procedures are an essential part of health and safety considerations for any business or premises. Having a defined plan in place can save lives in the event of a fire, which is why such documentation is generally mandated.
In this article, we take a look at what you need to include and consider when planning fire evacuation procedures in the workplace.
A fire evacuation plan contains all of the emergency fire evacuation procedures that should be followed in the event of a fire. It needs to be clear, written down, readily available for anyone to see, and also easily communicable to those in charge in the event of an emergency.
According to the law, the owner, landlord, occupier, employer, or other specified building manager is the ‘responsible person’ in charge of implementing fire evacuation policies and procedures. This means that you must adhere to the following responsibilities:
Before you can put together a fire evacuation plan and procedures for evacuating the workplace, you will need to carry out a fire risk assessment to determine how your plan will work. This risk assessment will identify all the potential hazards that might cause a fire and trigger an evacuation, as well as highlight risks that could stop an evacuation from taking place safely.
A fire risk assessment should include the following steps:
Step 1: Identify any fire hazards that may be present in the building. This includes noting down things that may cause a fire to start, such as any naked flames, heating systems, or machinery. It also includes items that may serve as effective fuel for a fire, such as flammable liquids or waste paper/cardboard.
Step 2: Identify people that may be at risk should a fire occur. Everyone present in the building will be at risk to some degree, but some will be more at risk than others. For example, visitors might not be familiar with fire exits, and children or elderly people may also struggle to evacuate quickly. Disabled people will need special consideration too, especially if the building has multiple floors that they won’t be able to reach quickly.
Step 3: Where possible, remove or reduce the potential impact of any of the fire risks you have identified. This means taking precautions to remove potential fuel for fires, ensuring sources of heat are properly contained, and displaying signage to help at-risk people. Your fire evacuation plan and procedures will also be a part of this.
Step 4: Using the information you’ve gathered, you can now put a plan in place, which will be discussed in the next section of this article. Your emergency fire evacuation procedures should be recorded in an official document for employees and health and safety representatives to reference.
Step 5: Continue to conduct a new fire risk assessment at regular intervals, updating your plan as necessary, and keeping members of staff and others fully updated and trained.
If you’re the designated ‘responsible person’ then you are in charge of putting together a fire evacuation plan. You can either do this yourself or employ a ‘competent person’ to do this for you, such as a fire warden or a fire safety expert.
All of the evacuation procedures for a fire should be detailed in your plan, outlining where everyone in the building should go, what they should do when they’re a safe distance from the building, and how the emergency services should be contacted. Your fire evacuation plan should be as detailed as possible and readily available for anyone who wishes or needs to view it.
We’ve listed some of the major points relating to fire safety, evacuation and security procedures that you need to think about and should include in your plan.
Note: It’s important to remember that this list is not exhaustive, and certain premises will call for different procedures for fire evacuation.
You need to have a set procedure in place for when a fire is discovered. The alarm should be raised as soon as possible, and the emergency services should be called.
Decide if there is a designated person to contact the emergency services, and if there are any additional tasks that need to be completed. Vulnerable people may need additional help, and in some circumstances equipment or power may need to be switched off if safe to do so.
When a fire is discovered, it’s anyone’s responsibility to raise the building’s fire alarm. All plans need to include alarm locations, and it should be made clear to individuals that they do not need to wait for approval to raise the alarm if they believe a dangerous fire has broken out.
As soon as anyone is in a safe position to do so, the fire brigade must be contacted. The earlier they are informed of the fire, the sooner they can reach the premises, and the more effective their response can be. Remember to note down in your plans if the fire alarm automatically notifies the emergency services as is the case in certain buildings.
Getting everyone out of the building, including any visitors as well as staff, is the most important task, and this needs to be done quickly and safely. Your fire evacuation plan must include details about all of the escape routes from the building, and how any person located in any part of the building can get out.
The quickest routes out of the building must be identified beforehand, and they need to be clearly communicated to those on-premises. This will mean escape route maps and emergency exit signs in any premises larger than a few rooms.
A diagram is always preferable in this section of your fire evacuation plan, which needs to be clear enough for anyone to read and can be placed around the building. You may also need to add fire escape route signage to help.
Note that in certain large complex buildings, the evacuation procedure will not call for everyone to leave at once, but rather stagger things in order of who is most at risk.
As part of establishing your fire evacuation policies and procedures, you will need to consider those who are less able than others that usually use the lift instead of stairs in your building. Elevators must not be used in the event of a fire, which means that you may need specialist equipment or help to ensure that those in wheelchairs or who are otherwise disabled can make their escape swiftly and safely.
This needs to be covered in your fire evacuation risk assessment and the details of how wheelchair users or those less able to move will be evacuated.
Following on from the escape route, your plan must also designate an assembly point for people leaving the building. This should be a safe and easily accessible place away from the building where the designated fire safety staff can take a register of everyone present. Car parks are often the best place for this.
In order to ensure that the evacuation has been successful, anyone leaving the building must assemble at a pre-planned designated location. At this location, designated fire marshals must take a register to determine who has evacuated the building and who has not.
In many scenarios, it can be difficult to know who was in the building when the fire alarm went off and who is somewhere else and therefore doesn’t need to be accounted for. In schools, care homes and hospitals there will be records of who is in the building, but in workplaces it can be harder to determine this.
If you believe that someone is missing and has not evacuated, you will need to tell the fire department when they arrive.
During the process of evacuation, it may be appropriate for trained employees to use fire fighting equipment such as extinguishers to tackle the fire, if it is believed to be small and manageable. The locations of such equipment should be clearly marked on escape routes. Details of where this equipment can be found, when it should be used and who should use it should be noted in your evacuation plan.
However, it’s essential to remember that fighting the fire is primarily the responsibility of the fire brigade; anyone in doubt should always make their escape rather than attempt to deal with the fire.
Your fire safety plan should include all of the necessary training procedures for both designated fire safety staff and other employees. This may range from mandated courses to the basic fire safety information that should be conveyed to new employees when they join your company.
If you’re looking for fire safety training, Virtual College offers a variety of online courses that are suitable for all kinds of fire safety training purposes. Our ‘Statutory & Mandatory Training: Fire Safety’ covers the legal responsibilities towards fire prevention in the workplace, whilst our ‘Fire Marshal and Warden Training’ is ideal for those with a specific responsibility for fire safety at work.
Please Note: The above considerations are meant only as a guide. Ensure you consult official documentation or attend training before putting a fire safety plan in place.
Official guidance from the UK government states that fire evacuation drills should be carried out at least once a year to ensure that everyone involved knows what to do in the event of a fire. It also helps to highlight any issues with your fire evacuation procedures at work and ensure that these don’t cause damage in the event of a real fire.
The three categories of evacuation in a fire are simultaneous evacuation, vertical or horizontal phased evacuation, and silent alarm evacuation. You can find out more about these different approaches in our guide to the three types of fire evacuation.
The steps involved in fire evacuation emergency procedures will vary depending on the building and the people inside it. In general however, the steps of an evacuation process include raising the alarm, contacting the fire services, safely evacuating the building, checking that everyone has been evacuated, and then waiting for further instructions from the fire brigade.
The evacuation procedure for fire in the workplace will hopefully only ever be followed when you’re conducting fire drills. However, you must ensure that there are fire safety evacuation and security procedures in place if you are responsible for the safety of people in a workplace so that, if a fire does start, everyone knows how to leave the building quickly and safely.
To find out more about fire safety in the workplace, including legislation that businesses must follow, we offer a comprehensive ‘Fire Safety Training’ online course that includes information on fire evacuation procedures. We also offer a ‘Fire Safety for Fire Marshals and Wardens Training Package’ that contains multiple courses to help train employees to be competent fire wardens.