The Scottish Business Resilience Centre recently published a helpful article on reducing fire risk for unoccupied premises. We have reproduced the article here. The original can be found at https://www.sbrcentre.co.uk/news/2020/april/protect-the-building-protect-the-business/
With many business premises temporarily closed due to the current Government restrictions on Covid-19, many premises will now be unoccupied. Watch Commander Gary Wood, seconded Scottish Fire & Rescue Service officer to the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, affords the following guidance and advice on reducing fire risk within your unoccupied premises.
1. Update risk assessments
Your current FSRA – Fire Safety Risk Assessment may not reflect the current situation within your premises during periods of temporary closure. It should be reviewed and updated to take into account any changes or impact upon risk a closure can result in. An example of this is business premises which are not classed as ‘sleeping accommodation’ are very unlikely to have the correct provision of fire safety measures within to ensure the safety of staff who may be tempted to sleep overnight on the premises to avoid travelling restrictions.
You should also give consideration on how reduced maintenance and testing provision could impact upon the fire risk within the premises.
Fire Safety Risk Assessment information can be found on the SFRS website
2. Inspect weekly
Your premises should be where possible, inspected on a weekly basis, provided this is in accordance with the current government guidance on travel. If restrictions on travel mean this is not possible, inspection should be reinstated as soon as possible if restrictions are lifted.
You may wish to issue any staff travelling to inspect the premises an official letter or note on company headed paper which has contact details and authorises them to do so, should they be challenged by anyone such as a police or security officer.
During inspection if any damage to the building infrastructure is noted it should be repaired as soon as practicable. Pay particular attention to access doors, windows and gates, electrical equipment, security devices/lighting and intruder alarms, fire detection systems and fire suppression systems.
You should also remove any piles of mail from any letterbox during each inspection, along with any other action considered appropriate to minimise the risk the property can be easily identified as being temporarily closed.
3. Turn off and unplug electrical equipment
At times when your premises is unoccupied you should switch off and unplug electrical equipment, removing plugs from sockets. Isolate any areas of the building at the main electrical switch board if possible. Only leave critical electrical equipment which requires to be left on to enable the infrastructure to be maintained within the building, for example electrical devices required to be powered on to support the business or any staff working remotely.
Examples of electrical equipment critical to the premises infrastructure could be intruder alarms, automatic fire detection systems, AFSS – Automatic Fire Suppression Systems such as sprinkler installations or gas suppression systems.
4. Close all internal fire and smoke control doors
Ensure internal fire and smoke control doors are closed. In the event of a fire within the premises, any fire doors which are left open could substantially increase the potential for heat and smoke spread throughout resulting in an elevated risk of damage to other areas of the building. Closing these doors helps limit heat and smoke spread and could keep a fire confined to a specific area. Ensure any smoke control systems and fire dampers operate correctly.
5. Protect the premises against wilful fire raising and vandalism
All external access points such as doors and windows and gates should be locked and secured out of hours. Larger windows should be shuttered or boarded up if possible.
Intruders may look for ways to scale a building via a convenient flat roof. They may also use items at ground level which can be moved around to utilise as climbing platforms which afford access onto roofs, an example of this would be industrial waste bins – consider chaining these to an immovable object or if you have more than one, chain them together.
Consider securing any items which could be used as levers to force entry through doors, windows or skylights. Such items should ideally be held in a secure area.
More in depth guidance and advice on securing your premises against wilful fire raising can be found on the SBRC website: https://www.sbrcentre.co.uk/news/2019/september/how-to-prevent-wilful-fire-raising-in-your-business/
6. Ensure AFD and AFSS are operational
Ensure that any AFD – Automatic Fire Detection Systems and AFSS – Automatic Fire Suppression Systems (Sprinklers, water mist or gas suppression) are active and operational. Check your AFD and AFSS indicator panels to ensure there are no faults showing on the display.
If there are any faults present during inspection, have these rectified as soon as possible. Your AFD and AFSS are your immediate first line of defence against fire, even more so when the building is unoccupied and there are no staff present to notice a fire alarm activation or a fire occurring. As such they are critical to your premises fire risk reduction at times when it is unoccupied.
7. Ensure any ARC link is operational
If your AFD system is linked to an ARC Alarm Receiving Centre which monitors for fire alarm activations within the premises, ensure the link is fully operational. Contact your ARC to ensure they are aware that your premises is unoccupied temporarily.
Ensure that anyone carrying out a weekly inspection of the premises is aware of any ARC connected to the system so that in the event of them testing the fire alarm, they can contact the ARC beforehand and have the system taken offline for test, then re-contact the ARC to inform them the test is complete.
This will help guard against UFAS – Unwanted Fire Alarm Signals being transmitted to the fire service which may result in the unneeded attendance of our fire crews during this current time, tying up resources when our crews may be required at a genuine emergency elsewhere.
You should also contact your insurance provider to advise them of the building being unoccupied.
For information on reducing UFAS see the guidance on the SFRS website: https://www.firescotland.gov.uk/your-safety/for-businesses/unwanted-fire-alarm-(ufas).aspx
8. Ensure premises key holders are available
Ensure that appointed key holders are available for the premises should they be required to attend in the event of a fire alarm activation or a fire occurring within the premises. Ensure these key holders are aware of the layout of the premises including where to isolate main services such as gas, electricity and water, as well as being familiar with the AFD system itself. Ensure your ARC has current and up to date contact details for these key holders.
9. Clear any mail from letterboxes or behind doors
Letter boxes are a commonly used access point for wilful fire raising. Consider arranging with the Post Office to have mail redirected to a premises which will be occupied. If this is not possible then consider fitting an external letterbox or a fire proof letterbox/bag to prevent any lit combustibles being pushed through to the interior of the building.
10. External combustibles moved away from the building
Many instances of wilful fire raising occur where combustible materials are readily available in the vicinity including refuse and packaging or waste stored inappropriately.
Combustible materials should be stored in a closed metal container if possible. This container should be located away from the building in such a position that it will not contribute to fire spread to adjacent buildings or outbuildings – at least 8m away is a good rule of thumb.
Chaining multiple bins together also limits the potential for intruders to move them closer to buildings.
Larger combustibles such as wooden pallets should be stored in a secure area away from the building but not so close to the perimeter fence that an intruder could set fire to them through the fence itself.
11. Prevent water damage/flooding
During the period of temporary closure, isolate water supplies at the mains. If it is possible, drain down any water systems within the premises. It may not be possible to do this and if this is the case within your premises, a minimum temperature of 7⁰C (45⁰F) should be maintained throughout if possible.
For further guidance and advice on fire risk mitigation for your premises visit the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service website.