Fire safety during COVID-19 frequently asked questions

The information below is in response to the questions Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) is receiving in relation to the current COVID-19 situation, and to offer some guidance, support, and consistency in response.

The information is of a temporary nature in response to the current dynamic COVID-19 situation and relates to current Government advice and restrictions related to COVID-19. We will update this information periodically.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Does fire safety law apply in the current Covid-19 situation?

Yes, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (The Order) still applies. It is the duty of the responsible person defined in Article 3 of the order (see question below) to ensure risk from fire is identified and suitable measures implemented. These should be recorded in your fire risk assessment (FRA). The Order applies for the protection of life safety and not the protection of property, although there will be property protection benefits. Fire safety measures that are in place to protect people in, or in the immediate vicinity of a premises will need to be maintained in good working order (for advice on maintenance see section below). Where the order is not the legislation relating to fire safety the relevant legislation is still in force as there is currently no relaxation in fire safety law.

My Manager and Supervisor who normally deal with fire safety are self-isolating and I do not know what to do?

It is the responsible person's responsibility to ensure there are sufficiently trained staff to assist them in managing fire safety.
The responsible person is defined as:

  • The employer
  • Where there is no employer the person who has control of the premises
  • The owner.

You should contact your Manager and/or Supervisor, observing Government guidelines, to seek advice and there should be a premises fire risk assessment which will assist. Where doubt exists, you should seek advice from a competent fire risk assessor.

Will the Fire and Rescue Service visit my premises as normal?

In the current situation SFRS are following Government guidance on limiting non-essential contact and as such, are taking a risk-based approach to all protection (fire safety) activity and focusing their resources on the highest risks. Contact us if you require further advice and guidance.

Will the fire service come and tell me my premises is safe to continue to use?

No, unless it is identified as a significant risk. As the responsible person, it is your duty to ensure risk from fire is identified and suitable measures implemented. You can do this by reviewing and updating your current fire risk assessment and your emergency evacuation plan. You can contact us for general fire safety advice and seek advice from a competent fire risk assessor as above.

Is the current legal notice I received from my local fire and rescue service valid?

Yes, the current situation with COVID-19 has not changed the status of any notices issued under the order. You should contact us if you require further advice and guidance.

What happens if I cannot complete the work before the notice expires?

Please seek advice from SFRS at the earliest opportunity.

Will Surrey Fire and Rescue still come and check that I have complied with my notice?

We will check, but this will be carried out on a risk-based approach depending on individual circumstances.

Means of escape

Can I lock some fire exits that we are no longer using for security, as we have a reduced number of occupants and are not using all the premises?

There needs to be a suitable and sufficient number of fire exits for the number of occupants within your premises that are immediately available without the use of a key or code. This should ensure occupants do not have to travel excessive distances or pass through an area of high fire risk or move towards a fire to escape. This should be supported with adequate escape signage and emergency lighting to identify the escape routes to be used in event of fire, with any changes being relayed to all occupants in a format they can understand. You should assess this for the current occupancy and use and record in your fire risk assessment - where doubt exists, you should seek advice from a competent person.

I am re-opening my premises and need to implement a 'one-way' system to maintain social distancing, what do I need to consider?

If a one-way system or other process is introduced to control the flow of occupants, its impact on the means of escape must be assessed to ensure all occupants have a suitable means of escape in event of fire, specifically that they do not have to travel excessive distances. You should assess this for the proposed occupancy and record in your fire risk assessment - where doubt exists, you should seek advice from a competent person.

What should I do about my fire escape route as it passes through next door which is closed?

You need to assess and evaluate the impact this has on your ability to escape your premises in event of fire and the availability of other escape routes. Where safe to do so, and in accordance with government guidelines, you should liaise with the responsible person of the other premises to see if an agreement can be reached. This should be recorded in your fire risk assessment and, where doubt exists, you should seek advice from a competent person.

What do I do as my premises is a multi-occupied building and some businesses have remained closed?

You need to assess and evaluate the impact this has on all your fire safety measures. It is highly recommended you do this in conjunction with other premises owners and the premises management company, to assess the risk and record the findings in your fire risk assessment. Where doubt exists, you should seek advice from a competent person.

Can we wedge open fire doors to stop people from touching handles?

No, fire doors are an important fire safety measure, keep fire doors closed and follow government advice on hand washing and cleansing hard surfaces. Fire doors can only be held open by automatic releasing hold-open devices specifically designed and installed for this purpose.

Evacuation

Should I still be carrying out fire drills in my commercial premises?

Fire drills are an important part of any successful emergency evacuation procedure and can assist in a safe evacuation in event of fire, it is imperative everyone understands what to do in event of fire. You need to assess the current situation considering the familiarity of your occupants and the last fire drill. If required and depending on your premises, you can familiarise new occupants with the premises and may be able to carry this out via a desktop drill, this is important when staff have been working at a different site previously or are newly employed. It is also extremely important to take into consideration the need for Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) and how these will be managed and supported as part of your overall emergency evacuation procedures and fire risk assessment.

Should occupants evacuate a premises if the fire alarm sounds as social distancing may be impacted?

It is essential all occupants leave a premises in event of fire to ensure their safety and go to the pre-determined assembly point (see below). Whilst social distancing may be impacted during evacuation, this can be managed and by following government guidelines on maintaining hygiene at the assembly point.

How do I maintain social distancing at the assembly point?

You need to review and revise your current emergency plan and fire marshal provision, including the assembly point, considering the number of occupants and ensure all occupants are issued with revised instructions and are aware of what is expected.

What do I do as my evacuation relies on staff and some of them are sick and self-isolating?

You need to immediately identify your current staffing levels and consider how this will impact the use of your premises, the safety of those staff still at work and your emergency evacuation procedures. Consideration should be given to PEEPs and the evacuation of the most vulnerable occupants of your premises. You should consider, where it is practical to do so, relocating occupants within the premises and minimising the areas in use, and investigating all avenues to provide the required number of staff. Where doubt exists seek further advice from a competent person and contact SFRS.

Training

Do I have to provide fire safety training?

Yes, it is important all staff and those who may be working at the premises such as maintenance staff, are given fire safety training relevant to their role, responsibilities and needs in event of fire. You should review the current level of training against each individual and update where required - this is essential for any occupants who may not be familiar with your premises.

What do I do if my usual cleaning and maintenance team is replaced with people unfamiliar with my building fire safety arrangements?

All staff and those working on the premises need to be familiarised with the premises and informed of the arrangements and any specific risks to which they may be exposed and what is expected of them in event of fire.

With reduced staffing I do not have enough trained personnel in the use of fire extinguishers, can anyone use them?

It is important any person expected to use a fire extinguisher to reduce fire risk or to secure a safe escape is trained, they should:

  • Be familiar with the operating instructions
  • Understand which extinguisher can be used on which type of fire
  • Be aware of the fire extinguisher locations
  • Ensure fire extinguishers are kept clean to prevent cross-contamination, serviced and maintained on a regular basis
  • Processes which require fire extinguishers to form part of their procedures such as Hot Works should not be carried out (unless they are completed by fully competent people with all aspects of the processes including responding to a fire).

Testing and maintenance

It is imperative people living and working in the built environment are safe, and are kept safe, regardless of the current COVID-19 lockdown and phased return conditions. There is no relaxation of fire safety legislation and it is the responsibility of the responsible person and/or duty holder to ensure they are testing and maintaining all fire safety measures to maintain a safe premises.

The Government's view is that workers in the fire safety industry provide vital support to critical functions and in certain circumstances should be considered key workers within the provisions of HM Government guidelines. They must also keep themselves safe whilst carrying out these essential activities by following the latest Government advice.

If your premises are empty, fire safety systems for the protection of life may not be required to be maintained as the primary concern is with life safety. If there is no-one on or in the immediate vicinity of the premises who may be reliant on your fire safety measures (e.g. in accommodation above a premises), then The Order allows a risk-based approach to testing and maintenance where it remains vacant. If doubt exists advice must be sought from a competent person.

However, you must ensure any fire safety system for the protection of life is fully checked by a competent person as soon as possible when the premises are going to come back into use, ensuring they are all tested before occupation, especially for any sleeping risk premises.

If any doubt exists as to the purpose of any fire safety system that may not be maintained, prior to ceasing testing and maintenance advice must be sought from a competent person and/or SFRS.

Further advice and guidance on maintaining fire safety measures is available from The Fire Industry Association, The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association, The Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management and The Building Engineering Services Association.

Do I still need to maintain my fire safety systems (fire alarm, emergency lighting, fire extinguishers)?

In businesses that are operating or about to re-open, the routine testing and maintenance of all fire safety measures is essential in keeping people safe to ensure they operate and perform as required in event of fire.

Do I still need to test my fire alarm?

In businesses that are operating or about to re-open, the routine testing and maintenance of all fire safety measures is essential in keeping people safe to ensure they operate and perform as required in event of fire.

My business is closed now. Can I attend if I am notified by an alarm receiving centre or the fire and rescue service that the alarm is sounding, and I am a keyholder?

You should make every effort to attend the premises whilst adhering to current Government advice as best as possible. This will allow the release of essential frontline fire and rescue resources from the premises and reduce the chance of calls at this challenging time. On attendance at the premises you should you keep yourself safe and if there are indications of a fire immediately leave the premises and phone 999.

Fire prevention and risk management

What can I do to further reduce the risk of fire in my premises?

Alongside normal day to day fire prevention measures consider:

  • Prohibiting any hot works unless necessary. If they do need to take place, ensure they are carried out by a competent person with a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in place with appropriate checks following completion of the work
  • For all premises that may be unoccupied or partially occupied, ensure that all electrical appliances are switched off and the plugs are removed from sockets where possible
  • Keep any stock or waste that may build up away from the building and keep access to these secure to reduce the risk from arson.

With the suspension of some waste collection services what do I do?

Please consider the disruption to waste and refuse collections and minimise as far as is practicable, the build-up of waste and refuse, ensuring any excess storage does not block escape routes and is stored away from premises. This should form part of your fire risk assessment review with consideration to arson risk (see below).

What can I do to protect people who are working from home?

For employees who will be working from home, please encourage them to:

  • Take the time to check home fire safety arrangements, and ensure that smoke alarms are fitted, tested and are working correctly
  • Use electrical items safely for example do not 'daisy chain' extension leads
  • Make sure all members of the family know what to do if there is a fire particularly, elderly people and children
  • Carry out bedtime checks – close doors, unplug electrical appliances and chargers, check heaters are off, and that any candles and cigarettes are properly extinguished.
  • Remind everyone if there is a fire to: Get out, stay out and call the fire service by dialling 999
  • Take a look at our Making your home safe from fire information.

With the suspension of garden waste collection and the closure of some household recycling centres is it OK to burn rubbish in my garden / yard?

We urge everyone to consider if there is a real need to burn rubbish or garden waste as whilst SFRS is still responding to emergency calls, a response to an uncontrolled bonfire places an unnecessary increased burden on our fire stations at this extremely challenging time. Any bonfire should follow some simple rules and it should be ensured it is meeting government guidelines on garden bonfires and burning domestic waste.

  • Firstly, is it necessary? If it is necessary, then bonfires should be sited well away from buildings, fences, trees and garden buildings and structures
  • If possible, the burning of garden rubbish should take place within a garden incinerator
  • DO NOT use flammable liquids or accelerants to start the bonfire
  • The bonfire should always be supervised
  • A means to control the bonfire should be at hand such as a garden hose
  • Always check local laws/byelaws to check you comply.

The British Standards Institution offers the most relevant standards in key areas of personal protective equipment (PPE) and business continuity and risk management.

Other questions

Do you have any information about arson?

The Fire Protection Association have provided a free guide.

What do I do if refurbishment work affecting fire safety measures in my premises has ceased (is going to cease) as the construction company has (is going to) temporarily close for business?

You need to assess the risk these changes pose to the occupants and as far as is possible require the contractor to leave the premises in a safe condition. The premises fire risk assessment must be reviewed and revised to take account of the circumstances. This might include changes to automatic fire detection and alarm systems, means of escape and emergency procedures. If any doubt exists then seek advice from a competent person. Further information on construction sites is available from The Construction Leadership Council.