Fire drills: why, when and how

Fire drills are part of working in an office or shared workspace. After enough false alarms, most of us have become inured to the shock and anxiety that fire drills and fire alarms once brought, but fire drills are still very important. Staff have the legal and personal right to safety in the workplace, and this includes proper fire training. Read the guide below to learn more about how to plan, carry out and record an effective fire drill in your workplace.

Why are fire drills important?

We all know the frustration of being interrupted in the middle of something by the shriek of a fire alarm. Fire drills may seem like just an occasional office annoyance to be dealt with and forgotten. However, fire drills are important because no one knows exactly how they will react in the event of an emergency. It is possible that an individual will experience extreme fear and anxiety, and act irrationally during such an event. Repeated drills will help staff to remember exactly what to do in the event of a fire, and this will mean that everyone is more likely to leave the building in a safe fashion.

Moreover, carrying out fire drills will help staff to learn more about all the areas of the building, and ensure that staff are aware of the roles they need to play in the event of a fire. For example, as part of the fire protection strategy, fire wardens will be chosen to direct the staff out of the building.

What are the legal obligations?

Yearly fire drills are a legal requirement for all businesses. However, the HSE advises that it is better to perform fire drills a few times each year, especially if your workplace has a number of risk factors. It is important to note that the results of each fire drill need to be recorded after they have been carried out.

In addition to conducting fire drills, it is also the employer’s responsibility to conduct a fire safety assessment of the premises, to inform staff about potential dangers and risks in the workplace, train staff and implement fire safety measures.

How to prepare for a fire drill

Legally, employers must conduct fire safety risk assessments for the workplace and ensure that these assessments are updated when needed. These assessments are similar to other workplace risk assessments and can be included as part of the overall office plan. You can keep your fire safety records neatly organised with one of Seton’s fire safety log books which includes space for fire drill records, along with space for information on escape routes and signage inspection.

Should you tell your staff that there will be a drill before it happens?

Employers should inform their staff in advance that there will be a fire drill. This is to make sure that there is maximum attendance for the drill and so that everyone in the workplace understands their role in the drill, where to go, and what risks to avoid.

Some employers prefer to surprise their employees with a fire drill to create a more realistic drill experience. Speaking with your staff to find out what they are more comfortable with will help you to decide whether to inform them in advance or surprise them.

Carrying out a fire drill effectively

There are a few key steps to successfully carrying out a fire drill; these include:
• Fire wardens – it is very important to ensure that you have the proper number of fire wardens and that they have been properly trained. It is important to ensure that you also have enough fire wardens in the office to cover for sick leave and holidays that will come up.
• Updated registers – it is vitally important to keep an up to date register for the building as this way you will know who is in the building at any given time This is very important information during a fire!
• Clear paths – it is understandably important to ensure, before a drill, that all evacuation routes through the building are clear so that staff are able to safely exit the workplace.
Recording results

As mentioned previously, it is important both legally and for the good of the office to record the results of the fire drill in a logbook. A fire safety inspector may want to review the logs in the future, so it is important to keep up to date, neat logs.

Assessing the outcomes

Once the fire drill has been completed and you have logged all relevant information in your fire safety log book, take a moment to assess the fire drill. It is best to time the fire drill from start to finish. Recording the time will give you a sense of whether or not your staff is becoming accustomed to the evacuation routes and, if the drill takes you long, you may need to adjust your fire safety plan.

Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

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