Fire Warden Responsibilities

Whether you are a business owner, a manager or an employee, it’s essential to familiarise yourself with health and safety policies and plans, including where responsibilities lie when an outbreak of fire occurs. Fire wardens are appointed in a workplace to undertake set duties, both preventative and reactive. Preventative tasks are designed to enable an assessment of the level of risk of a fire in the workplace, while reactive duties are those carried out in the event of a fire breaking out. Being a Fire Warden is an important and responsible post, and as such they must carry out a series of checks on a regular basis.

Sometimes designated as fire marshals, wardens are usually involved in planning strategies for a fire evacuation or, if newly appointed, are required to familiarise themselves thoroughly with any existing plan. This plan is essential, because when implemented effectively it could save lives. It’s a good idea for an organisation to undertake a regular audit of evacuation plans to ensure they are up to date and still workable.

Proactive duties

A fire warden’s specific tasks will vary depending on the size of the building and its contents, and the number of staff. Among the things that might be involved, day to day, are:

  • Checking that housekeeping in general is in good order, for example, that paper storage and waste is properly handled and controlled. Hazardous materials and flammable liquids must be stored correctly. Any room containing a fixed source of ignition or heat may not be used for storage of any kind of combustible material.
  • Ensuring that all fire exits and routes remain unobstructed and that they are available at all times. Rubbish and external security should also be monitored.
  • Surveying fire exit signs regularly and checking fire doors at least weekly. Remember that opening exit doors from time to time ensures they are not blocked from the outside.
  • Checking fire extinguishers to ensure they are in the right place, clearly signed and positioned above floor level. Regular services should be organised and recorded.
  • Ensuring that all break glass call points are visible and that they are clearly indicated by a break glass point sign and an emergency fire action notice.
  • Controlling smoking areas so that they are cleaned regularly, including any ashtrays supplied.
  • Putting in place testing schedules for:
    •  Electrical safety checks and PAT testing
    •  Emergency lighting (monthly tests are recommended)
    •  Smoke and fire alarms (weekly testing is recommended).

Planning and paperwork

Fire wardens manage the checks that are carried out and ensure compliance in terms of legal requirements. For example, should hot works permits be needed for tasks such as welding, soldering, torch cutting, etc., the warden is responsible for their issue. He or she must also control contractors engaged in such work.

When the fire evacuation plan is audited, the fire warden has the opportunity to revisit the risk assessment on which it is based and to update this where necessary. Wardens should arrange fire drills at least once per year and carry out thorough staff inductions with all new employees or with all members of staff if changes are made to the evacuation plan.

Reactive duties

Obviously, the principal role of the fire warden is designed in such a way as to prevent a fire breaking out. However, should a fire occur, the warden has a set of reactive duties to deal with the situation. In this case, their responsibilities might include some or all of the following:

  • Using a fire extinguisher or other equipment to fight the fire
  • Calling the emergency services and raising the alarm
  • Directing staff to available exit routes that are available to them and checking all rooms to make sure everyone is accounted for
  • Assisting people with disabilities
  • Closing all open windows and doors, being sure to also close any corridor windows
  • Ensuring all fire doors are closed, including the final exit ones
  • Ensuring any hazardous manufacturing machinery and processes have been isolated
  • Taking part in the roll call at the designated assembly point
  • Reporting to the fire service personnel when they arrive

Fire warden numbers

Every organisation should carefully consider how many fire wardens it needs. Larger workplaces with multiple floors or several different rooms on one level, for example, will want to appoint several wardens to take care of all the required tasks. Even in a smaller organisation, there’s a case to be made for having at least two wardens in order to allow for absences from work. Staff members who are designated fire wardens may go offsite for training courses, for holidays or because they are unwell.

Although there has been a downward trend in the number of fire incidents in recent years in the UK, during 2013–2014 there were 22,500 fires reported in non-domestic buildings. Three-quarters of those were recorded as accidental. Faulty fire alarms that failed to sound accounted for 3,700 fires, hence the importance of testing alarms on a regular basis.

Retail distribution centres had the most fires at 3,000, closely followed by industrial premises with 2,500. There were 2,200 fires in restaurants, takeaways, pubs, cafés or wine bars. The four most common causes of fire were:

  • Electrical faults
  • Misuse of equipment
  • Smoking
  • Arson

One-quarter of accidental fires in non-domestic premises were due to faulty cables or appliances, which is why testing electrics on a regular basis is essential. Two thousand fires happened when equipment was misused. That might have been due to inadequate training or a flawed risk assessment. Smoking is another common cause of a fire in the workplace, so a designated smoking area away from any combustible or hazardous materials is vital. Fires set deliberately totalled 4,950 during 2013–14, so it’s important to ensure correct storage of flammable material and equipment and, if necessary, use appropriate security measures such as CCTV or security patrols.

Despite the downward trend, the death of even one person at work as a result of fire is one too many. A good fire risk assessment, competent fire evacuation strategy and well-trained fire wardens who properly implement health and safety policy may be all that stands between your workplace and disaster as a result of fire.

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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