As we approach the festive season many businesses are looking forward to their busiest and most successful period of the year. However, this period is also when businesses are most vulnerable to the dangers of fire and theft.
When we get particularly busy and pressurised, paying the correct amount of attention to fire safety and security protection can often be furthest from our mind.
Tecserv UK has prepared some top tips that are a useful reminder to all businesses to consider in the run up to Christmas and the New Year. Businesses such as retailers, pubs, nightclubs, hotels and restaurants should pay particular attention, as the risk is significantly increased due to increased patronage and the effects of alcohol!
1. Temporary staff
During the holiday period many organisations employ temporary staff to cope with the additional workload.
These temporary staff may be inexperienced and may not have received basic fire safety training. In addition, experienced staff may be under higher pressure during this period which can sometimes mean the most basic of safety issues is sometimes overlooked.
- Ensure all temporary staff receive fire and security induction training
- Remind full time staff of the need to ensure fire and security checks are part of their daily routine
2. Electrical overload
Overloaded electrical sockets and temporary electrical installations that are drawing too much power from an unsuitable power source is one of the most prevalent causes of fire risk. Christmas tree lights, illuminated signs and other electrical decorations that are only put up during Christmas are often plugged into already overloaded 13 amp sockets using multi-sockets and extension leads. Mobile discotheques can be another potential fire risk.
- Ensure staff are advised not to overload power sockets
- Ensure all cabling has been PAT tested.
- Check the equipment used by any external suppliers meets fire safety standards
3. Christmas decorations
A more common source of fire at this time of the year is for temporary lighting to ignite paper or plastic Christmas decorations. Even when the decorations have been positioned with care it is not uncommon for the decorations to become dislodged or moved as the festive activities continue. In extreme cases hot lamps are brought into contact with highly flammable paper or plastic decorations resulting in a fire.
- Set out clear rules on the type of décor that can be used
- Ensure all decorations are checked by your responsible individual
4. Open fires
Sometimes an open fire is used as a form of decoration to bring warmth or a festive feel to the party, or to heat a normally unused room. Either way, additional fire safety precautions must be observed when using open fires. It is not uncommon for the rarely used chimney to smoke and cause smoke pollution in the room causing an unwanted fire alarm.
There is a massive temptation to disable, cover, or remove the smoke detector to prevent an unwanted fire alarm. It is then quite common to find the detector still missing or covered several weeks later!
If the open fire has not been used all year, lighting it can be difficult in inexperienced hands. Common sense can be ignored and flammable liquids used to start the fire. Apart from the obvious risk to the person lighting the fire, the fierce initial blaze caused by lighting highly volatile liquid is also likely to set the chimney on fire or dislodge soot, which can then fall and ignite carpets and hearth rugs.
- Only allow trained personnel to light fires
- Instruct staff NEVER to disable a smoke detector
5. Indoor fireworks
Indoor fireworks have become a popular highlight of the festivities and if used correctly can be highly entertaining and very safe.
However, the amount of smoke they will actually produce is often underestimated causing the smoke detection system to activate which can lead to the fire brigade being called out needlessly – again, this can mean that smoke detection systems are disabled!
- Instruct staff NEVER to disable a smoke detector
- Have strict rules for the use of indoor fireworks and conduct a risk assessment
6. The Christmas Pudding
Although the tradition of burning brandy on the Christmas pudding cannot be classed as an indoor firework, the risk of fire is even greater. This traditional act is usually performed only during the festive season and any activity, if not practised regularly, is likely to be performed badly and will certainly enhance the risk of fire or injury to personnel or guests. With the brandy producing an almost invisible flame and guests wearing party clothing, fancy dress or paper hats, the risk of fire is dramatically increased.
- Only allow trained staff to burn and serve the Christmas puddings
The large number of parties that take place over a relatively short period of time often require staff to work longer hours than normal. Consequently, staff may become fatigued and when this happens the chances of accidents dramatically increase. Fatigue also means that in an emergency, when staff are required to think clearly to react to a fire situation or to help guests evacuate premises, they are more likely to forget vital emergency procedures and to panic more easily.
- Check rota’s to ensure no-one is working excessively
Even a small amount of alcohol can impair our judgement, especially when driving a motor vehicle. The consumption of alcohol dramatically increases over the festive period and so with it the risk of fires occurring –especially in hotels, pubs, nightclubs and restaurants. Not only is it more likely that the person under the influence of the alcohol can cause a fire, it is also more difficult for that person to escape from the premises. Their ability to think clearly and logically will be impaired and even following simple instructions can be difficult and confusing.
- Ensure staff are well trained and clear on alcohol policy
- Practice evacuation procedures in the run up to Christmas with all staff who may be working
- Remind staff not to drink before working and /or driving
9. Maintenance of Safety Equipment
Unlike Tecserv, which offers a call out facility 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, using our UK wide team of maintenance engineers, the festive season also means some providers will be operating on a skeleton staff which could affect the time it takes for an engineer to come out to fix any faults that may occur with your fire and security alarms systems.
As we have already highlighted, alcohol often makes sensible people do silly things, and during the festive season pranks such as discharging fire extinguishers and breaking call point glasses are all too frequent! Also, smoke detectors that have been removed either for fun or to prevent unwanted alarms, end up getting lost.
- Double check the terms of your maintenance agreement to ensure you have adequate out of hours protection
- Order in additional stock of spare equipment such as portable fire extinguishers
- Put up signs to warn your customers of the penalties you will impose for tampering with devices.
In order to take advantage of the potential to accommodate more customers, some organisations are tempted to admit more people than they are licensed for, resulting in serious overcrowding.
Not only does this increase the chances of fire occurring it also makes the evacuation procedures much more difficult to action. In addition, it maybe tempting to lock or obstruct fire escape exit routes so that customers are unable to let in their friends through the fire escape doors!
Statistics show that the risk from fire are substantially higher in hotels, public houses, clubs and restaurants during the festive season.
- Carry out a festive season team brief reminding all staff of your fire safety and security policies.
Before things get really busy, the early part of December is an ideal time to carry out important safety checks. These may include a team briefing on fire safety and security as well as conducting a thorough check on the functionality of your fire detection systems, intruder alarms, access control and CCTV systems.