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Hybrid working and its impact on fire safety and security of commercial buildings  

There is no doubt that home working is here to stay, albeit these arrangements will become more flexible hybrid work styles. However, these change could potentially create fire and security risks that, as yet, may not be entirely obvious.

If you have implemented new hybrid working policies, altered building layouts or changed how you use a building there is an onus on company directors and anyone with a responsibility for fire safety and security (often called the responsible individual) to carry out a fire risk assessment and also consider the following:

  • Alterations to building lay outs
  • Fire alarm testing and practices
  • Vacant buildings
  • Frequency of maintenance checks
  • Insurance cover
  • Fire risk assessment

Alterations to building lay outs

The costs of owning or renting commercial buildings or offices is usually the second highest overhead. An increase in hybrid working could mean buildings have since become underutilised and therefore the purpose for which they are used may have also been modified. This has implications for the validity of both the fire risk assessment and also insurance cover.

Open plan offices with rows of desks might now include work booths, partitioning, sofa style seating, additional recreational facilities and the inclusion of workplace canteens and gyms.

If you have not carried out a new fire risk assessment, the revised lay out could breach fire regulations. There could be a risk that these new layouts may impact the early identification of the signs of fire or unauthorised access. Particularly if the positioning of fire detection and intruder devices and other equipment such as fire extinguishers, manual call points and CCTV camera’s has not been factored into the redesign.

Other examples we have come across include some online retailers that have taken up vacant high street premises with stock rooms rather than leasing garages or warehouse space as this provides them the best of both worlds. Being adjacent to other shops may place stock and the ability to trade at risk if fire were to spread from adjacent premises. Again, this could impact the validity of insurance cover.

Fire alarm testing and practices

The frequency of how often a fire alarm must be tested in the workplace is governed by legislation and it is a legal requirement to ensure the fire drill is practiced regularly. Hybrid working may mean that some staff may miss out on fire safety training, being part of fire essential drills and tests that alarm sounders are working.

Indeed, if the people responsible for this very important aspect of your fire safety regime have been furloughed or also working from home, carrying out these essential routines may have lapsed entirely. This not only places people at risk, company directors and responsible individuals will be held accountable should an incident occur and my risk heavy fines or a prison sentence.

Vacant Buildings

An increase in the number of people working from home may lead to entire buildings or parts of a building being unoccupied.

Just because there is no threat to life, the responsibility to ensure the building is safe still remains. The consequences of poor fire alarm maintenance can be quite severe and mean that company directors, property owners and landlords as well as individuals or teams who act as the Responsible Individual risk prosecution and possible prison sentences if they do not ensure their systems are maintained and that regular fire risk assessments have been carried out to ensure fire protection.

It is a legal requirement that any company that employs 5 people or more must install a fire alarm, and if a building has a fire alarm installed, whether it is occupied or vacant, the system must be regularly maintained. Also failure to declare that a building is unoccupied may also impact the validity of insurance.

Fire Risk Assessment

A fire risk assessment is a process that involves a competent individual carrying out a systematic evaluation of commercial premises to assess the risk of fire, the likelihood that a fire could break out, and the consequences should a fire occur.

The purpose of a fire risk assessment is to identify fire risks so that action can be taken to eliminate or reduce the potential causes of fire.

If you have made changes to your building lay out or how your company operates it is highly advisable to carry out a new fire risk assessment as this action will be noted in your fire safety log book as evidence you have taken a proactive stance towards minimise fire risk in light of these specific changes.

Posted on: 12 October 2021
Posted in: Advice