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NFU Mutual urges commercial property owners to maintain fire safety regimes

02 October 2020

NFU MUTUAL is urging commercial property owners not to neglect fire risk assessments during the pandemic. The warning comes as the property insurance specialist claims statistics reveal a 46% spike in the number of commercial property fires during lockdown.

The ongoing global crisis has put pressure on commercial property owners and their tenants as they adopt new measures to ensure working environments are COVID-secure. In many instances, this has involved changes to premises.

As stated, NFU Mutual claims that statistics depict a 46% rise in the number of commercial fire claims from 22 March 2020 to 31 July 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.  

“Having seen a spike in our commercial fire claims statistics, we’re concerned that the added focus on Coronavirus may be causing some premises to put other safety matters to one side,” explained Trevor Palmer, property insurance specialist at NFU Mutual. “While following Coronavirus guidance is imperative, that should not be at the expense of other Health and Safety-related activity.”

Legal requirement

Fire risk assessments are a legal requirement for all non-domestic premises, allowing the identification of specific areas of fire risk and providing recommended corrective actions to safeguard occupants.

On that note, Palmer continued: “Fire risk assessments should be reviewed if a given building undergoes significant change. Where changes impact on any common areas within a property, the owner should consider the implications on fire safety and whether the current assessment will need to be revisited.”

Further, Palmer asserted: “Owners should also encourage tenants to assess whether or not any changes they’re making, such as introducing partitioning, altering desk layouts and exit pathways or assigning new fire meeting points, will have an effect on fire safety and, as a result, require updates in terms of the fire risk assessment.”

Given that Coronavirus poses new challenges, it’s important for building owners and managers to give pre-existing dangers equal consideration. The risk of fire remains, and property owners should maintain efforts to protect occupants, properties and themselves from fire incidents.

“Robust owner to tenant communications are essential,” observed Palmer. “While the current focus is likely related to lease agreements, rent and service charge payments, every effort should be made to keep fire safety at the forefront of all communications. Importantly, all parties should be fully aware of where the responsibility lies for updating the fire risk assessment and making necessary changes at the property.”

Fire safety vigilance

NFU Mutual has outlined five ‘Top Tips’ on fire safety vigilance. These are as follows:

*Communication is key – keep all stakeholders up-to-date with fire risk assessment progress and changes

*Ensure all records of contact details are kept up-to-date in case they’re needed in an emergency situation

*Regularly review the fire risk assessment, and particularly so if there have been any changes on the premises

*Remain cognisant of all relevant fire safety legislation

*Consider consulting fire safety and risk management professionals for technical information on fire safety

While it’s not a requirement for fire risk assessments to be documented if there are fewer than five occupants in a building, keeping a written record is still advisable. While an insurer may not ask a building owner/manager for their fire risk assessment, providing it at the outset can aid clarity during any subsequent claims.

NFU Mutual’s guidance document on fire risk assessments can be downloaded at https://www.nfumutual.co.uk/news-and-stories/maintaining-fire-safety-during-lockdown