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“Fire safety obligations for premises managers continue as normal” urges BAFE
08 February 2021
FIRE SAFETY legislation justifiably remains unchanged because of the pandemic and should be followed as normal in the interests of life safety. That’s the strong message being reiterated by BAFE and Fire and Rescue Services nationwide who have been warning that dealing with Coronavirus safety measures does not afford any premises managers an excuse for discounting fire safety at this time.
At the beginning of the current lockdown period, BAFE published news that new national lockdown restrictions categorically did not restrict fire safety work from being conducted. Fire safety personnel continue to remain key workers. The continuation of their work is outlined as being acceptable in national lockdown guidance issued by the Government on Monday 4 January.
The Government has observed: “You may only leave your home for work if you cannot reasonably work from home in order to help reduce the spread of the virus and protect others. If you cannot work from home, you should continue to travel to your workplace.” (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home#going-to-work)
BAFE stresses that, where possible and following on from the Government’s guidance, any office-based staff of registered companies should work from home to aid in the reduction of the transmission of COVID-19.
No excuse for ignoring responsibilities
“Coronavirus is not an excuse for disregarding fire safety responsibilities,” asserted station manager Bill Shepherd of the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service’s Protection Department. “Businesses must ensure that they have an adequate amount of competent people to help in the implementation of both preventative and protective fire safety measures.”
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has previously stated: “Fire safety legislation is still being enforced. We have measures in place to enforce this. The Responsible Person still has responsibilities under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Any Coronavirus-related safety changes need to be included within fire risk assessments when looking to see if any additional measures may need to be put in place to ensure that fire safety is met.”
These warnings will be echoed by all Fire and Rescue Services across the UK. BAFE adds that third party certificated providers should be used to determine evidence of their competency for delivering specific fire safety services. Upholding fire safety responsibilities regardless of how many people currently are using the building is vital.
Where possible, premises management should not be restricting access to site so as to ensure ongoing responsibilities continue to be fulfilled by appropriate and competent fire safety service providers. BAFE stated: “It’s important to emphasise that fire safety is a life safety exercise that cannot be ignored or pushed back too far to suit a more convenient time. This decision could endanger any people currently using the building or when they return from this current lockdown.”
BAFE continue to stress to all registered companies that an ongoing dialogue with their clients remains crucial, and especially so when routine maintenance is due. All fire safety systems and provisions must be maintained regularly to confirm that they will react and work accordingly in the event of an emergency.
BAFE-registered companies have responded extremely well to Government guidance on minimising any risk of Coronavirus transmission while working on site. This was demonstrated throughout 2020. If clients exhibit any hesitation, it’s strongly recommended to have an on-site COVID-19 risk assessment safety document prepared for alleviating any concerns.
Previous guidance focused on BAFE-registered companies (and, indeed, the fire safety industry as a whole) was issued last year by Chris Auger, BAFE’s director of Schemes. It specified: “If a client is not permitting access on site due to Coronavirus precautions, please make sure you explain that this is their decision to not allow you to complete this work. It is the role of premises management (ie the Responsible Person or duty holder) to ensure they fulfil their fire safety obligations.
Fire safety companies should advise their customers of any risk and, if the latter still choose not to grant access to a given site, solution providers should document this communication. This will evidence the fact that they have acted responsibly in relation to their clients.
UKAS-accredited third party certification continues
BAFE is “fully aware” of the challenges both registered companies and certification bodies have faced throughout the pandemic. Information issued by BAFE has allowed the industry to review and use this for the purposes of continuing essential fire safety-related work.
Remote assessments are being performed where appropriate. However, it’s important for solution providers to contact their chosen certification body for further information.
Due to the ongoing restrictions, BAFE will be contacting all BAFE-licensed certification bodies for feedback on remote assessments and their current position on this matter. BAFE would like to be able to support certification bodies in accommodating remote assessments to ensure that appropriate checks are being made to existing and prospective registered companies.
It remains critical that competency is reviewed regularly in order for BAFE to be able to deliver a quality register of independently assessed third party certificated fire safety service providers. This ongoing evidence of competency needs to be regularly checked to uphold BAFE’s responsibilities within the industry. As the pandemic continues, BAFE is striving to develop agreed criteria with certification bodies with a view towards achieving this key goal.
BAFE has been operational throughout the pandemic and continues to remain open. Staff safety is key and, following on from the Government’s guidance, members of staff have been working from home to limit any potential spread of the virus.
Government Coronavirus/COVID-19 Guidance