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Are you required to maintain social distancing during an emergency evacuation?

Thursday 2nd July 2020


This article is reproduced from Croner-i Business Essentials and with kind permission of Croner-i Ltd.

Are we required to maintain social distancing during an emergency situation such as a fire evacuation?

 

A: The UK Government’s guidance for working safely during Covid-19 states that “in an emergency, eg an accident or fire, people do not have to stay 2m apart if it would be unsafe”.

 

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/5-steps-to-working-safely

 

Covid-19 secure guidelines have the potential to change the fire risk profile of an organisation and the potential issues of workplace configurations during the pandemic will need to be taken into account from a fire safety perspective. Covid-19. Protection. Advice to Businesses from the National Fire Chiefs Council provides useful guidance in respect of fire safety.

 

https://www.nationalfirechiefs.org.uk/write/MediaUploads/COVID-19/Protection%20documents/NFCC_Protection_-_COVID-19_Protection_Advice_to_Businesses_-_9_April_-_FINAL.pdf

 

As there is a potential for change to the fire risk profile, organisations will need to review the fire risk assessment to ensure it identifies such changes and analyse the risk from the changes. Examples of such changes are:

 

  • reconfiguration of traffic routes and access/egress points to a one-way system
  • changes in staffing levels and limited “competent persons” to support fire evacuations
  • partial closure of parts of premises that may impact on means of escape
  • fire doors being secured in an open position to prevent handles being touched and increase air ventilation
  • repurposing of premises with occupiers who may be unfamiliar with premises.

 

The Fire Emergency Plan for the premises will need to be reviewed as part of the fire risk assessment review. Key issues in relation to social distancing are evacuation through means of escape that prevent social distancing, the evacuation of those who require assistance and the assembly point.

 

It is recognised that social distancing may not be possible during an evacuation due to the configuration of the means of escape. Organisations should not introduce any measures to mitigate this that make evacuation unsafe, eg by delaying evacuation.

 

A particular challenge may be social distancing where assistance is provided to those who require support to evacuate safely. Any Personal Emergency Egress Plan/s (PEEP) will need to be reviewed. In doing so, the organisation should take into account current official fire safety guidance and the UK Government Covid-19 secure guidelines in relation to those with “protected characteristics”.

 

Where close contact is necessary, immediate hygiene measures should be adopted for all those involved following the evacuation.

 

Assembly points assist in the control of occupants who have evacuated as well as enabling on-going communication and roll-call procedures, for example. The organisation should review the use of the assembly point and determine if social distancing can be maintained or whether alternative measures are required.

 

This could include the use of additional assembly points, marking the ground for social distancing, controlling dispersal, etc.

 

Last reviewed [by i-Croner] 25 June 2020

 

This article is reproduced from Croner-i Business Essentials and with kind permission of Croner-i Ltd. For further information or to book a demo, you can speak to one Croner-i’s experts: 0800 231 5199.

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