Is your Covid-secure building a fire safety risk?

If you’ve made changes to a building to ensure it’s Covid-secure for post-lockdown, have you given any thought to whether you may have swapped one hazard for another. Whether a building is changing its use or layout, including temporary constructions, Mr. Ashraf Yehia, Managing Director from Eaton Middle East, explains that you must consider whether you need a new fire risk assessment.

Most local regulatory bodies state that if you make an alteration to the property then you must reassess your current fire risk assessment. As a result of building layout changes, including many temporary internal and external structures such as protective barriers and screens, you need to think about fire detection and alarm, exit signage and emergency lighting layout.

Increased risk: escape routes

Take a look at retail and hospitality outlets for example. Most have organised one way traffic through their premises either with arrows showing direction of travel or in some cases by blocking off passages with barriers, rope or tape. If there is an emergency where the building needs evacuating this could lead to doubt and confusion and may even prevent people from easily making their way to emergency exits.

This will have implications for emergency lighting and exit signage – some of which may now be in the wrong place for simple and safe evacuation. You should also check that there are fire extinguishers on each of these new escape routes.

Increased risk: separating people

If you are constructing new rooms, partitioning off areas or changing the layout to socially distance people, you need to check that there are fire detectors installed in each new space and that people can hear and /or see fire alarms when they are in them and that they are still compliant.

Some of these partitions will also cause a fire safety hazard whether it’s because they create a tunnel that funnels smoke or in many cases because they are plastic, which would create a lot of smoke if there was a fire. Such partitions may also alter the effectiveness of sprinkler systems.

Increased risk: risk assessment

While we need to implement many of these measures as we return to work, it is still our duty as building owners and employers to consider all the risks that employees and the public may face in the spaces that we are responsible for. It means that we may need to adapt or change our fire safety systems so that we can mitigate the risk from these new measures.

It may also lead us to consider some of the choices we make, for example we might reconsider what materials we use for constructing partitions.

A well-designed fire safety system will have twenty percent extra capacity and allow some flexibility within its system, but sadly most do not and even those that do will not have considered the extent of change that we need to make to our buildings.

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