Carrying out an Effective Fire Drill

Fire drills are essential in any workplace or public building for practicing what to do in the event of a fire. They are also a legal requirement under the Fire Safety Order of 2005 and all employees in a company must participate. Here we tell you how to get the most out of your fire practice.

Why have fire drills in your workplace?

There are several reasons why fire drills are important; firstly fire drills are an opportunity to practice evacuation procedures to make sure all staff are familiar with them. They get staff used to exiting a building quickly and therefore in a real life situation panic will be reduced, as everyone will know what they need to do. Fire drills are also useful for testing escape routes to evaluate their effectiveness.

During fire drills, checks can also be carried out on alarm systems to ensure they are working correctly and that emergency exits are unobstructed. Overall fire drills help improve safety, so that you will be best prepared if a real fire does occur.

How often should you have fire drills?

Ideally you should aim to have two fire drills a year at your premises, although this may vary depending on what has been set out in your company’s risk assessment. If you employ shift workers, appropriate arrangements should be made to ensure all staff participate in at least one fire drill per year.

Should you inform staff before a fire drill?

There are arguments for and against making people aware of fire drills before they take place. Some people argue that not informing staff gives an element of surprise, so that people take drills more seriously. However this can also have the opposite effect in a real fire, as on hearing the alarm people may think that it is only a drill.

The advantage of informing all staff of fire drills beforehand is that firstly, they will not panic, which avoids potential injuries that could be caused in a rush to exit a building. Secondly if the alarm sounds without a prior warning, there will be no ambiguity as to if it is a drill or not and people will behave appropriately. In public places such as shopping centres, it is advisable to make members of the public aware when a drill is about to take place.

Preparing for a fire drill

When you are planning a fire drill you should decide on something specific that you are going to monitor. This could be a specific aspect of your escape plan that you have highlighted as needing improvement or a more general goal, such as reducing the amount of time it takes for everyone to exit the building.

Amongst the staff, a team of fire marshals with a chief fire marshall and deputy in charge, should be appointed to supervise fire drills and check that everyone gets out safely. All marshals will require special training so that they can carry out their duties safely and effectively. Deputies should be given the opportunity to participate in fire drills so they can familiarise themselves with their role in case of the absence of the chief fire marshal if a real fire occurs.  

If you have a system that automatically informs the fire service when the alarm is triggered, you need to take appropriate measures to stop this from causing the Fire Brigade a wasted journey. Take any systems off line before the fire drill but be sure to get them back up and running once the drill has finished. You should also notify people in nearby buildings of the drill date and time beforehand so that when they hear the fire alarm, they know that there is not a real fire.

During the fire drill

To monitor fire drills, observers should be placed at points around the building in areas such as stairwells to look for good and bad practices. Any room for improvement can be noted and then mentioned at a debriefing meeting after the drill.

In buildings where there are more than one exit route, the main exits should be blocked off to encourage staff to use alternative escape routes as in a real fire, parts of the building could be impassable due to fire or smoke.

Set a stopwatch to record how long the full evacuation takes, fire marshals should do a roll call and tick people off to make sure everyone is out of the building. Before exiting themselves, fire marshals should do quick sweep of the building including the toilets to check no one is trapped inside.   

Evaluate the effectiveness of the fire drill

Debriefing should take place after the fire drill to look at the findings of the observers and evaluate the effectiveness of the evacuation procedures. Particular attention should be made to those points that were highlighted for improvement in the initial planning. To get a better idea of how successful the drill was, you could also invite staff to share their ideas on how they think the drill could have been more effective.

Love them or hate them fire drills are an important part of fire safety and your workplace will be a safer place because of them.

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