Changing the way we work

“Building procedures and policies have also had to change, from how people use their premises to how many people move in and out of spaces. And as we slowly move away from the past few months of isolation, our workspaces and business structures are going to look very different.”

Covid-19 has completely transformed lives across the world in a matter of a few months. Businesses have had to quickly adapt to a changing landscape and a complex financial future. As we move out of lockdown, some companies are starting to re-open fully or partially while following strict government guidance. But what will our businesses look like after Coronavirus and how does fire safety fall into our changing workplaces?

During lockdown, a vast amount of our workforce was either working at home or furloughed. Businesses had to move with the rapidly changing pandemic. Thousands of organisations embraced remote working initiatives, which many have said is going to revolutionise the way we work in the long term. Experts were already predicting that 50% of the British workforce will work remotely by 2020, this is now set to rise exponentially and will have a direct effect on our physical workspaces after lockdown. Building procedures and policies have also had to change, from how people use their premises to how many people move in and out of spaces. And as we slowly move away from the past few months of isolation, our workspaces and business structures are going to look very different. But how does fire safety fit into our new business plans and how are we going to navigate this new unprecedented environment while adhering to compliant fire safety guidelines?

One thing is for sure, most aspects of the workplace is going to change – from commuting, the way physical spaces are set up, how working days are structured and physical journeys through a building. Business owners now need to prepare for distanced working and a higher level of hygiene to protect their staff while also protecting their business interests. And because workspaces are transforming it is naturally changing risk for any building.

Risk management, and especially fire risk assessments, should now be crucial parts of any business plan to re-open premises or bring their staff back to work. The maintenance and testing of fire safety equipment should have continued during lockdown where possible and safe to do so. Assess which buildings are covered by your fire safety systems, how those buildings have changed during the last few months and how they will continue to evolve are crucial elements of a lockdown transition plan. For example, fire sprinklers, fire alarms or other fire safety systems which cover multiple premises, where some have remained open and other have remained closed, would directly affect risk management and a fire assessment.

Anyone working in the fire safety sector is considered a key worker, and so if sprinklers haven’t been maintained, were isolated or have been found to be impaired while during lockdown then it is crucial that checks on your sprinkler system are carried out before a business reopens. Sprinkler systems that haven’t seen regular testing (even for short periods) are susceptible to failures, as routine testing exercises vital components. If a system has not been maintained for several weeks sprinkler valves and alarm gongs should be tested and inspected, and in cases where systems have been left for longer periods then a full overhaul is recommended by an approved sprinkler contractor.

“Our advice is to explain clearly to the client that this is their decision not to allow you to complete the scheduled work, and it is the role of the premises’ management to ensure they fulfil their fire safety obligations. If access permission is still not granted, you should document timings and communications to use later as evidence that you have acted responsibly for your clients.”

Even before Covid-19, the organisation and maintenance of fire sprinkler systems can be very problematic. Site access, security, organising third parties and tenants can onerous and now, with even more restrictions exploring new remote technologies and automation are especially key. Not only can it take away unnecessary risk to life but eradicate many of the obstacles of carrying out routine maintenance and testing.

Our technology allows routine sprinkler system maintenance to be carried out remotely in full compliance with fire codes without the need for component or equipment access. For example, Zonecheck Addressable, provides fully automated testing for an entire building, whilst either still in lockdown or where new polices and restrictions make it difficult. Remote testing also mitigates any unnecessary risks especially where occupants are vulnerable such as hospitals and care homes.

Valvecheck is another solutions that are uniquely helpful for navigating new risk management plans and fire assessments for changing workplace environments. The addressable system can manage weekly alarm valve testing, flow-switch testing as well as exercise local zone valves remotely in compliance with the fire codes without ever having to leave the building’s management suite.

And lack of fire sprinkler maintenance and testing during lockdown isn’t the only fire safety issue that has posed a major problem during the current pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of false alarms are triggered throughout the UK every year and costs the UK economy an eye watering £1 billion. Year on year, the number of false alarm calls are increasing. Currently 40% of all fire alarm calls to the fire and rescue service are defined as false alarms, or an alarm signal triggered by something other than a fire and where a fire detection and alarm system has responded. During Covid-19, false alarms have continued to pose unnecessary resource strain and financial drain on emergency services, especially in hospitals, which has put key workers, vulnerable people and patients at even more risk than they are already currently facing.

In the end, even in these extraordinary situations, fire safety cannot be put on hold and should in fact be a the first priority on any building management safety measures. Effective and smart fire safety systems not only save lives they also provide compliant testing and monitoring that reduces costs and maintenance time, which is especially important for businesses post lockdown. Automatic sprinkler solutions can help building owners and businesses adapt to the remote and socially distanced environment that we now live in while also ensuring that their organisations financial health and business longevity is protected.