The festive season is the busiest time of year for most of our retailers with Irish consumers still ranking amongst the highest spenders in Europe* despite the difficult economic climate of recent years. In fact, for many retailers, the revenue generated during the weeks and days in the lead up to December 25th are crucial to their survival.
As retailers busy themselves with preparations for the holiday period, it is easy to forget the increased fire risk and additional fire safety challenges which are present when demand is high. Such risks and challenges are generated as a result of retailers taking on more stock, recruiting additional or casual staff to manage the increase in trade, an increase in customer footfall not to mention the increased electrical loading due to festive lights etc.
In this article, we offer retailers some useful tips to ensure that staff, customers and stock are protected from the many fire hazards faced as Christmas approaches.
1. Reduce Risk
Tip: Incorporate fire awareness into your daily routine and that of your employees.
Most retailers will have a documented fire risk assessment (contained in the company’s safety statement) which determines what action you need to take to prevent a fire from occurring. Now is the ideal time to turn this into a working document. Why not review and discuss each fire hazard with your staff again and ask “what else can we do to reduce the risk of fire?”
For example, with additional stock there is an increased risk that fire exits and escape routes may become obstructed or blocked. Why not increase the number of visual inspections of fire exits and escape routes in the lead up to Christmas? Additional waste packaging can also represent an increased fire risk. Consider waste storage carefully, remembering to keep flammable materials away from all sources of ignition such as heaters, light fittings etc. Why not contact your waste service provider and check if additional collections may be organised?
The use of Christmas lights also represents an additional fire hazard, not present at other times of the year. Ensure a competent person checks all the connections and that the wiring is examined for frayed cable.
2. Emergency Plan
Tip: Ensure casual staff and new recruits are aware of your emergency plan
As well as reducing the risk of fire, all employee’s need to have a clear understanding of what to do in the event of a fire and these responses need to be rehearsed.
As a minimum, fire drills should be carried out twice annually but again we recommend you carry out one now and ensure that all new recruits and casual staff participate.
Take care to insure that evacuation instructions and emergency lights are not obstructed by Christmas trees, decorations etc
3. Fire Protection/Fighting Equipment
Tip: Ensure all extinguishers are accounted for and easily accessible
It is crucial that all staff are aware of the fire protection/fighting equipment that is installed in your store and how they work.
Check to ensure that you have adequate extinguishers which are suitably placed and fit for purpose. For example, where there is a risk of electrical fire, ensure that you have a CO2 fire extinguisher. Bear in mind that using the wrong extinguisher in a fire condition can in fact accelerate the fire.
Ensure all extinguishers are accounted for, and mounted in their designated position. Take care not to obstruct extinguishers with surplus stock.
Remember that your fire extinguishers should be serviced annually by a competent person/service provider.
Your fire detection and alarm system is designed to provide early warning of a fire condition. It is essential that this system is maintained and serviced in accordance with Irish Standard 3218:2009.
Between routine services, we recommend that you make visual daily inspections of the fire alarm control panel, checking that the power supply is healthy and that no pre alarm conditions exist.
Contact your service provider if you have any doubt or concern over the integrity of your system.
4. Employee Training
Tip: Remember to record all fire safety activities in your fire register
All staff including casual staff should receive fire safety awareness training prior to commencement. However, the key to good fire safety management is incorporating this into the daily routine. Why not compliment your formal training by asking your fire alarm and extinguisher service provider to give a quick demo during their routine visits?
Ensure you have a designated fire warden tasked with the overall responsibility of executing the emergency plan and that your fire warden receives formal training.
Record all training in your fire safety register/logbook.
Tip: Ensure your contents cover adequately protects the additional merchandise you have in stock at this time of year.
For further information on fire safety in the workplace you can visit the HSA website.
* Deloitte Christmas Spending Survey 2012
Author: Brendan Stamp Tech IEI, IS3218:2009 and 291:2001 Qualified
Managing Director, Guardian Fire & Security