At the beginning of the current lockdown period BAFE published news that new national lockdown restrictions categorically did not restrict fire safety work. Fire safety personnel continue to remain “key workers” and continuing this work is outlined as acceptable in national lockdown guidance (published 04/01/2021) by Government.
“You may only leave your home for work if you cannot reasonably work from home, to help reduce the spread of the virus and protect others. If you cannot work from home you should continue to travel to your workplace.” - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home#going-to-work
However, BAFE must stress that where possible and following Government guidance, any office based staff of Registered Companies should work from home to aid in the reduction of transmission of COVID-19.
Fire safety legislation justifiably remains unchanged because of the pandemic and should be followed as normal in the interest of life safety. BAFE has previously reported this fact and Fire and Rescue Services nationwide have been warning that dealing with coronavirus safety measures does not give any premises management an excuse for discounting fire safety at this time.
“Coronavirus is not an excuse for disregarding your [fire safety] responsibilities and businesses must ensure that they have an adequate amount of competent people to help in the implementation of both preventative and protective fire safety measures.” - Station Manager Bill Shepherd, Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service Protection Department
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service have also previously said “fire safety legislation is still being enforced [and] we have measures in place to enforce this… The responsible person still has responsibilities under the fire safety order and any [coronavirus safety] changes need to be included within your fire risk assessment looking to see if any additional measures may need to be put into place to ensure fire safety is met.”
These warnings will be echoed by all Fire and Rescue Services across the United Kingdom. We add that following fire safety Government guidance, Third Party Certificated providers should be used to determine evidence of their competency to deliver specific fire safety services. Upholding fire safety responsibilities regardless of how many people currently are using the building is vital.
Premises management should not be restricting access to site where possible to ensure responsibilities continue to be fulfilled by appropriate and competent fire safety service providers. It is important to emphasise that fire safety is a life safety exercise that cannot be ignored or pushed back too far to suit a more convenient time. This decision could endanger any people currently using the building or when they return from this current lockdown.
BAFE continue to stress to all Registered Companies that an ongoing dialogue with your clients remains crucial, especially when routine maintenance is due. All fire safety systems and provisions must be maintained regularly to confirm they will react and work accordingly in the event of an emergency.
We have observed that BAFE Registered Companies have responded extremely well to Government guidance to minimise any risk of coronavirus transmission whilst working on site. This has been demonstrated throughout 2020 and trust this will be maintained at a high standard throughout this year also. If your client has any hesitations it is strongly recommended to have an on-site COVID-19 risk assessment safety document prepared to diminish any concerns.
Previous guidance focussed towards BAFE Registered Companies (and the fire safety industry as a whole) issued in 2020 by Chris Auger, Director of Schemes – BAFE, specified: “If a client is not permitting access on-site due to coronavirus precautions, please make sure you explain that this is their decision to not allow you to complete this work. It is the role of the premises management (i.e. Responsible Person/Duty Holder) to ensure they fulfil their fire safety obligations.
Advise them of any risk and if they still do not grant you access on-site, document this communication. This will provide evidence you have acted responsibly with your clients. If you are allowed access on-site, please stay safe and follow appropriate coronavirus guidance to ensure you are not unnecessarily increasing risk to anyone in the premises or yourselves.”
BAFE are fully aware of the challenges both Registered Companies and Certification Bodies have faced throughout the pandemic. Issued information from BAFE have allowed the industry to review and use this for the purpose of continuing their essential work.
Remote assessments are being performed where appropriate, however it is important to contact your chosen Certification Body for further information. The decision to perform remote assessments is to their discretion and current operating procedures.
Due to the ongoing restrictions we are faced with, we will be contacting all BAFE Licensed Certification Bodies for feedback on remote assessments and their current position on this. BAFE would like to be able to support Certification Bodies in accommodating remote assessments to ensure appropriate checks are being made to existing and prospective Registered Companies. It remains critical that competency is reviewed regularly for us to deliver a quality Register of independently assessed Third Party Certificated fire safety service providers. This ongoing evidence of competency needs to be regularly checked to uphold our responsibility within the industry. As the pandemic goes on, we strive to develop agreed criteria with Certification Bodies to achieve this.
BAFE has been operational throughout the pandemic and continues to remain open. Staff safety is key however and, following Government guidance, have been working from home to limit any spread of the virus. We will continue to support where possible and respond in a timely manner.
(News item above refers to guidance published 04/01/2021 and updated 28/01/2021)
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