Covid-19: Re-opening your business

As restrictions start to lift, businesses that re-open need to ensure a safe environment for their staff and customers.

Businesses following the government guidance for working safely during Covid-19 will be deemed 'Covid secure'. Having completed the Covid-19 risk assessment it will be necessary to review and update the premises fire risk assessment.

  • If you have introduced new measures or made changes to your normal procedures, the premises' fire safety arrangements must remain suitable and sufficient to protect people in the event of a fire.
  • The fire service cannot review your fire risk assessment for you. To help businesses and owners meet their statutory duties under fire safety law, we have produced advice on this page.

Any changes made to your premises to limit the spread of Covid-19 must not impact fire safety

People identified as having a responsibility for fire safety under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 must make sure that measures implemented to limit the spread of Covid-19 do not inadvertently impact fire safety. For example:

  • Has a reduction in staff numbers affected your evacuation plan?
  • Does the creation of a one-way system for staff or shoppers prevent people from reaching their nearest fire exit in an emergency?
  • Could a fire start and go unnoticed in a part of your premises that is unoccupied?
  • Does the introduction of external seating or a temporary structure affect your means of escape from the premises?

Key things for businesses to consider before re-opening

1. Update your fire risk assessment

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Fire safety is a dynamic process to be dealt with on a day-to-day basis. It is the duty of the Responsible Person* to ensure risk from fire is identified and suitable measures are implemented. You should:

  • update the premises' fire risk assessment to reflect any changes to the way your business is operating. To help you, the guidance on this page highlights the main areas that may be affected and asks questions for you to consider as part of your review.
  • take the necessary steps to reduce the risks identified.

Where you share a building with other occupiers, carry out the review with other premises owners and the premises management company. Fully assess the risk and any impact you may have on each other.

Every business will be different so you will need to consider your own needs and circumstances when carrying out the review.

If you feel you do not have the necessary experience or skills to identify the general fire precautions required to keep
people safe, you should appoint one or more competent persons** to assist you.

2. Review your evacuation procedures

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  • Are there enough staff members to assist with evacuation as necessary? For example, roll calls, fire warden sweeps, helping people with restricted mobility.
  • Consider Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans and those most vulnerable. Consider, where practical, relocating occupants within the premises and minimising the areas in use. Investigate all options to provide the required number of staff.
  • Are all your fire exits and evacuation routes still available and identified by signage?
  • The number and distribution of fire exits need to be suitable and sufficient for your premises and immediately available without the use of a key or code.
  • If a one-way system or other process is introduced to control the flow of occupants, you must assess its impact on the means of escape to ensure all occupants can leave the premises quickly and safely. They should not have to travel excessive distances to reach the nearest available final exit.
  • You should do a physical inspection of all your escape routes and fire exits. Ensure they are still available and doors have not seized up whilst out of use.
  • Assess and evaluate escape routes that are shared or pass through other businesses. If they are closed, contact the Responsible Person of the other premises to see if an agreement can be reached to allow the continued use of the exit.
  • Assess the impact of temporary structures.
  • Whilst social distancing may be impacted during evacuation, this cannot override the priority for carrying out the evacuation plan in an emergency.

3. Provide staff training

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  • It is the Responsible Person's duty to ensure there are sufficiently trained staff to assist them in managing fire safety.
  • Are all your staff familiar with the evacuation procedures, emergency routes and exits, and any role they need to carry out during an evacuation? You should include new or temporary staff and those who have moved from another site.
  • For example, do your staff understand the risks of overloading plug sockets, how to report fire safety issues, the need to keep escape routes clear etc.?
  • Have you stressed to your staff the importance of NOT wedging open fire doors and the role they play in protecting people in the event of a fire?
  • It is important that any person expected to use a fire extinguisher has been suitably trained.

4. Check your fire safety arrangements

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  • Have you considered the impact Covid-19 has on your fire safety arrangements? This may include, third-party contractors, training providers, fire alarm engineers and other external companies.
  • Do staff know how to report fire safety concerns and faults in fire safety equipment?
  • Staff should remain vigilant to new or emerging risks to keep your premises safe from fire.
  • Have you reviewed your business continuity arrangements? For example, the availability of alternative premises in an emergency?
  • You can fit fire doors with approved automatic hold-open devices to provide ventilation. These release the door on activation of an automatic fire alarm system. 
  • Before allowing doors to be propped open, a competent person** should do an assessment to ensure they are not required to support the fire safety strategy of the building.

5. Review your measures for detecting a fire and raising the alarm

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  • Where you have fewer people working at your premises, or you have areas that are unoccupied, are the arrangements for detecting fire and raising the alarm adequate? For example, if you previously relied on fire detection by people, you may now need a system of interlinked automatic fire detection. If you are in doubt, you should seek advice from a competent person**.
  • If you share a building and the fire alarm system is under the control of another occupier, have you checked it is still working and regularly maintained?
  • Before your premises come back into use you must ensure any fire safety system, for the protection of life, has been tested and is fully operational.

6. Check your fire safety maintenance arrangements

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  • It is the responsibility of the responsible person* and/or duty holder to ensure ongoing testing and maintenance of all fire safety facilities and equipment which are required to keep people safe.
  • Are your fire alarm system, emergency lighting, sprinklers etc. in working order?
  • When were they lasted tested and maintained?
  • Do you have enough competent people to undertake the regular testing of your fire safety systems?
  • If the scheduled maintenance has been deferred, did you discuss the fire safety risks with your service engineer?
  • Have you checked the arrangements for emergency callouts and repairs with your service engineers?
  • Before your premises come back into use you must ensure any fire safety system, for the protection of life, has been tested and is fully operational. Arrange for a competent person to check your premises fire safety systems as soon as possible, especially for premises that provide sleeping accommodation.

7. Control your fire risks

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  • Have you considered the impact created by storing extra stock and/or waste? You must keep it clear of ignition sources, smoke detectors, sprinkler heads etc. and ensure it does not block escape routes.
  • Are your arrangements to protect your premises from arson still adequate?
  • Ensure the premises remain secure and any external combustible storage is removed or stored securely.
  • Where you have previously turned off your electrical supply and/or appliances, have them checked by a competent person.

8. Check and review your fire safety measures

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  • Interim fire safety measures introduced in response to Covid-19 should be reviewed and updated, to reflect changes to the way your business operates.
  • Once business as usual starts, the fire safety measures should again be reviewed and procedures implemented or revised, as necessary, to ensure they are suitable and sufficient to keep people safe.

Overall, are enough precautions in place to safeguard people in case of fire?

If you would like to speak to a fire safety officer about your premises, please call our helpline on 01392 872567 during normal office hours or email firesafetyhelpdesk@dsfire.gov.uk.

* The Responsible Person as defined in The Fire Safety Order is a hierarchy where the Responsible Person is:
1. The employer;
2. Where there is no employer, the person who has control of the premises; or
3. The owner.

** A competent person is someone with enough training and experience or knowledge and other qualities to enable them properly to assist in undertaking the preventive and protective measures.