A major problem that fire risk assessors frequently see when inspecting properties is a lack of good housekeeping. I believe that commercial cleaners can fill a crucial role in helping to maintain good fire safety precautions within a building.
All commercial and certain residential properties should have a fire risk assessment carried out in accordance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Poor housekeeping is often a good indicator of other fire safety deficiencies found in a building.
We often find that occupants do not adequately dispose of their rubbish and leave items stored along means of escape passageways and in other inappropriate areas. This can increase the chances of a random arson attack and can also block off escape routes and egress into a building.
Employing a professional commercial cleaner to keep premises clean and to maintain good housekeeping procedures is an ideal way to ensure fire safety compliance. They can achieve this by keeping the escape routes clear and ensuring any unnecessary combustible materials are removed from buildings on a regular basis.
Good communication and co-operation between fire risk assessors, commercial cleaners and those responsible for health and safety within a building is also crucial. We can ask cleaners to look out for fire safety deficiencies whilst they work. A cleaner can be watchful for overloaded plug sockets, extension leads that are interconnected or portable heaters being used underneath desks or close to flammable materials. They can also ensure extractor fans are kept clean and free from obstruction; the build-up of dirt and grease in these fans can potentially cause electrical breakdown and pose a fire risk. Utility cupboards that house gas and electricity meters should be kept clear but we often find that they are not. Again, with regular checks we can ensure these are emptied and that combustible materials are separated from potential ignition sources.
We can also take this one step further and train cleaners to test the fire alarms and emergency lights. In the common parts of residential properties, cleaners can conduct these weekly and monthly tests whilst they clean, thus saving their client money and ensuring these systems are tested on a regular basis. Any defects the cleaners find can then be reported to the responsible person and action can be taken. It makes sense to have as many people as possible checking the fire safety precautions within a building as these often get ignored or overlooked. So, using cleaners to take on this role ensures they are routinely and consistently checked in a cost-effective way.
Another issue fire risk assessors come across frequently is the build-up of combustible materials on the external perimeter of a building. Again these can increase the chances of an arson attack and also block off fire exits. Commercial cleaners can assist with keeping these areas clear. As fire risk assessors we also check any external designated smoking areas to make sure they are suitably located away from any escape routes and also that metal ashtrays are safely emptied on a regular basis. Cleaners can help with this and make regular checks around the building.
Fire risk assessors also need to ensure that rooms and buildings are only used for their intended purpose. For example, under no circumstances should flats be used as workshops or for the storage of large quantities of flammable liquids such as petrol. Cleaners can potentially help us identify any such unusual situation or illegal activity and report it.
It is common sense that clean, orderly buildings with good housekeeping procedures and few combustible materials inside and out are at less risk from fire than poorly maintained buildings. If we can assist with keeping on top of the simple things, we can encourage property owners to also ensure they have their other fire precautions in place, such as the right provision of fire doors, fire alarms and emergency lighting systems.
I hope this article has been thought-provoking and highlighted the crucial link between good housekeeping and fire safety. Perhaps by giving our cleaners some knowledge of basic fire safety principles, we can assist and encourage all those responsible for buildings to keep their premises as fire safety compliant as possible.
At Whale Fire, we specialise in carrying out fire risk assessments to the common parts of flats, HMOs and all commercial properties. We also provide a full range of fire safety services and maintenance contracts. You can find out more at www.whalefire.co.uk