by Peter Lackey, Fire Safety Expert at ADT Fire & Security
From staff turnover to slumps in sales, there are many stresses and worries when it comes to running a small business. One major setback that rarely is front of mind is the effect of fire.
By law, UK businesses are required to carry out a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA). A FRA identifies a whole host of fire related pitfalls, such as fire hazards, the people at risk if fire strikes, emergency exit plans and even covers staff training. When it comes to fire, preservation of life is the number one concern, but in the event of a fire, how can a business protect its assets and customer base in the short to medium term and ensure that they’re able to get back on their feet?
Preparation is key
In the event of fire, this is where a developed continuity plan will be implemented. This should include:
- Staff – in the event of an emergency, it’s important to ascertain in advance what staff’s roles are, looking at who is able to work remotely in order to ensure that a business is able to function. This is something that needs to be constantly updated, especially if staff leave and new personnel start
- A base – there should always be an alternative, temporary space available in case the permanent premises become unusable. It could be a nearby coworking space, the office of a partner company, or even a local coffee shop or hotel
- Outsourcing – depending on the nature of the business, it’s prudent to explore how elements of work can be outsourced to minimise disruption to customers. This may not be possible for all businesses, but is something that should be considered
- Creditors – a range of creditors will offer some form of loan facility, so it’s important to seek advice and understand what the options are
- Suppliers – businesses need to have an agreement in place that covers how they would continue to supply stock if a fire took hold. Businesses should ask whether suppliers can hold this stock and distribute it to customers, or, whether they able to allocate a part of their premises for their customers to use in the short term?
- Back up data – all data should be backed up remotely (of course subject to GDPR laws). With cloud-based services so readily available, businesses should be able to get themselves back online relatively easy in the event of hardware being damaged
- Insurance – firstly, do you know what your insurance company covers? From paying staff wages, to covering loss of earnings, adequate insurance will help support a business during a turbulent time
Customer and suppliers will be aware of a fire striking a business through local press coverage. All tendencies to try and contain what has happened should be put to one side, with honest, effective and clear communications being key to ensuring that any fears or worries from customers are allayed. A pre-prepared statement should be ready that can be shared with both staff and other businesses; it’s key to communicate that a plan is in place to ensure that there’s no interruption to the supply of goods and services offered. Social media channels and websites should also be updated with temporary contact details.
Further damage should be avoided by thoroughly checking the affected premises. In the first instance, mains integrity needs to be checked, with all gas and electricity lines checked, as well as plumbing. To avoid further damage, premises also need to be secured from the elements, particularly during winter months. It’s an unfortunate fact that premises affected by fire are often targeted by looters, vandals and squatters, so the physical security of a building also needs to be secured.
Rebuilding for the Future
Once all parts of the continuity section of the plan have been implemented, it’s important to start looking at how a firm can return to business as usual. The instinct for most businesses will be to rebuild as quickly as possible, but providing that an effective continuity plan is in place, there is no need to rush.
The below steps should be part of any business’s fire plan:
- Assess structural integrity – with fire and even potentially water damage both compromising the structure of premises, it’s important to get the experts in (such as a Quantity Surveyor) who can advise on what exactly needs doing to get premises usable again
- Be patient – it’s important to ensure that effective time is taken to make sure that any work is done to the required standard. The severity of damage caused will be completely dependent on many different factors, so it’s important that businesses leaders manage expectations based upon these mitigating factors
- Future proofing – businesses should also have one eye on the future too, looking at what caused the fire and how steps can be taken to stop something similar happening again
Planning and Preparation
The devastation that fire damage brings is something that most firms are often loathed to consider, but it’s a very real possibility. Businesses need to be looking beyond the legal minimum of a FRA and ensure that they have a fire plan in place that covers continuity, avoiding further damage and rebuilding. Any plan should be based upon the individual nature of a business; the continuity and rebuilding plan for a firm that deals in physical goods is very different to one that is service based. This is a lot, especially for small businesses with skeleton staff, but there are independent firms and consultants available that businesses can employ to help them plan. Free software, such as that at www.riscauthority.co.uk, can help business put a fire plan in place.
With factors such as staff training and external consultants something that businesses need to consider, planning for a natural disaster such as a fire is a lengthy process that can incur costs and take a lot of time. However, businesses should not be looking at this from the point of view of whether they can afford the time and resources that it takes, but should instead be realising that an effective fire plan is something that they can’t afford not to have in place should they at any point be affected by the perils of fire.