The Covid-19 pandemic has created a completely new environment for building managers and those responsible for fire safety in the workplace, one where buildings are largely unoccupied and employees are getting used to hybrid working practices and the ‘new normal.’ This has proven to be a big adjustment for business decision-makers, on how often and when employees are in the workplace but has also had a significant impact on those charged with fire and security risk management.
From a fire safety perspective, there are two significant considerations for business leaders or executives – the evolution of evacuation procedures and the need to upgrade existing monitoring systems and practices. In the ‘new normal’ it is often uncertain how many people are actually in the office or another workplace and the designated ‘leader’ for evacuation might not be present either. It is also becoming increasingly important to be able to monitor and detect fire risks remotely when the office is unoccupied.
It is essential that buildings and facilities managers, as well as those higher up the decision-making chain in a company, look at the potential risks now before an emergency occurs, as it has not always proven to be the first consideration when a building is partly occupied. Often, and not without reason, businesses look to their operational efficiency and output first (the predominant source of revenues) as well as the general health of their employees, but do not prioritise things like fire and security, sometimes run by third parties and other suppliers. In these times, we find ourselves helping our existing and prospective customers recognise how they can anticipate any potential problem in monitoring and detecting fire risks and identify the correct systems they should employ.
Conducting a proper assessment of the changes that are enforced by the fluid nature of who will be in the office and the subsequent impact on fire safety processes will allow businesses to better manage an emergency. This can be as simple as making sure that there are sufficient ‘leaders’ in place on any given day to help evacuate the building to having monitoring in place on days when the office is unoccupied. It is also essential that there are trained individuals who can take the proper first actions to combat a fire, including knowledge of the fire panel and training on extinguisher management.
It is also becoming increasingly important to recognise that, in the age of hybrid working, fire and security systems are not mutually exclusive. In order to protect lives and maintain ‘business as usual’, we believe it is vital for building managers to integrate their people-counting and access-control systems with the evacuation procedure to ensure full employee safety in the event of a fire. Encouraging customers to integrate these systems also allows a service provider like Chubb to provide more insight and advice on the best path forward on account of the significantly broader range and sources of data.
We have also observed growth in the monitoring part of our fire business as customers seek to protect other key assets. These services can be offered remotely. In fact, many businesses already make use of remote monitoring and intruder detection for their security needs. As is often the case in the fire industry, regulation will respond to catastrophe, but we are urging customers to consider options as soon as possible, as buildings will likely be only partly occupied for the foreseeable future.
Every building and customer brings slightly different challenges, but by connecting fire and security systems it is possible for those managing the workplace to increase efficiency, improve peace of mind and bring revenue synergies resulting in a superior return on investment.
About the author
Frédéric Peyrot is Customer Solutions and Innovation Director, Chubb Fire & Security.