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Fire Wardens in the Workplace - why do we need them?

Fire Wardens in the Workplace - why do we need them?

Do you know what to do when a fire alarm sounds? You may think that it’s obvious – of course you know what to do! Well, you’re probably right, you do know what to do, but would you actually do it? That’s the question!

Human behaviour can be baffling, we don’t always do the expected! If we are confronted with just one piece of evidence but have no confirmation often our logical brains will override what we should do until some sort of reinforcing detail comes along – which, in the case of a fire, may be too late.

Take for example hidden camera footage from iHASCO as they researched the issue of how people react to fire alarms. They randomly selected a group of people, under the premise of completing market research into education and training. The people were taken to a room and sat down with the market research questionnaires. The room had a clear fire exit sign with arrows to the escape route. They were left to complete the forms. Then a fire alarm was set off in the corridor outside the room; it was plainly audible, the participants could clearly hear it – they even discussed the fact that the building may be on fire, laughed about it and then… carried on with their questionnaires! As the fire bell continued the group were definitely on edge, waiting for something to happen, but not worried enough for them to get up and go. It took over 5 minutes for someone to take the initiative and go to find out what was happening – and that’s a long time.
After the experiment the participants were interviewed about what was going through their minds and in practically every case they said they were expecting someone to come and tell them what to do!

The experiment was repeated with a different group of randomly selected people. Exactly the same setting was used and the participants were again expecting to do market research. As before when the fire alarm sounded there was a scattering of jokes, and it looked very much like the new participants were going to stay put too, but at this point a fire warden came in wearing a high visibility jacket and told them the fire alarm was sounding and they must leave by the fire exit. They immediately got up and did as they were told.

The importance of the fire warden role should never be underestimated.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 states that the employer or owner, as the ‘responsible’ person, has overall responsibility for fire safety but “must appoint one or more competent persons to assist him in undertaking the preventative and protective measures.” (paragraph 18).  These appointed ‘competent’ people are the fire wardens.

The role of fire warden has, of course, a lot more responsibility than the very obvious one of being the figure of authority in the event of a fire or during a fire drill. Fire warden duties include ensuring that regular fire drills are practised and that all employees have basic fire awareness training – this includes new staff as part of their induction training, re-training should things change and refresher training on a regular basis.
The upkeep and testing of fire equipment, especially fire extinguishers and alarm systems; fire doors and the maintenance of escape routes – keeping them clear and making sure they have adequate lighting in all eventualities, all come under a fire warden’s realm of responsibility.
They also need to know how to prevent fires, so a good background knowledge and understanding of how fires start and how they spread is particularly useful.

There’s a lot of responsibility in being a fire warden and a company fire risk assessment should detail how many wardens are required to ensure the safety of all employees, after all no one wants smoke or flames to be the detail that confirms why the fire alarm is sounding!