How Many Fire Wardens Does My Business Need?
Fires devastate businesses every year, many of which may never fully recover. Is yours sufficiently equipped to handle one?
Every business needs specially trained individuals who ensure no stray spark causes a fire and who conduct a safe evacuation of everyone on the premises in a fire emergency. These responsible persons are called fire wardens or fire marshals.
We often get asked: how many fire wardens do I need for my business?
Well, there is no set amount; it depends on several factors relating to the nature of your business and its size. You need to use your discretion during a fire risk assessment to determine the level of risk and calculate the amount needed for your premises.
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How to Calculate the Number of Fire Wardens
No matter how much training a fire warden receives and how effectively the fire safety duties and responsibilities of a fire warden are carried out, one person can only do so much, and some businesses are simply higher risk than others. So you must not hesitate to train numerous people in your workplace to be fire wardens.
Determining an estimate of how many fire wardens are needed to cover the whole business is straightforward, so long as you are fully aware of all the risk factors present and the way your business typically operates.
Consider the following factors when calculating how many fire wardens you need:
- The number of buildings and floors – you need at least one fire warden for each floor in every building. At least two is preferred so sickness and holiday are covered.
- Number of occupants – you need enough fire wardens to guide everyone out safely and scout the designated area for people left behind. The higher the risk of the workplace, the more fire wardens you will need to cover people. Low risk = 1 per 50. Medium risk = 1 per 20. High risk = 1 per 15. Most businesses fall into the medium risk category.
- The types of occupants – those at greater risk include the elderly, children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and members of the public. Additional fire wardens are needed where high risk occupants are present.
- The number of shifts – the more shifts there are, the more fire wardens needed. Shifts should be organised in such a way that a sufficient number of fire wardens are always present. If fire wardens will be in charge of carrying out a roll call at assembly points, they should have access to the rota and records of sick leave, so they know who is present at any given time.
- Holiday and sickness cover – designated fire wardens should take different holidays. Furthermore, there should always be more than one fire warden for a single area. This means if one of them takes a day off for sickness, the other is still present.
- The type of workplace – this helps you first and foremost determine the level of risk. You should consider:
- The quantity of combustibles and flammables present – a chemical storage warehouse would be higher risk than an office for example.
- Sources of ignition – workplaces that have naked flames, electricity, and other sources of ignition present in the building or use them as part of work activities, e.g. restaurants and workshops, are higher risk.
- The fabric of the building – those built with brick and stone are more resistant than some of the materials used in modern buildings.
- The nature of people’s work – certain work activities might slow down people’s evacuation of the building, such as working with vehicles or machinery that must be turned off. Furthermore, tasks that involve working with sources of ignition or fuel (e.g. cooking or welding) create greater risk.
- The size and complexity of the layout of the building – large rooms and complex layouts take longer to scout and evacuate, so they need to be covered by more people. Smoke and fire may spread easier in simple layouts, but complex layouts can lead to people being trapped.
As a rule of thumb, fire warden musts be able to search their designated area within 2-3 minutes. All people should have evacuated and be in a safety staircase or route within 1 minute.
How Do I Use These Factors to Calculate?
Here’s an example scenario to give you an idea:
An employer is calculating how many fire wardens they need for their business: a clothing outlet with 3 floors. The ground floor and 1st floor sell clothing, while the 2nd floor has an indoor café.
First, they determine that the risk is medium:
- There are quite a lot of flammable materials – e.g. flat-packed boxes and clothing on the first two floors – but boxes are stored safely and disposed of swiftly.
- There are very few sources of ignition (there is a small kitchen on the 2nd floor and kitchenettes in the staff rooms on each floor).
- The floors are all large but the layout of each area is simple and easy to navigate and search – the main shopping areas and the café are in big, open spaces. There are a number of changing rooms, toilets, and staff rooms.
- The work activities carried out by employees are low risk tasks, including putting out stock, handling rubbish materials, cleaning, and preparing and serving simple food and drinks in the café.
- The building is constructed of bricks so is relatively durable.
They determine the number of buildings and floors: 3 floors in 1 building.
- At least 6 fire wardens are needed – 2 for each floor.
They determine the number of occupants: 125 total employees and an average of 40-60 customers at a time. Usually around 50 people per shift. Total average = 110.
- Based on the level of risk, there should be 1 fire warden for every 20 people. Therefore, at least 6 fire wardens are needed.
They determine the types of occupants: 2 members of staff have disabilities: one is hard of hearing and one is in a wheelchair following a recent injury. Members of the public come to the store every day, including elderly people and pregnant women.
- An additional 3 fire wardens are needed.
They determine the number of shifts: 2-3 depending on the day of the week/holiday period.
- The base total should be multiplied by 2-3 so there is sufficient cover for every shift and floor.
With all these factors taken into account, between 18-27 fire wardens are required to cover every shift and all employees and customers.
Although determining an exact figure is tricky, this example shows that calculating the amount of fire wardens is a simple process that the employer or other duty holder of a business can do to come up with a recommended estimate.
By using this information during your fire risk assessment, you can determine what elements of your specific workplace affect how many fire wardens you need. This enables you to calculate the amount required to keep everyone who works or may visit your premises safe from fire.
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