What building safety issues do I need to think about?

Fire Safety Systems In terms of reoccupation, all relevant fire safety equipment and systems must be tested before employees and others are allowed back on site. This would typically include:

  • a full functional test of the fire detection and alarm system (using multiple call points across the site and involving the call receiving centre if appropriate)
  • a full discharge test of the emergency lighting system across the site
  • a visual inspection of all fire extinguishers to ensure that they are correctly located, full and not obviously damaged
  • checking that fire escape routes are clear of any obstructions
  • checking that final fire escape doors are unlocked and operational
  • checking the operation of internal fire doors to ensure that they close properly
  • checking that automatic fire dampers, smoke venting and smoke extraction systems are operational.

Employers must also be aware of any formal maintenance inspections which may have been missed during lockdown and arrange for these to be completed before reoccupation.

Water Management – Control of Legionella Bacteria Where water systems have been completely taken out of use, or only partially used for an extended period of time (which could be as little as two or three weeks), there is an increased risk that Legionella bacteria could have multiplied to hazardous concentrations. As such, there are a number of factors that need to be considered when bringing the water system back into use.

  1. The system should be thoroughly cleaned, flushed and disinfected. To confirm the effectiveness of cleaning, flushing and disinfecting measures, microbiological sampling should then be undertaken, between two and seven days after the system is refilled. Duty holders should also conduct temperature checks on designated outlets, i.e. sentinel taps, etc (as outlined in the written scheme) to ensure that the system is performing as expected.
  2. It is also important to remember that, prior to any cleaning, flushing or disinfection work, a site-specific risk assessment and method statement should be developed. In particular, control measures need to be established to protect those undertaking initial flushing, due to the risk of them being exposed to Legionella from contaminated aerosols.
  3. It should be remembered that where a wet cooling tower or evaporative condenser has been taken out of use, there is a requirement under the Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992 to notify the local authority that it is being returned to service.

Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) Duty holders should complete a thorough visual inspection of all ACMs prior to reoccupation to confirm that there has been no damage during lockdown. Where any damage to ACMs is observed, the area should be isolated immediately and advice sought from a specialist asbestos management company.

Deep Cleaning for Reoccupation Whether or not an employer decides to ‘deep’ clean their premises ahead of reoccupation will depend on various factors, including: whether buildings have been accessed during the lockdown period (and if recently occupied may therefore be contaminated with Covid-19); whether staff (i.e. security guards) have been on site; and the expectation from employees and other users in terms of whether the premises have been deep cleaned. In many cases cleaning for general hygiene and appearances purposes will be all that is necessary.

If you are an employer faced with challenging HR or Health & Safety issues then contact SME Advisor on 0330 333 4997 for advice.

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