Fire safety is one of the most vital aspects of health and safety within the workplace. Legally, the overall responsibility for it falls to the "responsible person". This can be the owner, employer, landlord, occupier or anyone with overall control of the building in question, such as a facilities manager.
In practice, a lot of the day to day work of ensuring the workplace is fire safe often falls to the fire warden, or fire marshal (both terms are in common use and interchangeable). Businesses are increasingly recognising the benefits of having a designated, appropriately trained employee to carry out the necessary tasks relating to fire safety.
What Does a Fire Warden Do?
Although the responsibility for producing a risk assessment and putting appropriate fire safety measures into place remains with the "responsible person", fire wardens fulfil an important role in making sure they are carried out.
Their main duties fall into two categories: reactive and proactive. Reactive actions relate to preventing fires, including:
- testing fire alarms
- organising fire drills
- making sure flammable materials are properly stored
- managing all paperwork relating to fire safety
- checking fire extinguishers and fire doors.
Proactive measures take place when there has been a fire-related incident and include:
- directing people to the appropriate exits
- checking everyone has left after an evacuation
- fighting small fires with extinguishers, where possible and safe
- contacting the fire service if they are not automatically alerted
- assisting people with limited mobility.
It's important to note that at no point should a fire marshal put themselves in any physical danger when carrying out their duties.
Though fire drills may be the times when the fire warden is the most visible to their colleagues, the majority of their day to day work is taking care of their primary duty – making sure a fire doesn't start in the first place. Fire wardens should be aware of all relevant health and safety legislation and trained in fire safety.
Who Can Be a Fire Warden?
There are no specific guidelines for who can and cannot be fire wardens, aside from them being employees. However, when selecting a fire warden from a pool of volunteers, it's useful to consider whether that person is on-site regularly (as opposed to often working remotely or at other locations) and whether their workload will allow them enough time to fulfil all of their duties on a regular basis.
Employers need to consider how many fire marshals are appropriate for their organisation. For smaller, single site workplaces, one person may be fine. For larger companies that are spread out over a bigger physical space, it might be a better option to train a team – which also makes sure the company has fire warden coverage regardless of annual leave or absence.
Why Have a Fire Warden?
Fire wardens can be a calming presence during an emergency, directing people to the exits and assisting with roll call when the evacuated workers have gathered outside. It can be very reassuring to the workplace as a whole to see that their employer takes fire safety very seriously and to know that fire wardens have been trained to deal with these specific situations.
Industries at high risk of fire hazards can benefit greatly from properly trained fire wardens – though of course, no industry is free from risk or can afford to neglect fire safety. During the hot weather of summer 2018, wildfires in areas like Saddleworth Moor highlighted the issue of fire safety in farming, which heatwaves can aggravate. With moorland catching fire and decreased rainfall, the risk of farmland doing the same was heightened. Among other suggestions, leaders in the industry recommended more fire wardens.
Being a fire warden can also benefit the person's career. The extra training and experience may be very useful to future employers and voluntarily taking on the job shows the worker is responsible and can undertake long-term projects.
As with First Aid, it's beneficial to any organisation to have someone well-versed in fire safety on the team. With most of the fire marshal's duties geared towards preventing a fire breaking out in the first place, the savings to a business can be huge. In extreme cases, the fire wardens can even be life-saving.