It took members of staff 20 minutes to evacuate the Lloyds building at London Wall following a fire alarm on the 12th January. That’s simply too long. If it had been a real fire, the consequences of such a delay don’t bear thinking about. A few weeks ago, Lloyds announced that it was getting rid of its fire marshals with the effect from 1st January 2023. According to the new policy, it would be everyone for themselves when it comes to getting out of a burning building.
Members have told us that it’s wasn’t a pre-arranged fire drill but a fire alarm that went off on the 14th floor of the building. Staff on floors 12 – 17 were also told to evacuate the building. However, members have reported that it took them 10 minutes just to get into the stairwell of the building because of the number of staff on the floors below who were doing exactly the same thing in the same stairwell. We understand there are 3 other fire exits on those floors, but without any guidance, staff just followed each other to the nearest one. Once in the stairwell, it took a further 10 minutes to get to an actual place of safety outside the building. It wasn’t chaos and panic, but it quite easily could have been.
An online Health & Safety video accompanying its new policy introduces staff to ‘Kai’ and ‘Lara’. In the video a fire alarm goes off and Kai gets up to leave but Lara stays at her desk. The question is then posed: “what should Kai do next?” We believe a trained fire marshal would have got both ‘Kai’ and ‘Lara’ out of the building quickly and safely.
Now Lloyds got rid of fire marshals following an agreement with the in-house staff unions – Accord and Unite. Accord said of the agreement: “We’re pleased to have been working closely with the business and have been involved in the pilots and consulted throughout”. It then it said to its members: “You must take personal responsibility for your own safety and evacuate the building immediately”.
We’ve all become desensitised to alarms. We hear them all the time. Research shows that when people hear a fire alarm, they don’t automatically evacuate a building. About a quarter of us look to see what everyone else is doing; 13% ignore it and carry on working and 4%, for reasons which we can’t comprehend, will try and find the fire. According to reports we’ve seen, a Mitie representative had to battle up the stairs, which was full of staff coming in the opposite direction, to tell people on floors 16 and 17 to evacuate the building immediately. In the past that would have been the job of the fire marshals who would have ensured that staff got out via the nearest exit quickly but safely.
Now, it’s a moot point whether fire marshals are a legal requirement. According to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all employers are responsible for the safety of their employees. Even though having a fire marshal is not explicitly required by the legislation, appointing a person (or persons) who have the skills and the competence to ensure fire safety best practices are followed is necessary for employers to be compliant with the fire safety regulations. We’re checking this with our legal advisers on this point. However, regardless of the legal position what happened last week demonstrates the importance for fire marshals. If there had been fire marshals on the various floors in London Wall, staff would almost certainly have got out quicker. That should be the bank’s only priority. Regardless of its agreement with Accord, Lloyds needs to revisit this issue again and reinstitute fire marshals immediately. The bank has been warned.
Members with any questions can contact the Union’s Bedford Office on 01234 262868 (Choose Option 1).
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