Fire Safety In Shopping Centres: Everything You Need To Know
Posted: 10/05/2024
7 minute read
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Fire Safety In Shopping Centres: Everything You Need To Know

The idea of multiple shops all under one roof doesn’t seem very novel these days, having been inspired by the US and adopted here in the UK in the 70s. The first shopping centre opened here was Brent Cross Shopping Centre, and most major cities and towns have them.

But with the convenience provided for shoppers comes additional fire safety challenges. Varying in size and the types of retail units they provide, it’s a much larger logistical puzzle if you’re trying to keep everyone safe.

Fires in shopping centres pose a risk to shoppers and staff – as well as risking a loss of business for all units within – and they are, sadly, all too common.

This month at Surrey Tech Services Ltd, we’ve got everything you need to know about fire safety in shopping centres in one resource. If you work in or are responsible for a shopping centre, read on to find out more.


Fire alarms in shopping centres

There are few places more complex to cover with a fire alarm system than a large shopping centre. With multiple retail units and some areas that you wouldn’t normally need to consider when dealing with a single store, any fire alarm system needs to be carefully thought out. For example, does your shopping centre have any of these areas?

  • Bathrooms
  • Car park
  • Staff-only corridors
  • Delivery bays
  • Back offices

An overall, central system is required to cover the whole building, with the ability to feed in systems from individual retail units. This should then be connected with sprinklers, emergency lighting and automatic suppression systems for full coverage.

At Surrey Tech Services Ltd, we can design and install a variety of alarm systems, customising them to suit the needs of any building — even those as complex as shopping centres. The common fire alarm systems we install include:

  • Conventional systems
  • Addressable systems
  • Analogue addressable systems
  • Wireless systems

So, whether you’re the owner of an individual unit or the manager of the entire shopping complex, we can help you find the right, integrated solution.

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Maintaining fire alarms in shopping centres

No matter what type of commercial premises you run, fire alarm testing and maintenance are paramount. Not only does it form part of your legal obligations, but it’s also crucial for ensuring your system is always in top condition to provide an early warning in an emergency — especially important for a shopping centre.

The responsible person for your complex should carry out a visual inspection and test on a weekly and monthly basis. In addition to this, professional maintenance and inspections should be conducted at least once every six months, so be sure to schedule with a qualified and competent fire alarm testing company. 

Fire alarm tests in shopping centres can be tricky, so if you need assistance, don’t hesitate to call our dedicated team for help and advice. You can also check out our recent post on the topic of how often to test your fire alarm.


What is a fire hazard in retail?

Fire risks within a retail environment can differ greatly depending on the type of products being sold and the layout of the store. This is obviously intensified for shopping centres. However, the following are some key areas to focus on:

  • Electrical risks – Any electrical item can present a risk of overheating or sparking if not well maintained and properly positioned. Misuse and a lack of testing can lead to faults, so whether it’s a computer in the back office or a vacuum used on the shop floor, always promote proper testing and usage of electrical items.

  • Flammable goods – With any retail unit there comes an issue relating to stock and store rooms. From clothing or paper to the waste accumulated in day-to-day business, you can reduce the risk of a fire by keeping your store tidy and keeping any highly flammable liquids in a safe place.

  • Smoking – Outdoor smoking areas should be designated, but the dangers should still be highlighted to staff. Any smoking materials need to be properly disposed of to avoid the risk of them unintentionally starting fires in relation to waste or other flammable items.

  • Kitchens and canteens – If your shopping centre features any dining facilities – for staff or customers – then there is the added fire risk that comes with cooking oils and equipment in kitchens. Full training for staff and the appropriate safety equipment should be put in place.

  • Contractor works – Shopping centres are large, with varying needs in terms of plumbing, electricity and structural changes across all units within. That means any tradesmen conducting work on site should be supervised and approved to ensure the risk associated with any equipment they use is minimised.

  • Arson – Finally, arson ranks among the most common causes of fire for businesses, and while there may be an element of unpredictability with opportunistic vandalism, you should do all you can to limit the risk of this. This includes ensuring access is restricted to approved personnel within the shopping centre complex e.g. retrieving keys and fobs when people leave a business.

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Shopping centre fire risk assessments

Fire risk assessments for shopping centres can play a crucial part in helping maintain high standards, bringing together a range of measures to minimise risk and protect lives. It can also help ensure the different needs across a complex building, from mobility issues and access to escape routes to fire stopping measures.

Book a fire risk assessment for your shopping centre with our team today. We use competent assessors to review fire protection measures and procedures on your premises.


Fire evacuation in shopping centres

The emergency plan in a shopping centre should include fire evacuation procedures. This is for the benefit of both staff and shoppers, helping reduce panic and promote a safe and efficient evacuation if a fire alarm is triggered. 

Be sure to provide training for staff so they know how to action any plan and where to direct people in an emergency. Additionally, if your shopping complex is below accommodation, consider how this factors into evacuation procedures.


Retail fire safety tips

Fire can cost lives and decimate businesses, so it’s important to stay on top of fire safety — not least because of your duties set out in the Regulatory Reform (2005) Fire Safety Order. Here are our top tips for retail companies and those responsible for shopping centres:

  1. Keep stock away from sources of heat and light – Whether loose or in boxes, stock should be kept away from potential sources of ignition, including combustible items.

  2. Keep escape routes clear – Ensure emergency exits and escape routes are clear at all times to allow for safe and efficient evacuation at a moment’s notice.

  3. Promote regular electrical testing – Equipment as well as electrical cupboards should be checked and tested to minimise the risk of faults that could cause fires.

  4. Engage with fire stopping specialists – Part of passive fire protection, fire stopping helps to seal voids and prevent the rapid spread of a fire through a building.

  5. Get the right fire extinguishers – Match fire extinguisher types to the most common risks and have them positioned within easy reach, checking their condition regularly.


Contact Surrey Tech Services Ltd Today!

Managers of shopping centres and retail units can get all the fire safety and fire protection services required thanks to our specialist team at Surrey Tech Services Ltd. Operating across London and the Home Counties – including Maidenhead, Guildford and Slough – we ensure you remain legally compliant in protecting staff and shoppers from fire risks.

Contact us today to learn more about fire alarms, fire extinguishers and fire doors or to book your fire risk assessment.

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