With the outbreak of COVID-19, and most office workers now working from home, there are lots of unoccupied buildings. 

In this article, we highlight some safety and security issues that you might want to take into consideration.

Key Considerations for Unoccupied Buildings

  • Unoccupied premises are vulnerable to fire, theft and malicious damage and need to be managed accordingly
  • Unoccupied sites are vulnerable to fly-tipping
  • Unoccupied buildings can present an opportunity to trespassers, including children who may see vacant sites as an exciting, but dangerous playground.
  • This can also be applied to unauthorised occupation and squatters

It is important to ensure that the buildings are secured against intrusion and it is recommended, a regular inspection regime is established to ensure that any damage to the building or accumulations of waste and rubbish are quickly addressed.

This should also be applied to malicious damage, such as graffiti and theft of copper and lead.

Insurance Issues related to Unoccupied Buildings

Check your insurance policy as there may be a condition that relates to unoccupied buildings, this will be for vacant buildings rather than temporary unoccupied buildings, as these conditions were set in place prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, however, you will need to confirm with your insurance broker if there are any conditions relating to temporary unoccupied buildings.

Any inspection provisions within your insurance may be waived during the period of Government restrictions, other than those deemed to be required for statutory purposes.

If you repurpose your premises to undertake different activities, for example, additional medical support, please contact your insurance provider/broker to discuss this further.

See our full COVID-19 Health and Safety Advice and Guidance

Building Utilities and Equipment

  • Ensure all equipment is safely turned off and, in a condition, where it can be left for an extended period without damage or degradation
  • Remove from or drain processing equipment of flammable, combustible or hazardous liquids and materials. These should be appropriately disposed of or stored safely for re-use
  • Isolate electrical circuits where you can (without affecting security, CCTV or fire systems)
  • Turn off the mains water supply. Make sure this does not isolate any sprinkler or other fire systems you have
  • Don’t worry too much about draining heating or other stored water systems but if possible isolate storage/header tanks from any distribution pipework
  • If it is safe to do so, isolated the incoming gas supply
  • Make a list of services or other valves you have isolated (and where they are) to ensure you reinstate them all

Fire Systems and Doors

  • Ensure that any fire and/or sprinkler systems are fully operational
  • Carry out a check to ensure that internal fire doors are closed
  • Check the fire alarm panel is fault free and all fire detection systems are fully operational

Waste

  • Remove all external waste, pallets and empty skips ahead of closing
  • Empty all waste bins and relocated to a secure area, ideally at least 10 metres from the building
    • If this is not possible, and bins and skips are within 10 metres, these should have lockable lids

Physical Security

  • Carry out a check to ensure physical security measures are in place, e.g. fences are in good repair, windows are locked and boarded if appropriate, shutters are in place where appropriate, gates and doors are locked, and letterboxes secured closed
  • Shopfronts with no internal or external roller shutters to have shop front displays cleared of stock
  • Make sure your intruder alarm is set and that the remote signalling is in place
  • Ensure sufficient numbers of keyholders are available to respond to an alarm activation within 20 minutes, and any other building management system alarm that may be triggered

Other Considerations

  • Awareness of vacant property management companies
  • Removal of high value or critical equipment to a secure location
  • Additional building security features (boarding windows, etc)
  • Further isolation of building services and draining down of wet systems
  • Clearly posted emergency contact details

Risk Assessment

Due to the varying risks faced by different properties, it is recommended a risk assessment is completed to establish the level of protection required

  • Location – is the building located in a high-risk area?
  • Loss history – have there been previous incidents of malicious damage and fire?
  • How vulnerable and attractive is the building to squatters or thieves?
  • How easy is it to break-in?
  • Type of building – is it a school or heritage building?

It is recommended, a documented shut-down procedure is in place, that includes the removal of all combustible contents and waste, draining and turning off services, ensuring the property is adequately secured and that a suitable inspection regime is in place.

Where the property is perceived to be a higher risk, then enhanced security measures will be required.

For more information about advice and guidance for unoccupied buildings, contact us on [email protected] or call 020 7469 0200.

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