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There’s a range of events that could cause a site to become unavailable; some can be prevented but others might not be, and so all you can do is be prepared so that the extent of damage can be limited and/or the amount of time it would take to recover might be reduced.
It’s important to remember that it’s not just your premises that are essential to the running of your business. If a key supplier is flooded they might not be able to make their usual delivery to you; similarly, a customer who can’t use their building, or that your delivery vehicles can’t reach (e.g. due to road closures), may be unable to store stock and therefore cancels orders.

In the UK the most likely reason that a business might not be able to use their premises as usual is probably flooding, and while there might not be a way to stop it, there are actions that can be taken to prevent or limit damage and reduce the amount of time the premises aren’t usable for.

Besides flooding, the weather can present risks in the form of wind and the debris it picks up, which might cause damage to the exterior of the premises as well as vehicles and installations stored outside. Roads could also become impassable due to fallen trees and it can be dangerous for high-sided vehicles to travel.

Additional weather-related hazards that need to be managed include power surges induced by lightning and water damage resulting from pipes that have frozen and burst.

Getting a call to say that your premises are ablaze is probably the worst nightmare of many business owners.

Firstly, there’s the risk to life and of serious injuries if anyone is in the premises during the fire and then there’s the repercussions for business continuity. 

Even a small fire that is quickly controlled and put out can cause significant damage to essential facilities, resulting in lengthy repair or rebuilding works, and this is why it’s vital that a thorough fire risk assessment is completed so that appropriate preventative and protection measures (active and passive) can be put in place, for both life safety and property protection purposes.

Sprinkler systems and other fire suppression systems should be considered as forms of active fire protection, alongside the provision of fire extinguishers.

Unfortunately, not all fires are accidental and so security measures should be installed to defend against the risk of arson.

Without the basics we take for granted, like lighting, running water and heating or air conditioning, it might not be advisable to continue business as usual in your premises if it could compromise the health and safety of workers, visitors or customers.

With regards to heating, the relevant Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says that, except where it’s not reasonably achievable due to work processes, employees should be comfortable “without the need for special clothing” and therefore the temperature in the workplace should be at least 16 degrees Celsius, or at least 13 degrees Celsius if “work involves rigorous physical effort”. If the heating fails during winter, it might be necessary to send employees home or find an alternative place to work to prevent their health being put at risk.

Similarly, if the supply of clean water is interrupted or the plumbing system is somehow damaged so that waste can’t be flushed or drained away as usual, and therefore workers don’t have access to appropriate washing facilities, they can’t be expected to work in the premises.

Such issues can be mitigated by carrying out regular checks and maintenance, getting inspections and examinations done as required and by pre-emptively having reliable contacts that can promptly provide repairs, spare parts, replacements and/or equipment for hire. Their details should be noted in your business continuity plan and as part of your supply chain risk management programme.

Sometimes an event that no one could reasonably foresee can leave you unable to trade. Examples of causes include suspected gas leaks, but in recent years we’ve seen more major examples due to terrorist-related activities, such as the Salisbury Novichok attack.

Businesses in Salisbury saw a huge fall in visitor numbers following the incident in March 2018, and access to some shops and restaurants wasn’t possible due to cordons put in place by authorities.

In these situations, finding alternative premises and hiring equipment may be possible, but financial strength and security to withstand a long recovery process is likely to be needed.

Identify the key functions in your business and work out the damage that interruption could do.
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