We have been made aware through some of the members that they have heard of the new Fire Regulations but are not sure what they must do or how to implement a Fire Risk Assessment. We have outlined below best practice, including information from both the Fire Service as well as Business Link. Due to the length of the information, we have not been able to include information about prosecutions.
Fire Risk Assessment
On October 1st 2006, The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety order) came into force. This is a major change in legislation and fire certificates are no longer issued or in force. As an employer, or as someone who has control of a workplace you must take steps to ensure that you have what is known as a ‘suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment’ in place.
This new approach to fire safety law represents the most significant change for over 30 years. The new fire regulations have been introduced to simplify matters and make it more straightforward for people to understand what they should do.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) replaced The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 as amended in 1999.
Who is responsible for fire safety?
Although everyone who enters your business premises – employees, customers, contractors or other visitors – should ensure fire safety, there is now a legally-designated “responsible person” who must arrange for a risk assessment, identify any possible fire-risks and deal with them.
It will usually be obvious who the responsible person is, although sometimes several people will share the responsibility – for example in shared premises or larger businesses. The responsible person will be someone who has control over premises, or over some areas, departments or systems. For example, it could be:
the owner or manager of a business
the owner or managing agent of premises which are shared between a number of businesses
someone with defined responsibility for shared fire safety equipment
individuals within a multiple-occupancy building, such as self-employed people or voluntary organisations if they control someone within the premises
You should establish who the responsible person is within your business or premises. If it is not clear, then your local fire authority will decide who should be responsible.
Duties of the “responsible person”
The “responsible person” is someone who has control, or a degree of control, over premises or fire-prevention systems within premises. If you are the responsible person, you must make sure that everyone who uses your premises can escape if there is a fire.
The people you need to think about include anyone who might be on your premises, including employees, visitors or members of the public. You need to pay particular attention to those who may need special help, such as elderly or disabled people or children.
- carry out a fire-risk assessment and identify possible dangers and risks
- think about who might be particularly at risk – you may have disabled employees, or people who work with hazardous chemicals
- get rid of the risk from fire, as far as reasonably possible
- put in place fire precautions to deal with any risks that remain
- make sure there is protection if you use or store flammable or explosive materials
- have a plan to deal with emergencies
- record your findings and review them as and when necessary
If you are the responsible person, you must make sure that the fire-risk assessment is carried out. You can get some other competent person to deal with it, but you are still responsible in law.
The enforcing authority, which is usually the local fire authority, must be satisfied with your safety measures. If not, they will tell you what you need to do. If they find major problems they can restrict the use of your premises or close them altogether until you deal with the problems they find.
Fire risk assessment
The “responsible person” must manage any fire risk on your premises, and to do this they need to carry out a fire-risk assessment. Although fire certificates are no longer needed, if you have one already it will be a useful guide to carrying out a fire risk assessment.
If your premises were built and are being used in line with modern building regulations, the structural fire precautions should be satisfactory, but you still need to do a risk assessment.
The recommended way to carry out a risk assessment is to follow a step-by-step process.
Identify the hazards
- anything that can start a fire, such as naked flames, heaters or commercial processes such as cookers or hot-air dryers
- anything that can burn in a fire, including piles of waste, display materials, textiles or other flammable products
- oxygen sources such as air conditioning, medical products or commercial oxygen supplies which might intensify a fire
Identify people at risk
- people who work close to or with fire hazards
- people who work alone, or in isolated areas such as storerooms
- children or parents with babies
- elderly people
- disabled people
Evaluate, remove or reduce the risk
- where possible, get rid of the fire hazards you identified – eg remove build-ups of waste – and reduce any hazards you can’t remove entirely
- replace highly flammable materials with less flammable ones
- keep anything that can start a fire away from flammable materials
- have a safe-smoking policy
Once you’ve reduced the risk as far as practical, you need to look at any risk that can’t be removed and decide what fire safety measures to provide.
Building evacuation plans and fire safety equipment
A fire in your workplace must be detected quickly and a warning given so that people can escape safely.
Fire detection and warning system
You must have an appropriate fire-detection and warning system. Whatever system you have, it must be able to warn all people in the building in all circumstances.
You need to decide which type of fire detector is suitable for your premises. It may be that one type of detector is suitable for one part of your premises and another for the rest. Before installing a fire detection system, you are advised to discuss your proposals with your local fire authority.
Means of escape
The arrangements to evacuate your premises form an important part of your emergency plan. You should:
- Make sure the escape route is as short as possible.
- Consider how many people are going to be using the escape route.
- Consider the impact if one of the means of escape has been blocked.
- Ensure there is a clear passageway to all escape routes – passageways should be one metre wide. Passageways that are more than 30 metres long, or 45 metres in offices and factories, should be subdivided into equal parts by fire doors.
- Ensure escape routes are kept free of any obstructions, eg they are not used for storing stock.
- Make arrangements for the evacuation of elderly or disabled people. You must also consider other less able-bodied people who may have access to the building, taking into account both physical and mental impairment.
- Inform and train all employees in how to escape the building.
- Install an emergency lighting system.
- Identify all escape routes with appropriate signs.
Fire fighting equipment
It may be appropriate to provide portable multi-purpose fire extinguishers so that people on your premises can tackle a fire in its early stages. These extinguishers should have a guaranteed shelf-life, and there should be one for every 200 square metres of floor space, and at least one on every floor. Depending on your type of business and the outcome of your risk assessment, you may need other specialised fire-fighting equipment.
You should carry out a fire drill at least once a year. It is good practice not to announce fire drills so you get a realistic idea of how effective your fire evacuations plans are.
Everyone must participate in the fire drill. You should record the result of each fire drill in your fire log book.
You must provide all employees with instruction and training so that they know what to do in the event of a fire.
Everyone must know:
- how to raise the alarm if they discover a fire
- how to contact the fire brigade
- how to use the fire fighting equipment
- how and where to evacuate the building
- where to assemble and who to report to
Record, review and revise your fire safety plans
You must keep the following:
a record of the hazards you have identified, the people at risk, and what you have done about it
an emergency plan designed for your premises, including the action you need to take if there is a fire on your premises or nearby
records of fire fighting arrangements in place to control the fire risk
You should also record the details of the contact at your local fire authority.
These include details of fire training and instruction provided and details of fire drills carried out, including the date, evacuation time and any problems encountered. You should give staff and visitors to your premises instructions on what to do in the event of fire.
Maintenance and testing of fire equipment
All equipment, eg fire doors or fire fighting equipment, must be regularly checked and maintained. This includes checking that:
- the control panel shows that all electrical fire detection and alarm systems are working – if not, that all faults are recorded and dealt with immediately
- all emergency lighting is working – if not, that all faults are recorded and dealt with immediately
- all escape routes and fire exits are clear of obstacles and the floor is in good repair
- all fire escapes can be opened without any delays
- all automatic fire doors close correctly when activated
- all fire exit signs are in the correct position
Review your risk assessment
You must make sure that your fire-risk assessment is always up to date, and you should review it at least once a year, or more often if you think it is no longer accurate. You should, for example, look again at your fire-risk assessment if:
- there was a fire which was caught in time
- you are storing more flammable materials
- you start a new night shift
- you have more people using your premises
- you make a significant change to your premises, eg adding an extension or subdividing offices