It is vitally important for business owners and managers to understand their duty to comply with UK fire safety regulations, as the consequences are potentially very serious.
All legislation regarding fire safety in business (non-domestic) premises in England and Wales are incorporated in The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, 2005. It provides clear guidance for those responsible for implementing safety precautions and procedures, including fire risk assessments and fire safety equipment.
Here, we look at who is ultimately responsible for fire safety on business premises, and lay out the steps that a ‘responsible person’ is obliged to take by law.
Are you responsible for fire safety on your premises?
Anyone who owns non-domestic premises, is an employer, landlord, or occupier, or who has control of business premises such as a managing agent or facilities manager, is known as the responsible person, and could be held accountable in the event of tragedy.
There may be more than one responsible person, in which case they must work together and accept equal responsibility for meeting the regulatory requirements.
So what are the duties and obligations of the responsible person?
Fire Risk Assessment
All businesses with more than four employees must keep a written fire risk assessment, although it is also a good idea to do this if you employ fewer staff. A fire risk assessment forms the basis of all fire safety procedures and preventative actions.
If your business premises are complex or you want expert guidance, a professional fire risk assessor will be able to help. Your local fire and rescue service may be able to offer recommendations, but they will not be able to carry out a risk assessment themselves.
There are five elements of a fire risk assessment:
1. Identify all potential fire hazards
Consider how a fire could start within the building, the location of heaters, electrical equipment, piles of rubbish for example, and what type of wall and floor coverings you have.
2. Identify those at risk should a fire break out
Is there a greater risk for some members of staff purely because of where they work within the premises, or because they work at night? Also think about disabled workers and visitors, and their increased vulnerability.
3. Evaluate the extent of the risk, and whether existing safety measures are sufficient
After evaluating the level of risk, consider the steps that should be taken to reduce it. You will need to consider the fire detection systems, and fire fighting equipment that you have in place.
4. Record your findings, prepare an emergency plan, and assess other needs such as training
Record what you have found, including the areas where the risk is greatest, and the steps taken to limit the risk of fire. If you employ five staff or more, keeping a written record is compulsory.
Plan for an emergency by assigning roles to members of staff, ensuring they understand what is required and receive sufficient training, formulating a clear emergency exit route in the event of fire. If you share a building with other businesses, you must confer and coordinate your actions.
5. Regularly review the fire risk assessment, and update as necessary
Risks may change over time, which is why you must undertake periodic reviews of the fire risk assessment and make any changes necessary. Inform your staff of any amendments, as well as other businesses that use the building.
The penalties for failing to undertake a fire risk assessment or implement appropriate fire safety precautions, are heavy. They include prosecution, financial penalties, and potential imprisonment in the most serious instances.
What fire safety equipment might you need?
Although requirements vary according to individual businesses and their risk of fire, you will need some or all of the following:
- Portable fire extinguishers that are the correct type for your business, and that undergo certificated annual maintenance
- Sprinkler systems
- Fire hose reels
- Fire detection system, including a fire alarm that is tested weekly
- Emergency lighting
- Fire safety training for all members of staff
Additionally, all business are required to display at least two fire safety signs – a Fire Action Notice, and an Extinguisher ID Sign that displays the location of each extinguisher and explains how to use them.
Fire Action Notice sign
Extinguisher ID Sign
Fire Safety Log Book
The Fire Safety Log Book is used to record fire protection information, including the dates when fire safety equipment is tested and maintained, when fire drills are held, and training is given to members of staff.
The log book will be needed when your premises are inspected by the fire authority – they demonstrate how you have complied with the regulations. You also need to record the details of any fire-related incidents, how they were dealt with, and whether or not injuries were sustained.
If you fail a fire safety check, the fire authorities can issue various notices according to the seriousness of non-compliance. These include:
These are issued to premises representing a high safety risk
This will refer to a serious issue identified by the fire authority during an inspection, and give a date by which the matter should be rectified
If the risk of fire is such that there is an immediate danger to life, a prohibition notice will restrict or prohibit access to your premises
What are the potential ramifications of a fire in your business?
Some of the less serious breaches of fire regulations can still attract fines of as much as £5,000, with financial penalties for serious offences potentially being unlimited, running alongside up to two years’ imprisonment.
Even if no-one has been hurt, suffering a fire in your business premises is a traumatic event for all involved. In fact, many businesses do not recover. Their inability to trade effectively or deal with existing customers/orders, often leads to insolvency over a period of time, particularly if they do not have a business continuity plan in place.
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Paul North from Fire and Water Supplies.