Fire Safety in the Workplace
The introduction of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, commonly known simply as The Fire Safety Order, brought about a clear framework for fire safety requirements in the workplace. These rules apply to all non-domestic properties in England including workplaces, commercial premises, premises the public have access to and the common areas of houses of multiple occupation (HMO’s).
In the following article we will explore this legislation, take a look at its main requirements and identify those responsible for ensuring these standards are met. Finally, we will look at the potential consequences of failing to fulfil the requirements of the Fire Safety Order.
Who is Responsible?
The government’s official guidance gives the following examples of people who are responsible for fire safety in a business or non-domestic setting: an employer, an owner, a landlord, an occupier or “anyone else with control of the premises, for example a facilities manager, building manager, managing agent or risk assessor”. In legal terms this individual is known as the ‘responsible person’.
It should be noted that if more than one person associated with the workplace could be classed as the responsible person, then they must work together in order to meet the requirements of the Fire Safety Order.
Things can be a little less clear when it comes to shared business premises occupied by more than one organisation, but the legal responsibility is still there. For example, in shared premises it is likely that there will be more than one person that needs to address fire safety. In such situations it is required that these people co-ordinate the fire safety plans of their businesses to ensure everyone in and around the building is protected from the risks of fire.
The same fire safety standards are required of anyone hosting paying guests, such as bed and breakfast operators or people letting out self-catering properties. In a similar vein, within the common areas of HMO’s, the landlord or managing agents have a duty to ensure fire safety standards are established and maintained. However, for the purposes of this article, we shall be focusing specifically on fire safety in the workplace.
Duties of the Responsible Person
The Fire Safety Order requires the ‘responsible person’ to carry out five activities to help minimise the risks of fire in their workplace.
These tasks are:
- Make sure that a valid fire risk assessment (FRA) is in place and review it periodically
- Inform staff members about any risks identified
- Introduce and maintain fire safety measures or equipment as required to satisfy the findings of the fire risk assessment
- Have appropriate plans in place for an emergency
- Give staff access to fire safety training, instructions and information
Fire Risk Assessments
The starting point here is the fire risk assessment, and this leads in to all of the other tasks. The ‘responsible person’ must carry out a fire risk assessment and also make sure it is regularly reviewed in line with the needs of the premises. For example, if there is any substantial change to the occupancy or layout of the building, the fire risk assessment must be reviewed to ensure any new risks have been identified, considered and reduced. A written record of fire risk assessment activities is a legal requirement for any business employing five or more people.
A properly executed fire risk assessment should identify fire hazards and any people who could be at risk, and therefore reduce or remove any risks. The specific findings of the FRA must be recorded, and emergency plans and training should be put in place where necessary to address any concerns.
Common considerations for fire risk assessments include appraisals of the fire detection system in place, any firefighting equipment installed, the viability of escape routes and the storage (or, where possible, removal) of dangerous substances. The potential needs of vulnerable people such as children, the elderly or disabled people must also be considered and catered for in terms of the information provided on-site as well as any emergency evacuation plans created.
This may all sound quite daunting, but with careful research it is possible to carry out your own fire risk assessment. However, many business owners or landlords choose to employ the services of a professional fire risk assessor, especially if covering larger or more complex premises.
A large percentage of any fire risk assessment focuses on evacuation plans. Issues to be considered here include ensuring the escape route is kept clear at all times and clearly marked with the appropriate signage. It is also important to provide adequate lighting along the escape route and define safe gathering points for staff members or any other occupants of the building to escape to.
Care must be taken to provide an appropriate number of fire exits and escape routes. All staff must also be trained to know what to do and where to go in the event of an evacuation. Basic measures such as making the escape route as short as possible and ensuring all doors on the route open easily are also required.
As touched upon earlier, there is also a legal responsibility to identify any potential specific needs in relation to evacuation. For example, escape routes suitable for wheelchair users or people with restricted mobility must be provided where needed. Particular attention must be given to the means of escape in buildings featuring flights of stairs.
All practical eventualities must be accounted for when it comes to the escape route in any non-domestic building.
Fire Safety Equipment
Safety equipment is another core area of interest for FRA’s. Fire detection systems in particular are one of the most crucial defences against the dangers of fire in any building. No single detection system can ever be universally suitable. Therefore, care must be taken to ensure the system installed in a workplace is fit for purpose and meets that building’s specific needs.
The type and distribution of detectors needed is relative to the size of the areas being protected and the activities being carried out in the premises. It is highly recommended that specialist installers are used to ensure that the fire detection system in place conforms to the relevant British Standard: BS 5839.
Another crucial factor in ensuring fire safety in the workplace is to limit the potential for fire to spread. This is primarily achieved by ensuring that the fire barriers built into the premises are in good condition and proper working order. For example, it is vital that fire doors are well maintained, and that they close automatically in the event of a fire alarm being raised. Preventing a fire from sweeping quickly through a building is one of the most important protections against the dangers of fire.
Fire safety equipment also covers the provision of things such as fire extinguishers, which must be appropriately positioned and maintained in line with the recommendations of another British Standard: BS 5306.
All fire safety equipment provided must be maintained on a regular basis. Alarm systems, emergency lighting and fire extinguishers should be inspected regularly and serviced when necessary to ensure that they are fully functional at all times. As well as this, any faults with systems or equipment should be officially recorded by the ‘responsible person’ or a delegate and rectified as swiftly as possible.
Safety Drills and Training
The best laid plans count for nothing if those involved aren’t made aware of them. As such the provision of relevant fire safety information to staff members and ongoing training is required. All new members of staff joining a workforce should be introduced to the fire safety policies and protective measures within their new workplace. Should any new fire risks be identified over time, then these should also be brought to the attention of the workforce and minimised or removed where possible.
Fire drills should be carried out and the results recorded at least once per year, with corrective action being taken if systems or procedures are shown not to work. These drills are important to ensure that staff members are familiar with the escape routes available to them, and also to ensure that the escape routes, alarm equipment and procedures are in good order.
Punishments for Non-conformance
The local fire authority is at liberty to inspect a premises at any point to ensure that adequate fire safety measures are in place. Should they be unhappy with what they find, there are a range of tools at their disposal to address the problems.
Depending on the severity of the problems identified, the fire authority can issue any of the following notices:
This is reserved for minor issues, and constitutes a suggestion for improvement of a non-critical issue.
An alteration notice can be issued if it is felt that there are high risks to safety present in the premises or if it is thought that risks could become present if the use of the premises changes.
Enforcement notices will be issued if the fire safety officer finds issues which are both serious and not currently being considered. These notices give specific details of the problem identified as well as a timeframe within which improvements must be made.
This is the most serious outcome of a fire safety inspection, and is used if the fire safety officer finds a problem so severe that they feel it necessary to restrict or even prevent people from entering the premises.
It is important to remember that the fire officer inspecting a premises is there to help the occupiers understand what is required and help them provide a safe working environment. However, should the occupiers fail to address any of the concerns raised and therefore fail to follow fire regulations, the penalties are severe.
The punishment for serious breaches of fire safety regulations include unlimited fines and/or prison sentences of up to two years, underlining the importance of providing a working environment that is protected against the dangers of fire.
Thanks to the introduction and enforcement of the fire safety order nobody should be put in a position where they are asked to work in a premises that presents a serious risk of injury by fire. We hope the above article has helped explain who is responsible for fire safety in the workplace and what they must do to maintain safety levels.
Further information regarding fire safety in the workplace can be found on the government’s official workplace fire safety webpage, including links to fire risk assessment guides for specific types of premises.