The purpose of this article is to make you aware of the responsibilities that UK employers and business managers have for carrying out fire risk assessments and other related safety issues. It is important for anyone running a business to be aware of this because failure to comply can result in prosecution.
What Does The Law Say?
The regulation in question is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, more commonly known as the Fire Safety Order. This changed things in a fairly significant way for UK employers. Prior to that, the emphasis was more on the fire service carrying out regular inspections and making recommendations. Now the responsibility is firmly on the heads of business owners to assess risks and put appropriate measures in place to deal with them.
The Order refers to the duties of the ‘Responsible Person’ for each business, and this is the person who owns the premises or controls what happens in the place of work. Several businesses may be within one building, so responsibility in such situations will be shared among more than one person. The fire service will not hold your hand or do this for you. It is now up to you to ensure that you have carried out a thorough examination of your premises and your safety procedures and that you have kept proper records of this.
What Do I Have To Do To Comply With The Law?
The single biggest change that the Fire Safety Order brought in was the requirement to carry out a Fire Risk Assessment. Depending on the nature of your business and the size and complexity of your premises, you will either be able to do this yourself, or you may need to use a fire safety consultant to do it for you or train your staff to do it.
There are five elements to the fire risk assessment process:
1. Identify Fire Hazards
2. Identify Who Is At Risk
3. Evaluate and Reduce The Risk
4. Record Your Findings
5. Regularly Review Your Assessment
Here is a quick overview of some of the things that you will need to consider during this process:
Emergency Exits And Escape Routes
You have to check that you have an obstruction free means of escape from all areas of your premises. These must lead to emergency exit doors which are fully functional and never locked or blocked. Any fire doors should not be wedged open.
All emergency exit routes and doors must be marked with signs that comply with current regulations. All emergency call points must be clearly marked, as should fire fighting equipment and there should be fire action signs giving instruction on what to do in the event of fire.
Fire Fighting Equipment
There should be fire fighting equipment which is suitable for the premises and the working environment. This can include fire blankets and whatever type of extinguisher is appropriate for the type of fire hazard in each area (eg wet chemical extinguishers and fire blankets where there are deep fat fryers). Whatever equipment you have must be properly maintained and checked at regular intervals.
As part of the regulations you have to ensure that your staff are all made aware of the results of your fire risk assessment. You also need to provide suitable and regular training in all safety systems, such as holding practice fire drills. This may also include additional training for some staff who will act as Fire Wardens.
Fire Alarms And Emergency Lighting
You need an effective fire alarm system. This does not mean it has to be some fancy automated system, it just means a system that works in your particular environment. In a large and complex premises, it may well be a sophisticated automatic system, but if you are a small business in a couple of small rooms it might just be a hand-held bell on a shelf. You also need to have emergency lighting that will properly illuminate all your exit routes in case of a power cut.
Plans And Records
If your business employs five or more people the regulations require that you record the findings of your fire risk assessment. Less than that and you do not need to keep a written record.
It is sensible to keep a written record anyway and to document all your emergency procedures. You should also keep records of what staff training you have done, when you have tested the alarms, serviced fire extinguishers, etc. This will all be invaluable if you are inspected by the Fire Service. As well as doing what is required, it is important to be able to prove that you have done it.