Managing Fire Safety

Fire safety legislation is often complicated and many people are unaware of their legal duties.

Managing Fire Safety?

Fire safety legislation is often complicated and many people are unaware of their legal duties. In a survey carried out by the Fire Industry Association (FIA) last year, 28% of workers across the UK said they wouldn’t know what to do in the event of a fire at work.

Property damage, fines, compensation, and insurance premiums due to major fires cost UK businesses millions of pounds yearly. And statistics show that 80% of businesses that suffer a serious fire are forced to shut down within eighteen months.

The name of fire legislation varies in the UK but applies to all non-domestic premises. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 covers England and Wales; the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, as amended, The Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 applies in Scotland; Northern Ireland is governed by the Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and The Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010.

In England and Wales the Fire Safety Order 2005 also applies to the communal areas of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO), e.g. hallways or stairwells in blocks of flats or converted houses in which multiple families live. It does not apply inside private homes including individual flats.

So, who is responsible for the fire safety in commercial premises? Everyone entering your premises should have some level of duty to themselves to ensure fire safety. However, by law each building must have a designated person responsible for fire safety, commonly known as the ‘Responsible Person’ or ‘Duty Holder’. The responsible person will usually have some degree of control over the premises and will typically be: • The owner, employer or manager of a business • A managing agent or owner of shared premises • Contractors, self-employed people or voluntary organisations • Someone providing paid accommodation What Are their Duties? The 'Responsible Person' must take steps to identify and reduce the fire risk and ensure people can escape safely if there is a fire. If there is more than one person responsible, they must co-ordinate and share information to manage the fire risk assessments and fire safety procedures – taking account of those particularly at risk; fire drills, evacuation and training; means of escape - signs, notices and emergency lighting; fire alarms and extinguishers maintenance; and fire doors and compartments.

Enforcement of Fire Safety Law

In the same survey, the FIA found that 17% of bosses asked nationally, admitted that they have revised safety procedures in the current economic climate such as, delaying maintenance of fires safety items, reducing or stopping fire safety training for staff, overlooking or delaying fire safety checks, or delaying updating fire risk assessments.

The Responsible Person is legally obliged to ensure a fire risk assessment is carried out. They can appoint a ‘competent’ person to do the assessment but the Responsible Person remains legally accountable.

If the Fire and Rescue Services is not satisfied with the safety measures they will advise what you need to do. If they find major problems they can serve an enforcement notice requiring safety improvements and/or close the building until sufficient measures are in place.

Penalties for fire safety breaches, which are more common than you would think, can result in the responsible person incurring a heavy fine or imprisonment. The size of penalty is not affected by the size of the company.

The Fire Industry Association (FIA) has a free Best Practice Guide to help Responsible Persons understand their fire safety duties. Download it from www.fia.uk.com.

By Robert Thiltorpe, FIA Technical Manager.

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