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The Fire Safety Law Explained

The regulatory reform (fire safety) order, came into force on the 1st of October 2006 and represents the largest overhaul of the fire safety regulations for decades. The aim of the fire safety order is to simplify, rationalise and consolidate existing regulations.

This is an overview of the legislation and is written in very general terms to provide guidance.

To Summarise: Who is responsible? The emphasis is to place responsibility for compliance onto the responsible person for fire risk management within the workplace, normally the employer or any other person who may have control over the premises is the responsible person.

What are the main changes?

The main changes are that fire certificates are no longer issued or have legal status

What should employers do?

The responsible person within any organisation must ensure that fire risk assessments are conducted competently, and ensure that a "suitable and sufficient" fire risk assessment is completed to meet the legislative requirements. If an employer employs five or more persons then all significant findings must be in the form of a written document. The following information provides a brief insight into the requirements.

Fire Safety arrangements The responsible person must make and give good effect to such arrangements as are appropriate to the size and nature of his undertaking for:

  • Effective Planning
  • Organisation
  • Control
  • Monitoring
  • Reviewing of
the preventative measures necessary to manage fire safety. Arrangements must be in writing where there are five or more employees and formally documented by the risk assessor.

Fire Fighting & Fire Detection, The responsible person must ensure that the premises are equipped with appropriate Fire Fighting Equipment and with Fire Detection and Alarms show documentation of maintenance regimes.

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Competent Persons: The responsible person must nominate competent persons to implement the measures for fire fighting within the premises. The competent persons must be suitably trained and they must have adequate equipment available to them.

Competent persons need to have sufficient training, experience & knowledge to enable them to properly implement the measures identified in fire safety.

Emergency Routes & Exits

Emergency exit routes must be kept clear at all times, the "responsible person" has the over-riding duty. People must be able to evacuate the building to a place of safety in a reasonable time and safely. Below are some mandatory bullet points regarding emergency routes and exits.

  • Emergency routes & exits must be adequate for the needs of the building and its use
  • Emergency doors must open in the direction of travel
  • Emergency routes & exits must be indicated by signs
  • Emergency lighting must be provided where illumination is necessary
What is the fire safety order?

The government has introduced better regulations, the order replaces various references made to fire safety from different legislations such as the licensing act, the housing act and the fire precautions act and has consolidated them all into one legislation. Any person who has a level of control over premises are now required to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire and should a fire occur all occupants must be able to escape safely.

The order in depth

All premises or parts of premises used for the purposes of an employers undertaking, which is made available to employees as a place of work, or premises used in connection with the carrying out of a trade, business or other undertaking, for profit or not, with few exceptions, will be subject to the fire safety order.

It designates a person, usually the employer, the manager or the owner and he or she is called the responsible person. He or a person acting on his behalf, is required to carry out certain fire safety duties which include ensuring the general fire precautions are satisfactory and conducting a fire risk assessment. If more than 5 persons are employed it is required to be in the form of a written document.

The fire safety order came into force on the 1st April 2006, in response to a call to rationalise and simplify fire legislation in the UK, but at the moment it only applies to England and Wales. This has been achieved by reforming and amending the United Kingdoms principle fire safety legislation using the Regulatory Reform Act 2001.

The fire safety order is designed to provide a minimum fire safety standard in places where people work, including shared areas, workplace facilities and the means of access to that workplace. The fire safety order reforms the law relating to fire safety in non-domestic premises. It replaces fire certification under the Fire Precautions Act 1971 with a general duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practical, the safety of employees. In relation to non-employees to take such fire precautions as may reasonably be required in the circumstances to ensure that premises are safe and a duty to carry out a fire risk assessment.

It amends or repeals other primary legislation concerning fire safety. The new, risk assessment based regime requires those persons responsible for premises used by the public (including the self employed and employees) to take action to prevent fires, and protect against death and injury should a fire occur. This is the same duty currently imposed on employers by the Fire precautions (workplace) Regulations 1997, but under the fire safety order the duty is extended beyond workplaces to include the majority of premises to which people have access.

To support the fire safety order, the office of the deputy prime minister (ODPM) will be publishing a suite of eleven guidance documents, they will provide advice on most types of premises where the duty to undertake a fire risk assessment under the fire safety order applies.

The guides will be available for the following categories of premises, offices and shops, premises providing sleeping accommodation, residential care premises, small and medium places of assembly, large places of assembly, factories and warehouses, theatres and cinemas, educational premises, healthcare premises, transport interchanges and open air events.

The first guide, Fire safety for offices and shops, has been drafted by ODPM in co-operation with a group of key stakeholders. This guide will be used as a template for the subsequent guides so there is a consistent approach across the whole suite. Each guide will be in two parts, the first part will explain how to undertake a fire risk assessment based on the five steps used in fire safety: An employers guide, which was issued to support the fire precautions (workplace) regulations 1997. The second part of each guide will provide further guidance on the fire precautions. The guides are being written so as to be readily understood by those who have to comply with the requirements of the fire safety order, not just fire safety experts.

The person who has the main responsibility for implementing the fire safety order is the person designated the "responsible person" in relation to the premises and is in relation to a workplace-the employer where the workplace is to any extent under his control, the requirements of the fire safety order are in fact imposed on any person who has, to any extent, control of premises so far as the requirements relate to matters within their control.

Are your premises subject to the fire safety order? the fire safety order applies to all non-domestic premises except:

  • Off shore installations
  • A ship
  • Fields, woods or land
  • Aircraft or trains
  • Mines

The responsible person must make a suitable and sufficient assessment of fire risks to which relevant persons are exposed for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed on him by or under the fire safety order. Dangerous substances must be assessed in accordance with the criteria listed in schedule 1 of the fire safety order.

Risk assessments must be reviewed regularly by the responsible person so as to keep it up to date. Where the responsible person employs 5 or more employees he must record the information gathered during the risk assessment, in particular, the significant findings, the measures taken or to be taken, to ensure general fire safety, identify any persons especially at risk. No new work activity involving a dangerous substance shall commence unless a risk assessment has been made and the measures required by the fire safety order been taken.

Where competent persons are appointed from outside the organisation they must be provided with adequate information and informed of any factors which may affect the safety of persons. The responsible person must provide his employees with comprehensive and relevant information on the risks identified on the risk assessment, the prevention and protective measures and the procedures for dealing with imminent and serious danger which he has assessed as necessary for persons safety.

Employees must also be advised of the competent persons so appointed. Employees must be provided with adequate fire safety training when they are first employed and when exposed to new or increased risks. Training must cover the hazards, risks and controls in place to manage fire safety and be repeated periodically as appropriate.

Every employee must take reasonable care for the safety of himself and others whilst he is at work. he must co-operate with his employer in order to achieve fire safety standards, including informing his employer of any matter which he thinks his employer should know. If a fire authority believes that fire safety may be compromised if premises are altered they may serve an alterations notice on the responsible person requiring them to inform the authority of the pending alteration.

Historically fire safety was a function of local authorities rather than the fire service however in 1947 the introduction of the Fire Services Act gave the Fire Brigades their first responsibilities for fire safety. The Fire Precautions Act 1971, the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 gave more powers to the service.

Today, the modernisation of the UK fire service has taken into account the role that it plays in fire safety issues and that issue is high on the agenda of most fire and rescue services. Many brigades started to produce Integrated Management Plans (IMP) to take in to account these new responsibilities and produced plans for not only fire safety in the workplace but also in the community. Now all fire and rescue services have community based fire safety departments. The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 now lays out in Section 6 what the fire service must do. It states that a fire and rescue authority must make provision for the purpose of promoting fire safety in its area and this must include the provision of information, publicity and encouragement in respect of the steps to be taken to prevent fires and death or injury by fire not only by the enforcement of specific fire safety legislation, but also by a proactive strategy targeted at all sections of the community.

The fire and resilience programme has three components: New Dimension, Firelink and FiReControl. Together these projects will provide the FRS with equipment, a network and the structure to handle a wide range of incidences.

Escape routes

Once a fire has started, been detected and a warning given, everyone in your premises should be able to escape to a place of total safety unaided and without the help of the fire and rescue service. However, some people with disabilities and others with special needs may need help from staff who will need to be designated for the purpose. Escape routes should be designed to ensure, as far as possible, that any person confronted by fire anywhere in the building, should be able to turn away from it and escape to a place of reasonable safety, e.g. a protected stairway. From there they will be able to go directly to a place of total safety away from the building.

Those who require special assistance (e.g. very young children in a creche and some people with disabilities) could be accommodated on the same level as the final exit from the premises to facilitate escape. Where they need assistance to evacuate, you should make sure that there are sufficient staff to ensure a speedy evacuation.

The level of fire protection that should be given to escape routes will vary depending on the level of risk of fire within the premises and other related factors. Generally, premises that are simple, consisting of a single storey, will require fairly simple measures to protect the escape routes, compared to a large multi-storey building, which would require a more complex and inter-related system of fire precautions.

When determining whether your premises have adequate escape routes, you need to consider a number of factors, including:

  • the type and number of people using the premises;
  • escape time;
  • the age and construction of the premises;
  • the number and complexity of escape routes and exits;
  • whether lifts can or need to be used;
  • the use of phased or delayed alarm evacuation;
  • assisted means of escape/personal evacuation plans (PEEPs); and
  • assembly points.

The type and number of people using the premises. The people present in your premises will primarily be employees. Employees can reasonably be expected to have an understanding of the layout of the premises, while contractors or visitors will be unlikely to have knowledge of alternative escape routes.

The number and capability of people present will influence your assessment of the escape routes. You must ensure that your existing escape routes are sufficient and capable of safely evacuating all the people likely to use your premises at any time, including temporary staff employed in busy periods, and visitors. If necessary you may need either to increase the capacity of the escape routes or restrict the number of people in the premises.

Escape time, In the event of a fire, it is important to evacuate people as quickly as possible from the premises. Escape routes in a building should be designed so that people can escape quickly enough to ensure they are not placed in any danger from fire. The time available will depend on a number of factors, including how quickly the fire is detected and the alarm raised, the number of escape routes available, the nature of the occupants and the speed of fire growth. In high rack storage the spread of fire vertically will be rapid, so this risk should be given special consideration.

The age and construction of the premises. Older buildings may comprise different construction materials from newer buildings, and may be in a poorer state of repair. The materials from which your premises are constructed, the quality of building work and state of repair could contribute to thespeed with which any fire may spread, and potentially affect the escape routes the occupants will need to use. A fire starting in a building constructed mainly from combustible material will spread faster than one where fire-resisting construction.

If you wish to construct internal partitions or walls in your premises, perhaps to divide up a work area, you should ensure that any new partition or wall does not obstruct any escape routes or fire exits, extend travel distances or reduce the sound levels of the fire alarm system. Any walls that affect the means of escapeshould be constructed of appropriate material.

Depending on the findings of your fire risk assessment, it may be necessary to protect the escape routes against fire and smoke by upgrading the construction of the floors, ceiling and walls to be a fire-resisting standard. You should avoid having combustible wall and ceiling linings in your escape routes. The number of escape routes and exits. In general there should normally be at least two escape routes from all parts of the premises, but a single escape route may be acceptable in some circumstances, (e.g. part of your premises accommodating less than 60 people or where the travel distances are limited).

Where two escape routes are necessary and to further minimise the risk of people becoming trapped, you should ensure that the escape routes are completely independent of each other. This will prevent a fire affecting more than one escape route at the same time. When evaluating escape routes, you may need to build in a safety factor by discounting the largest exit from your escape plan or doors which cannot be opened quickly, e.g. manually operated roller shutters. You can then determine whether the remaining escape routes from a room, floor or building will be sufficient to evacuate all the occupants within a reasonable time. Escape routes that provide escape in a single direction only may need additional fire precautions to be regarded as adequate.

Exit doors on escape routes and final exit doors should normally open in the direction of travel, and be quickly and easily openable without the need for a key. Checks should be made to ensure final exits are wide enough to accommodate the number of people who may use the escape routes they serve. Management of escape routes. It is essential that escape routes, and the means provided to ensure they are used safely, are managed and maintained to ensure that they remain usable and available at all times when the premises are occupied. Inform staff in training sessions about the escape routes withinthe premises.

Corridors and stairways that form part of escape routes should be kept clear and hazard free at all times. A blocked corridor, escape route. In some premises with storage racking, escape routes may be through/under the racking; these should be kept clear of any storage and obstructions. Emergency evacuation of persons with mobility impairment The means of escape you provide must be suitable for the evacuation of everyone likely to be in your premises. This may require additional planning and allocation of staff roles – with appropriate training. Provisions for the emergency evacuation of disabled persons may include:

  • stairways;
  • evacuation lifts;
  • firefighting lifts;
  • horizontal evacuation;
  • refuges; and
  • ramps.

Use of these facilities will need to be linked to effective management arrangements as part of your emergency plan. The plan should not rely on fire and rescue service involvement for it to be effective.

If you have any reason to suspect that your fire risk assessment is no longer valid or there has been a significant change in your premises that has affected your fire precautions, you will need to review your assessment and if necessary revise it. Reasons for review could include:

  • changes to work activities or the way that you organise them, including the introduction of new equipment;alterations to the building, including the internal layout;
  • substantial changes to furniture and fixings;
  • the introduction, change of use or increase in the storage of hazardous substances;
  • the failure of fire precautions, e.g. fire-detection systems and alarm systems, life safety sprinklers or ventilation systems;
  • significant changes to type and quantities and/or method of storage of goods;
  • a significant increase in the number of people present; and
  • the presence of people with some form of disability.

You should consider the potential risk of any significant change before it is introduced. It is usually more effective to minimise a risk by, for example, ensuring adequate, appropriate storage space for an item before introducing it to your premises. Do not amend your assessment for every trivial change, but if a change introduces new hazards you should consider them and, if significant, do whatever you need to do to keep the risks under control. In any case you should keep your assessment under review to make sure that the precautions are still working effectively. You may want to re-examine the fire prevention and protection measures at the same time as your health and safety assessment.

If a fire or ‘near miss’ occurs, this could indicate that your existing assessment may be inadequate and you should carry out a re-assessment. It is good practice to identify the cause of any incident and then review and, if necessary, revise your fire risk assessment in the light of this. Records of testing, maintenance and training etc. are useful aids in a review process. See Appendix A1 for an example.

Alterations notices If you have been served with an ‘alterations notice’ check it to see whether you need to notify the enforcing authority about any changes you propose to make as a result of your review. If these changes include building work, you should also consult a building control body.

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