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Knowing your fire safety law
The Fire Industries Association’s Fire Safety Law leaflet looks at how public sector organisations can determine what fire risks are present and identify the measures necessary to minimise the risk to an acceptable level.
Fire safety legislation in the UK is enacted differently under the three jurisdictions of England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These differences are nothing to worry about here as they are largely identical in terms of where they apply and what people have to do to comply with them. This is a gentle introduction to the subject and is not a substitute for more detailed government advice which is referenced towards the end of this article.
Where does it apply?
The law applies to virtually all premises and covers nearly every type of building, structure and open space: offices and shops; premises that provide care, including care homes and hospitals; community halls, places of worship and other community premises; pubs, clubs and restaurants; schools and sports centres; tents and marquees; hotels and hostels; and factories and warehouses.
The law does not apply to people’s private homes, including individual flats in a block or house. In England and Wales the law applies to the common parts of flats and HMOs, but not in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Broadly, the law does not apply to the underground parts of mines or off‑shore installation. It also doesn’t apply to anything that flies, floats or runs on wheels unless it is static and being used like a building, e.g. work in dry dock.
Who is responsible?
The person responsible for fire safety is anyone who has, to any significant degree: control of the premises (e.g. the owner and the managing agent); control over the activities on the premises (occupier); employs people; in many instances this will be a company or other organisation.
They are responsible for the safety of people who may be legitimately, on the premises or who is not on the premises but might be directly affected by a fire on the premises. In many cases, responsibility may be shared between several people but it is not the responsibility of the fire service or any other statutory body.
The person responsible (or persons if there are more than one), must make sure that everyone is safe from fire. If that is you, you or a person engaged by you must carry out a fire risk assessment to determine what the risks are and to identify those measures necessary to minimise the risk to an acceptable level.
Fire Risk Assessments
The guidance documents that support fire law recommend a five stage approach to fire risk assessment. The five stages begin with identifying the hazards within your premises including; sources of ignition, sources of fuel and any oxidising agents other than air.
Secondly, identify people at risk. You must consider everyone who might be at risk from a fire on your premises, whether they are employees, visitors or members of the public. You should pay particular attention to people who may be at particular risk such as; people working near to fire hazards, lone workers, children, parents with babies, the elderly, the infirm and people with disabilities or anyone who may need special help.
Additionally, evaluate the level of risk in your premises. You should remove or reduce fire hazards where possible. The residual risk should be minimised. You need to look at the means of detecting fire and giving warning. This includes: fire fighting and first aid fire fighting and summoning the fire and rescue service; escape routes including fire exits, emergency lighting and escape route signs. This should also include training for your staff, information on fire safety for anyone who may need it (e.g. staff and visitors) and a management system to make sure that your fire precautions, including your risk assessment, remain effective.
Furthermore, record, plan, instruct, inform and train. You should: record the findings from the fire risk assessment as well as the fire safety measures you have taken and are going to take; if you haven’t already got one, make an emergency plan, tailored to your premises; give staff and occasionally others, such as hotel guests or volunteer stewards, information; provide employees training about the risks, the actions they should take to prevent fires and how to respond to fire if it occurs. Some, such as fire marshals, will need more training. This includes full time, part time, temporary and unpaid employees.
Lastly, review your fire-risk assessment to ensure it is up to date. You will need to re-examine your fire-risk assessment if you suspect it is no longer valid, such as after a near miss or if there is a significant change such as a change of processes occupants or the layout of the building.
Fire authorities are the main agency responsible for enforcing the law. Fire authorities will look into complaints, carry out investigations after fires and carry out targeted inspections. Where poor fire safety management is discovered they may prosecute. If there is a very serious risk to life, the fire authority can issue a notice preventing the premises being used for certain things, or preventing people from using all or part of the premises.
The following legal instruments are the principal pieces of legislation which govern fire safety in the UK and are the ones specifically referred to in this document. In England and Wales there is the Regulatory Reform (fire safety) order 2005. In Scotland, there is The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and The Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006.
In Northern Ireland there is The Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and The Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010.
Certificates and old legislation
The above legislation amended many other pieces of legislation. It also repealed or revoked, among others: The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997; Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2001; and the Fire Precautions Act 1971.
The Fire Precautions Act required the fire brigade or local authority to issue a fire certificate for certain classes of premises. The authorities no longer issue fire certificates and those previously in force will have no legal status but don’t throw them away. Any fire certificates you have may be useful as a starting point for your fire risk assessment.