The problem for businesses is that fire safety inspectors tasked with enforcing the legislation see compliance with the law as the number one priority. The Regulatory Reform (Fire safety) Order 2005 (RRO) is the primary legislation but there are other legal responsibilities including HSE and COSHH legislation to contend with. Financial penalties for non-compliance can be punitive and even threaten the ability of the business to trade.
To give you a fighting chance of surviving a visit by the fire inspector we have condensed the current legislation in the form of a check list of essential must do’s. The emphasis is on must – and the starting point is to decide who in the organisation is going to be the person responsible for getting the must do’s done.
The first action is to appoint a “Responsible Person” who has the time, authority and experience to lead your fire safety management programme.
Get the simple mandatory requirements in place
-Display a Health and Safety Law poster prominently in the premises either at reception or in a communal staff area.
-Display a Fire Action Sign detailing what to do in the event of fire, the designated escape route and fire assembly point. Larger premises, and those having several floors or more than one fire exit door may need more than one.
-Display a No Smoking Sign at each public entrance to the premises
-If you have fire doors make sure they have fire door signs fitted
-Invest in a fire log book. If you employ 5 or more staff you have to document your fire safety management records and a fire safety log book is laid out to make this job easier. Frankly it is good practice for all businesses to document their safety records.
Conduct a fire risk assessment. Every business, including not for profit, services and charitable operations must conduct one by law. We supply a choice of detailed step by step self-help guides on completing a Risk Assessment but here is a plain man’s guide on what to do.
1. Identify the fire hazards – consider how a fire could start? A fire needs a fuel, heat and oxygen. Identify any possible source of ignition and combustible materials.
2. Consider who may be a risk – your employees, visitors, customers and particularly vulnerable people such as children, the elderly and disabled.
3. Assess and act – Based on these considerations and findings, assess the potential risks and if necessary and possible take action to remove or reduce any fire risks. Typically this may involve installing fire safety equipment, replacing obsolete equipment, changing working practices or better housekeeping.
4. Document the Assessment– Maintain a record of the risks assessment (legally required for businesses employing 5 or more) together with any actions taken to reduce or remove the risks.
5. Review – Review your risk assessment on a regular basis to ensure it remains up to date with any changes made to your organisation.
Install fire protection equipment appropriate to the risk. It is important to understand that fire extinguishers are specific to particular types of fire. For example if your risk assessment shows a potential risk from solvent or petroleum fires then installing a water extinguisher is not the answer. The table below shows the types and uses of each type of fire extinguisher.
Produce a Fire Safety Management plan based on the outcome of the risk assessment
You can present the plan in a documented fire safety manual, setting out the extent and location of fire precautions (like fire extinguishers), equipment service and maintenance records, date and frequency of in house safety inspections, fire drills and any safety related training.
Identify and isolate Hazardous Substances
If as part of your normal business activity you store and use significant quantities of hazardous substances, described generally as toxic, corrosive or flammable you should isolate these in a suitable Hazardous, Fire Resistant Cabinet or Flammable Storage Cabinets compliant with the COSHH or DSEAR regulations. You should also instigate and document safety procedures and train staff in the handling, use and transportation of these substances.
Keep records current and accessible
If the Inspectors call they will ask to see all these records so you are best advised to keep them all in one place preferably a secure document box or for larger premises in an emergency plans box together with detailed Floor plans of the building showing stairwells, fire exits or other escape routes and any fixed fire safety provisions. In the event of fire the emergency services will be better informed and better able to control the fire quickly.
Keep your eyes on the ball. It is all too easy either from carelessness or lack of discipline to let safety standards slip. Typical bear traps pounced on by inspectors are issues like locked fire exit doors, blocked escape routes, inadequate fire equipment maintenance and poor or incomplete documentation. Regular in-house inspections will prevent standards from slipping.
Following these steps should ensure that your premises are generally compliant with the key provisions of fire and safety law. That is not to say fire inspectors will not find some non-compliances but they should not be so serious as to affect your ability to operate.