19th February 2019
It’s without a shadow of a doubt that fire is beneficial to us in many aspects of life. From cooking and heating to lighting and even signalling, fire in its most controlled state is a key factor to the success of mankind. However, when it isn’t managed, it becomes extremely hazardous and destructive.
14th June 2017, saw a fire break out in the 24-storey block of flats in Grenfell Tower, resulting in 70 people being injured and 72 devastating fatalities. It was a tragic and monumental event which has since reminded us all of the huge importance of fire safety and awareness – but what exactly is fire safety, and how can we ensure that we are promoting it?
Fire Safety in the Workplace
We often talk about fire safety and how best to implement fire safety procedures in our homes, workplaces, schools and other public places, but we rarely ever discuss what the term ‘fire safety’ actually means.
To put it simply, fire safety encompasses a series of preventative actions, practices and training that are put in place to help limit the risk of a fire starting and minimise the loss or damage caused in the event that a fire does occur.
In 2017/18, UK fire and rescue services attended 187,436 fires – a number that, despite recent events, seems to only be increasing. According to figures shown by Government statistics, 53.3% of non-domestic fires happen in the workplace.
Workplace fires are a catastrophic event for any business no matter their size, and many businesses never completely recover from a fire which makes these statistics all the more frightening.
It is for this reason, among many others, that all businesses should have at least one designated responsible person or fire marshal, whose responsibility is to ensure that certain duties are carried out in a timely and satisfactory manner and that action is taken to both prevent fires from occurring and to prevent injury or death if it actually does.
What are the Fire Regulations for Workplaces in the UK?
UK fire safety legislation is covered by ‘The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005’, under which all premises, including commercial and all other non-domestic properties fall. This order details the responsibilities that businesses are expected to meet and maintain.
Fire Risk Assessment
Every business must have a Fire Risk Assessment in place – it’s the first thing that you will be asked to provide when under inspection by the fire authority.
Your Fire Risk Assessment must be reviewed regularly and be documented if:
- You have 5 or more employees; or,
- The premises requires a licence; or,
- You have been issued an Alterations Notice by the fire brigade which states otherwise.
While you are not required to document your fire risk assessment if you have 4 or fewer employees by law, it’s advised that you do for easy reference and universal understanding.
You aren’t required to have a professional fire risk assessor as long as the nominated person to carry out a fire risk assessment in your business is confident that they can:
- Correctly identify the potential causes of a fire in the business.
- Identify the people at risk.
- Assess the suitability of fire safety measures in place, i.e. fire alarm systems and escape routes.
- Assess the ongoing management of fire safety in the business, i.e fire drills and staff training.
- Develop a fire safety action plan if changes are needed.
- Record all the significant findings.
- Implement the action plan if one is needed.
- Keep the fire risk assessment updated at all times.
If you do not have a fire risk assessment and appropriate fire safety precautions in place, you can face prosecution, severe fines and, in cases of extreme negligence, prison.
Check out the .Gov website for more information on Fire Risk Assessment guidelines.
By law, you are required to provide “appropriate fire-fighting equipment”. This usually means having portable fire extinguishers, but higher-risk companies such as restaurants or businesses that store chemicals or flammable materials might also need hose reels or sprinklers.
Fire extinguishers must:
- Be the correct type for the business you have and the location they are stored in.
- Be maintained my a ‘competent’ person (usually your Fire Risk Assessor) and in good working order.
- Have an annual maintenance test.
A minimum of two Class A fire extinguishers must be kept on each storey of the building. UK fire extinguisher regulations also specify that:
- All premises with electrical equipment must have at least 2kg CO2 extinguishers.
- Where there is 415 volt rated equipment, then 5kg CO2 extinguishers are required.
Read more about the types of fire extinguishers and their regulations here.
Fire Safety Signs
To be legally compliant with fire safety regulations, you will also need at least two signs (a Fire Action Notice and an Extinguisher ID sign) that are easily visible, but all that apply should be displayed.
Fire safety signs include:
- Fire Action Notice – shows what to do in the event of a fire and is mandatory for all premises.
- Fire Extinguisher ID sign – shows and locates each type of fire extinguisher and is mandatory for all premises.
- Fire Exit signs – show how and where to exit in the event of a fire. These are required for all premises unless the property is small and simple to escape.
- Fire Alarm Call Points signs – are mandatory if you have a fire alarm and identify where to find and activate them.
- Other Fire Equipment signs – if you have a hose reel of a dry riser, you must signpost where they are.
- Warning and Prohibition signs – highlight danger and are needed if there is an extra risk of fire on the premises.
Fire Alarm Systems
Higher risk businesses such as restaurants are recommended to install fire alarms as an additional safeguard against fire. However, if you operate out of small premises where a fire would be obviously visible to everyone either immediately or upon the shout of ‘FIRE!’ from someone to notify others of the danger, you are not required to have a fire alarm system in place, although this is still advised even though it is not a legal requirement.
According to UK fire safety legislation, all other businesses must have an appropriate fire detection system. This means:
- You will need either a manual or automatic system.
- You need an automatic system if it’s highly likely that a fire could go undetected or block exit routes.
- Everyone in the building must be able to hear the alarm clearly.
- There must be an alarm call point by every exit on every floor.
- Your fire detection system must be maintained in good working order
- You must test your fire alarm weekly
- You must have your fire alarm serviced at least every 6 months
- The person who carries out the testing and maintenance must be competent (they may need to be certified and approved to industry standards).
In the event of a fire, emergency lighting is essential if normal light fails. You will need emergency lighting is your building doesn’t have enough ‘borrowed’ light to safely exit the premises in the event of a power cut or in any ‘danger areas’, such as kitchens.
Emergency lighting is recommended in rooms that are 60 square meters or larger.
The main purposes of emergency lighting are as follows:
- Highlight Escape Routes: the emergency lighting illuminates exit routes and helps you to locate fire fighting equipment.
- Open Area Lighting: also known as ‘Panic Lighting’, Open Area Lighting keeps communal areas lit during a fire to reduce panic.
- High-Risk Task Area Lighting: provides light to shut down potentially dangerous processes in the event of a fire.
The British Standard recommends that you have a 3-hour emergency lighting test once a year. Turning off your main light circuit will allow you to monitor your emergency lighting to ensure that there are no faults. Alternatively, if 3 hours is too big of a time period for your business to have the main lighting switched off, it is suggested that you carry out 1-hour test twice a year instead.
Fire Safety Training
Above all, fire safety training is a must! All staff should know what to do in the event of a fire and new employees should be informed upon joining.
UK legislation requires all businesses to:
- Provide refresher training regularly (this is normally done annually).
- Provide fire safety training updates if there are any changes that could affect fire safety procedures (such as building alterations).
- Carry out regular fire drills.
- Appoint people as fire marshals (to be training by fire safety professionals) who do the following in the event of an alarm:
- Use fire extinguishers where needed.
- Make contact with the emergency services.
- Assist with the evacuation.
IMPORTANT: You must remember that while having the above resources and procedures in place, you cannot guarantee that a fire safety or evacuation procedure works unless you test it in practice. Fire drills and equipment checks are essential to ensure that you and your staff are prepared for a fire in the event that the worst does actually happen.
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