In a previous post, which can be read here, we looked at the primary piece of health and safety legislation, The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This enabling act provides power for the Government to improve health and safety through additional pieces of legislation called Regulations.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 is the primary piece of regulation within the act which specifically looks at fire safety. The Order came into force on the 1st October 2006 and it replaces most fire safety legislation with one simple order. Prior to the order, fire safety in the UK was covered by approximately 60 pieces of separate legislation which made it very difficult and long winded to comply with.
It applies to all non-domestic premises (with few exceptions) and says that any person who has some control in a premises must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire and make sure people can safely escape in an emergency situation.
So this includes shops, offices, factories, warehouses, community halls, care homes, schools, pubs, restaurants, hotels, and, crucially, rental properties. If you are self employed and use a building including your own home for your business, it applies to you and your home. If you are a contractor and have temporary control over a building you also can be deemed responsible for that structure. The only place the order doesn’t include is you own private dwelling.
The order shifted the onus of fire safety from The Fire Service directly onto industry itself. No longer would the fire service issue Fire Safe Certificates of your premises and although they are still responsible for enforcing the legislation, the compliance is down to each individuals business.
To do this business must nominate a Responsible Person (RP).
This is the person who has control, or a degree of control in the premises in question and who will take responsibility in complying with the legislation. Depending on the commercial arrangement in place this could be a business owner, a landlord, a manager or a self-employed person. It is important to remember that in some situations there will be more than one RP within the whole premises. For example in a shared office block, the landlord must have an RP who will be responsible for the common areas and the structure of the building (because this is the bit the the landlord takes care of) but each individual tenants must also appoint an RP to be responsible for the areas they lease (because this is the bit they take care of). The RP’s in this situation should work together as closely as possible but the areas for which they are responsible should also be clearly defined.
Compliance with the regulation can be broadly seen as two-fold.
The responsible person must take all the reasonable steps to ensure the fire safety of the premises. In order to do this a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment is needed to identify the hazards, the people at risk and the necessary control measures.
Under the order, anybody who is competent enough can complete a fire risk assessment, so the RP can complete it themselves. However in higher risk areas or in situations when the RP has no background knowledge of fire safety, a trained Fire Risk Assessor should be used instead. Remember though, the RP is always responsible for making sure the assessment is done.
The findings of the fire risk assessment will determine how you should manage the fire risk in your premises.
If your premises have been designed and built in line with modern building regulations (and are being used in line with those regulations), your structural fire precautions should be acceptable. However if you aren’t keeping up with maintenance, servicing, staff training or correct use of equipment your assessment will highlight areas for improvement. Older buildings, or those which are being used for what they were not originally designed for provide a particularly difficult challenge when managing fire safety. The building will often not meet building regulations and more creative, thoughtful risk management strategies need to be put in place.
In later posts we will expand on the order, and explain further in further detail how it should be met.