It's now been six years since the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (commonly called the "Fire Safety regs) came into effect. The new legislation superseded seventy individual fire safety acts, thereby simplifying their enforcement and compliance. The act applies to all non-residential premises in England and Wales, but additionally it also includes shared areas in blocks of flats (stairways and corridors for example) and houses that have multiple occupants. |
The act applies to anyone that has responsibility for any business premises, charities and voluntary organisations, accommodations with paying guests and any facility or location that is open to the general public. One of the most important aspects of the new act was the shifting responsibility that it embodied. Prior to 2006 the local Fire Authority would conduct a risk assessment for commercial buildings in England and Wales. This changed with the new act and the burden was passed on to the individual in charge of the property.
There is an absolute legal requirement to have in place a fire risk assessment. There is no such thing as a "low risk" industry when it comes to fire and anybody that is responsible for a property that doesn't have an up to date, suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment is committing an offence. A competent and responsible person must carry out an adequate assessment of risk and put in place a management plan.
There's always a great deal of disquiet in the UK when Health and Safety is mentioned. There seems to be a consensus that as a nation we are overregulated and are expected to adhere to senseless, pedantic laws. However in 2010 to 2011 according to the communities.gov.uk website there were 388 fire related deaths in Great Britain. In addition to the Human costs there is the massive cost to the economy at large to consider. The loss of property, loss of work and general disruption can cost hundreds of million a year.
So as a responsible person what do you have to do? Well first off you need to conduct a Fire Risk Assessment. This can be a daunting prospect for someone who isn't familiar with the process and while not simple it can be performed by anyone. There are five stages to a Fire Risk Assessment.
1. What are the Hazards? Have you got anything on your premises that could start a fire? Have you got anything that can burn? Paper, packaging, debris. Or does your work involve using fuels and solvents? Do you weld? Are your staff smokers?
2. Who's at risk? To an extent everyone is obviously at risk but is there anyone especially in danger? They may be new members of staff, disabled workers or someone working particularly close to a hazard.
3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions: OK what have you found when doing steps 1 and 2? Are there any particular hazards that you've discovered? Do you store solvents next to a store of paper? Do any of the staff nearby smoke? Who would be at risk most? It's at this point you consider how you'll manage the risk. It may be a change in process. Do you need to use flammable material in the course of your business? There may be a non-flammable alternative to using a solvent, you could store paper and packaging away from a main building or ban smoking. This step is all about eliminating risks if at all possible if it isn't then how do you manage them?
4. Record and implement your findings: This next step is about showing that a proper check was made, that you looked at all potential hazards and who might be affected by them, you've taken reasonable precautions to reduce any risks and that you've involved everyone that may be affected in the process. You must make your risk assessment accessible and ensure that everyone is aware of your findings. What is your plan in the event of a fire? Do any staff members need special training?
5. Review your Fire Risk Assessment: Finally you need to regularly review your Risk Assessment. This needs to be done in response to any changes to your business. Have you taken on new staff? Substantially more work? Is there a change to shift patterns? Do you use different chemicals?
The risk assessment is your starting point. It tells you what the dangers are and helps you decide how you'll manage them. From that you need to develop a regime that significantly reduces the risks that you face and, in the worst case scenario of a fire actually starting gives you the tools and strategy to make sure all of your staff and customers are safe. Are all of your fire extinguishers appropriate and regularly maintained? Do your alarms work? Are all of your fire exits clearly marked and unobstructed? How often do you schedule drills and what training have you given your staff to fulfil their responsibilities?
Of all of the Health and safety burdens that are placed on companies Fire Safety is by far the most important. This goes beyond a moral and legal obligation. Make sure that your Fire Risk Assessments are all up to date and that you have a clear plan in place should the worse happen. Alpha Safety Solutions is happy to give businesses free advice on how businesses can protect themselves and their stake holders.
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