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Fire Safety Roles and Responsibilities

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BCFA partner Citation provides some guidance on this issue for our members

Fire Safety doesn’t leap immediately to mind as a top priority for many companies. But as we all know, fire kills and even in the least severe of cases it can cause extensive damage to buildings which could put the company permanently out of business.

The latest national statistics and analysis provided by the Fire and Rescue Services in the United Kingdom state that in 2010-11, there were 388 fire-related deaths in Britain, 28 fewer than in 2009-10. Nineteen people died and there were 1,200 injuries in fires in buildings other than domestic dwellings. The highest number recorded was 1,096 deaths in 1979. Through the 1980s and 1990s there was a general downward trend. The 2010-11 figures are at the lowest level since the late 1950s, however, we must not get complacent when it comes to this destructive force.

It is not clear why there has been a general downward trend in fire related deaths but it can be perhaps attributed to better fire related legislation, greater awareness of fire and improved fire precautions.

The fire safety legislation in the UK changed on the 1st October 2006 with the introduction of “The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005” (RRO). This regulation places the responsibility for ensuring the health safety and welfare of employees and others on the employer. Consequently in order to comply with the legislation it is imperative that a responsible person in all organisations compile a written risk assessment outlining the hazards associated with fire from both work activities and hazards found within the workplace. (In Scotland the regulations are slightly different and are known as the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and the above responsibility is imposed on the employer.

Under the previous legislation a fire officer would generally provide you with a lot of free advice and direction, their approach is now less that of an advisor and more of an enforcer. The RRO places the onus on the “responsible person” to ensure that their premises are suitable, and give them ownership of the problem rather than rely on guidance and direction from fire officers.

So who is the responsible person? Where there is an employer, it will be the employer, but others also have duties placed upon them, and this is often overlooked. Many Landlords do not realise that the Order applies to them, as well as the occupiers of the premises. When a landlord/owner is responsible for a building occupied by more than one occupier, even in the case of flats and other residential property, they are responsible for ensuring compliance with those aspects that are not under the effective control of the occupiers, for example, public areas.

The Order also states “duties are also imposed on any other person for whom the workplace is to any extent, under his control”. It also states that “where a person has, by virtue of any contract or tenancy, an obligation of any extent in relation to the maintenance or repair of any premises, including anything in or on the premises; or the safety of any premises, that person is to be treated as the person who has control of the premises to the extent that his obligation so extends”.

In a nutshell, a person has “control” of premises if they have any repair or maintenance obligations or any responsibilities relating to safety. This could be the owner, the occupier or the managing agents. This means it is possible for a building to have more than one responsible person, for example, if a building owner lets out one floor to a tenant, then the building owner will be the responsible person for the whole building, except the floor let to the tenant. If there is more than one responsible person in any type of premises, there is a requirement that all must take reasonable steps to work with each other on aspects of fire safety.

Organisations and businesses can appoint competent individuals to undertake the assessment and implement the necessary fire precautions on their behalf, and indeed many do as it can save time, however the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the premises is safe lies with the employer.

The assessment should identify any key areas within your premises where a fire may develop and outline how the risks are controlled. For example, there should be a suitable means of detecting a fire in place, which gives adequate warning to all occupants of the building. The type of system will often vary and will need to be considered on a case-by-case basis, as it will depend on the size of the building, number of rooms within the premises, number of persons occupying the building, or whether the building is used for sleeping, out of hours work, etc. Any system that is installed into your premises whether it is a simple domestic type smoke alarm or a fully monitored system will need to be tested on a regular basis to ensure that it works when required. In order to demonstrate to any third party such as a fire officer, that the alarm is being tested, suitable written records should be maintained and kept in an accessible location.

Consideration should also be given within the assessment to how individuals will locate emergency escape routes and suitable signs that conform to BS5499 should be displayed in prominent locations around your premises directing people to the nearest safe exit, these signs should display the information in words and pictorially, unfortunately these may not always be seen clearly if the building was smoke logged and if necessary emergency lighting must be considered, especially in your reception area where most people are likely to be located.

When compiling your risk assessments it is important to look at all aspects of the premises especially if the building has mixed use. Fire safety within the home and within commercial property is an important issue for landlords, especially where unrelated occupiers, who live independently from one another, share common areas of the same building. I.e. domestic dwellings attached or above the commercial property.
This is known as a house of multiple occupations (HMO). This area of law is covered by both the Housing Act 2004 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

If your property is classed as a HMO it will be important to determine who is responsible for testing and maintaining the smoke alarms - the landlord, agent or tenant. If the agent/landlord is to be responsible, this should be noted in the management contract. If the tenant is to be made responsible then adequate warnings should be included in the letting agreement or in an additional notice such as the tenancy agreement. An inventory and the appliance operating instruction and emergency procedures information pack should also be provided outlining the responsibility that the tenant has regarding testing of the fire alarms and any other equipment.

In commercial premises, both the landlord and the tenant normally share these responsibilities. For example, in a multi-occupied office block housing a number of employers, all tenants have responsibilities for those parts of the premises used by their employees. The landlord or managing agent must ensure fire regulations are complied with in common corridors and staircases etc and are responsible for maintaining and checking shared fire safety equipment, such as a fire alarm system covering the whole building.

If you are classed as a landlord or managing agent and have domestic premises attached to your business it will be important to discuss all fire related issues with tenants this may include: -

• Ensuring all fire appliances that are placed in common areas are tested, maintained and positioned in the correct locations at all times.
• Ensuring that fire detection is provided in all areas of high risk. This may also include the domestic living quarters.
• Ensuring that the fire alarm system is tested and maintained at prescribed intervals and can be heard clearly within the premises. I.e. in commercial and domestic premises.
• Ensuring that all tenants are familiar with the evacuation procedure and what to do if the alarm is activated during and outside of business hours.
• Undertake regular fire drills. If it is deemed necessary within your risk assessment a fire drill will need to be undertaken outside of core business hours to ensure all tenants are involved.

One requirement of the RRO regulation is to liaise with any neighbouring businesses to ensure that they are aware of your hazards and how they are controlled by you as well as ensuring that they inform you of the hazards associated with their business. This way the risk of a fire should be reduced and your business should not suffer as a consequence.

In order to protect your business from being a victim of a fire it is important to follow simple safety rules:

• Test your fire alarm on a regular basis to ensure that it will work if necessary.
• Ensure everyone knows how to escape safely in the event of a fire.
• Ensure that simple safety procedures are in place when cooking or using any naked flames.

If you are unfortunate enough to have a fire within your premises:-

• Call the fire brigade.
• Get out and stay out.

Recommended by the BCFA as a supplier of Health & Safety and Employment Law compliance solutions Citation offer preferential rates to BCFA members. For further details call 0845 844 1111 or visit www.citation.co.uk/affinity/bcfa.  

TEL: 01494 896790

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