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Guide to Fire Safety in the UK

What Employers Need to Know

Label Bar has put together this guide to make it as easy as possible for employers to ensure that their workplace is up to the legal standards. Not only does following legal standards protect employers from fines, it protects your employees and your business as a whole. The UK has had a steady decrease in workplace fires over the years; let’s keep this going as long as possible!

Fire Safety Laws – The Fire Safety Regulatory Reform Order (2005)
Firstly, it is important to note that any employer is expected to meet the requirements of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Who enforces Fire Safety laws in the reform order?
It is the remit of fire authorities to enforce fire safety regulations on non-domestic premises. With inspections and responses to fire safety complaints, they will constantly look to target and reform any business with less-than-adequate fire safety management.

What happens if your business is found to not meet the Fire Safety Order? Unless the situation is very serious, the fire safety authority is much more likely to help and advise you with your fire safety management. If the risk is very serious, you will receive a formal notice from them. If the risk is high enough, they can prevent a business from performing any high risk activities. What these activities are depends on your business, your staff and your premises. You will have the opportunity to appeal these orders

Types of businesses in which the 2005 Fire Reform Order applies:
-    Factories
-    Warehouses
-    Tents/Marquees
-    Public houses and clubs
-    Restaurants and cafés
-    Community halls
-    Places of worship
-    Offices
-    Shops
-    Hospitals and care homes
-    Communal spaces in shared housing

This reform was a clarification on the 2001 Act, which was too confusing for many businesses to follow. Instead, the 2005 fire safety reform simplifies this by stating that anyone with some control over the workplace premises has to make reasonable steps to reduce the risk of fire, as well as plan for an emergency, ensuring that all persons can escape in the event of a fire. This applies to anyone in the workplace, but there are more responsibilities for the ‘responsible person’ (explanation of responsible person and their duties below).

The Responsible Person
If you are the owner or the boss of the owned or rented business property, you are completely responsible for the workplace’s fire safety. The responsible person is responsible for the following:
-    Regularly assessing the fire risk for the entire workplace,
-    Informing staff/employees if and when you discover any fire safety risks,
-    Organise, implement and maintain fire safety precautions,
-    Ensure that adequate emergency planning is in place (this includes fire drills),
-    They must ensure that everyone, visitors and staff, can escape the workplace safely should a fire occur,
-    Train your staff so that they are aware of fire risks and ready for potential fires.
The responsible person may delegate these tasks to someone else, but they still retain the responsibility and culpability for meeting the fire safety order’s criteria.

Note on fire certificates: Fire authorities used to issue fire certificates, and many business still consider their certificates to be valid. This is not the case. Fire certificates no longer apply and any previously issued certificates provide absolutely no legal status. However, your fire certificate may still be a good starting point to guide you in your duties as a ‘responsible person’.

Guidelines for the requirements of the Fire Safety Regulatory Reform order of 2005

  1. Identify the hazards/risks in your workplace:
    o    Identify naked flames, heaters, and other possible ignition sources
    o    Identify any sources of fuel for fire, such as materials, paper, and textiles—anything in bulk that would burn well.
    o    Identify sources of oxygen that might further fuel the fire, such as air conditioning.
  2. Identify any people (staff and visitors) at risk:
    o    Identify if anyone is isolated in the building.
    o    Identify if anyone is working near any of the fire dangers listed above.
    o    Identify anyone that may require assistance or supervision: elderly people, sick/injured people, people with a disability, children and parents with infants or toddlers. 
  3. Evaluate risk and implement changes:
    o    Using the information from the above two steps, remove or make safe any fire hazards. Where this isn’t possible, reduce the risks and provide adequate fire safety equipment and warning labels and signs. 
    o    Remove or replace highly flammable materials with safer, less flammable materials.
    o    Divide and isolate flammable materials from any sources of ignition.
    o    Instigate and enforce a responsible, safe smoking policy. 

Further safety measures

After steps 1-3 have been carried out, you will need to provide more general fire precautions. It just isn’t possible for us to imagine every possible business set-up, the following guide is a working, general guide only, and it only fits for most business types. If your business has any specialist fire safety requirements, it is your responsibility to diagnose them and to address them independently.

Fire Alarms – you must have a working fire alarm with adequate fire detection and warning capabilities. There’s no point in having a sensitive alarm if it’s not loud enough to warn your whole building. Conversely there’s no point having the loudest alarm in the world if the smoke sensor can barely pick up the smoke until it’s too late.

Fire-fighting Equipment – you must provide a means to fight fires. A fire extinguisher is the best way to do this. There are four standard types of fire extinguisher, each geared towards handling a specific type of fire.

Water fire extinguishers have two thin white lines running horizontally along to their top. They are best used on dry fires, such as paper, wood and fires where solid material is burning. DO NOT USE a water fire extinguisher on electrical, metal or liquid fires!

Powder fire extinguishers have one thick blue line running horizontally along their top. They are best used on electrical fires. DO NOT USE a powder fire extinguisher on metal fires!

Foam fire extinguishers have one thick white line running horizontally along their top. They are best used on liquid fires. DO NOT USE a foam fire extinguisher on electrical or metal fires!

Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers have one thick black line running horizontally along their top. They are best when used on electrical and liquid fires. DO NOT USE a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher on metal fires!

You will also need to maintain your fire extinguisher by servicing it regularly. You can get fire extinguisher labels from Label Bar. Using labels and staying on top of your fire extinguisher maintenance is a great way to keep yourself right, protecting your people and premises from fire and yourself from any fire safety fines. 

Escape Routes

It is important to ensure that you have as many escape routes as possible from several parts of your workplace premises, though this isn’t always possible. If there is only one route out, you might need to make it fire resistant, securing it as a safe exit. The travel distance is the distance is defined as the distance from the far side of the room to the escape, which could outside or just to a fire-safe stairway. The travel distance needs to be as short as possible.

If there is only one exit, the travel distance depends on the fire risk of the work area:
-    In normal work areas, the it should be less than 45m
-    In areas with areas that are a high fire risk, it should be less than 25m
-    In areas where the fire risk is very low, it must be less than 60m

Keep your escape route (corridors, stairways, exits) clear of obstructions and flammable material, and the final area people find themselves in should be safe. If the exit isn’t itself safe from fire, then it should be 25m or less to safety.

If your workplace provides care or sleeping facilities for people, or if you have any disabled employees, then you are required to go to even further lengths to secure safe fire escapes. You can read more about all of this here.

Fire Doors shouldn’t require a key to open. They should be easy to open for anyone that isn’t particularly strong or perhaps if they are physically disabled. You may need panic bar doors if you have many people in your workplace.

Things to MAKE SURE

-    Make sure you have suitable fire safety signs and labels if you need them.
-    Make sure you have emergency lighting if it is required.
-    Make sure you train your staff to be ready for a fire.
-    Make sure you have a system that allows you to maintain your fire safety levels.

4)    Record the dangers and people at risk. Plan how to fix or accommodate these problems. Record what you’ve actually done to make your place safe. Recording everything you do to make your place fire safe is important, as it lets you have a more reflective, intelligent process. Records also serve as proof for inspectors, as it shows that you are addressing problem; they are evidence that you have gone to reasonable lengths to make your place fire safe for anyone in your workplace.

In your records, include a detailed emergency plan that is tailored specific for your workplace.

5)    Review your fire risk assessment regularly, make sure it is still valid. If things change, you need to be able to change your fire safety set up and emergency plan. Things that might alter your situation:
  • The number of people using your workplace may change
  • The type of people using your workplace may change
  • You may store new, flammable materials
  • There may be different hours, such as a night shift, that requires alternative planning.