Mr Fire Safety Ltd
Fire Blog - Business fire safety
You have a great idea and this is the year you turn your dreams into a reality. You’re going to start your own business! Each year around 600,000 new businesses register with Companies House; that’s just about one new start-up every minute in the UK.
You have an excellent Business Plan and the support of your family, friends (and possibly the bank manager). But it’s not all plain sailing, believe me I’ve been there, and quite recently at that. There’s a long list of things to deal with, from finances and cashflow to insurance, appointing staff, paying them a fair wage and retaining them into the future, premises, transport, suppliers, advertising, marketing, not to mention attracting customers; the list is almost endless. And somewhere, deep into the list is fire safety.
Every decent business owner wants to ensure that staff and clients are provided with a safe working environment, but aren’t always sure exactly what they need to do. None of us want to fall foul of the law or the enforcement authorities. In these days of litigation, the prospect of spending time in prison as a result of starting your dream business probably isn’t very appealing. And a fire affecting your new premises is more than likely going to result in your business failing; 80% of businesses affected by fire never fully recover.
So, what do you need to do to ensure that your staff are working in a fire-safe environment, and that you are complying with fire regulations; and where can you get help?
Broadly speaking, every business or other non-domestic premises must comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. You’re responsible for fire safety in business or other non-domestic premises if you are:
· an employer
· the owner
· the landlord
· an occupier
· anyone else with control of the premises, (a facilities manager, building manager, managing agent).
You are designated as the ‘responsible person’. If there’s more than one responsible person, for example in a multiple occupied building, you have to work together to meet your responsibilities.
The Fire Safety Order also applies if you have paying guests, for example, if you run a bed and breakfast, guesthouse or let a self-catering property.
As the responsible person, you must:
- carry out a fire risk assessment of the premises and review it regularly
- tell staff or their representatives about the risks you’ve identified
- put in place, and maintain, appropriate fire safety measures
- plan for an emergency
- provide staff information, fire safety instruction and training
Fire Risk Assessment
The cornerstone of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 is fire risk assessment. In a small premises this may be straightforward enough and you can use any one of the free “templates” available on-line. But as you employ more people, or your premises is not small, you might not have all of the knowledge you need to carry out the assessment to a level considered “suitable and sufficient” by the fire authority. And where you have five or more staff you must keep a record of the “significant findings”. A good fire risk assessor can help here. They will consider the safety of your premises in relation to a wider range of issues including:
- emergency exit routes and signage
- fire separation and compartmentation
- fire detection and warning systems
- firefighting equipment
- safe storage of dangerous substances
- an emergency fire evacuation plan
- testing and maintenance regimes
- the needs of vulnerable people, such as the elderly, young children or those with disabilities
- providing information to employees and other people on the premises
- staff fire safety training
There’s a lot to think about and despite the availability of extensive Government approved guidance on each business type, your interpretation of the rules might not be what is required.
Your next problem will be deciding what precautions are appropriate in your premises. This might appear simple on the face of it, but what you really want to achieve is appropriate precautions at a reasonable cost…not the highest level of protection regardless of the price you pay. Why spend £3000 on an addressable fire alarm and detection system if you only need to spend £500 on a simpler solution?
Then there’s fire safety training for your staff. Do you know enough to pass on to them, or even what they need to be told?
And what if I don’t comply with the Regulations?
Firstly, the fire authority will point you in the right direction, but they can’t give you prescriptive guidance as they did with previous fire safety law. But if you don’t then get things sorted to their timescales, and to their satisfaction, you might find yourself in court.
In October 2016, a rogue landlord was fined more than £160,000 for not providing adequate fire precautions in a flat in Chelsea. There were no fire doors, fire alarm or detection (Source ITV news).
In March 2016, a care home in Wearside was fined almost £400,000 for putting the lives of residents at risk. Following a fire at the home, officers discovered that fire doors were wedged open and fire extinguishers had been “condemned”. The company had also failed to implement the actions identified in their fire risk assessment, for example fitting automatic hold-open devices to fire doors to avoid the need to use wedges. (Sunderland Echo).
In November 2015, the owner of a hotel in Devon, was handed a six-month jail sentence after admitting seven breaches of fire safety rules. When inspectors investigated, they immediately issued a prohibition notice shutting it down until the required improvements had been made. The following defects were found:
- Doors in the hotel were not fire resistant.
- Electrics were dangerous.
- Safety evacuation procedures were inadequate.
- Emergency lights were not tested.
- Alarms were faulty.
- A fire door was blocked with a wooden plinth, whilst another was left open with a hook on the wall.
- Fire doors were unable to open or close properly.
- There was inadequate firefighting equipment.
Judge Philip Wassell said: "A fire would have spread really quickly in the premises. This hotel was so dangerous that I don't see myself with any other option than to impose a custodial punishment." (Torquay Gazette).
Of course, in the event that things go wrong and you cannot show that your fire risk assessment was appropriate, you might ultimately find yourself facing charges of “corporate manslaughter”.
For a new or expanding business fire safety can take a lot of time to get right – but it’s a necessary part of your business continuity planning.
The good news is that we are here to help, providing our clients with considered advice and clear guidance, delivered by one of our highly regarded and experienced consultants.
At Mr Fire Safety Ltd we specialise in helping business to stay safe and legally compliant. Call 01743 510236, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact us through our website, www.mrfiresafety.uk for a chat about your requirements.
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