Fire Safety – Health and Safety
Every year people die or are seriously injured as a result of fires in non-domestic properties. Besides the human risk, fire costs UK business millions of pounds due to property damage, fines, compensation, and insurance premiums. Many businesses find that they are not able to recover from the effects of a fire.
UK fire safety legislation places emphasis on preventing fires and reducing risk. Anyone who has some control over premises must take reasonable steps to reduce the likelihood of fire and make sure people can safely escape if there is a fire. The regulations apply to virtually all non-domestic premises in the United Kingdom; in England and Wales the communal areas (common parts) of blocks of flats, are also included.
If you are an employer or have control over the premises or activities that take place on the premises, then you have responsibilities under fire safety legislation. It is your duty to ensure the safety of the people in the premises.
In the case of people who are not employers but have control over premises, the extent of your responsibility will depend on the extent of your control. As this can be a complicated issue, it is sensible for organisations to identify clearly who is responsible for what.
UK fire safety legislation has slight regional variations which result in different terms used for the person on whom the legislation imposes fire safety duties. In England and Wales this person is known as the ‘Responsible Person’, in Scotland the term ‘Duty Holder’ is often used, while the term ‘Appropriate Person’ is often used in Northern Ireland.
Application of Fire Safety Legislation
The law applies to:
- A person controlling the premises.
- An employer or self-employed person.
- A person responsible for a part of a dwelling that is used for business purposes.
- A charitable or voluntary organisation.
- A contractor with a responsibility for maintenance of any premises or, for example, the fire protection measures in the premises. Contractors and consultants carrying out fire risk assessments also have duties under the legislation.
- A person providing accommodation for paying guests.
- The owner or managing agent of a block of flats in England and Wales.
In any building where there is more than one Responsible Person, they must all work together to co-operate, co-ordinate and share information with others as far as is necessary to comply with regulations.
Duties of the Responsible Person
Legislation says that an employer, or a person having control over premises, is responsible for the safety of everyone who might lawfully be on your premises. This includes employees, visitors or members of the public in the immediate vicinity of your premises (i.e. at an open-air entertainment venue) who might be affected by a fire.
The Responsible Person, either on their own or with any other Responsible Person, must do their best to make sure that everyone on the premises, or nearby, can escape safely if there is a fire. Particular attention should be paid to people who may have a disability or anyone who may need special help.
The Responsible Person must address the following issues:
- Ensuring that a Fire Risk Assessment is carried out to identify possible hazards and risks.
- The general fire precautions.
- The principles of fire prevention.
- Fire safety arrangements, fire safety policy and procedures.
- Take account of those particularly at risk, i.e. very young people; those with special needs or disabilities; and people working with dangerous substances such as flammable liquids.
- Provide suitable arrangements to warn people of a fire in the building such as, a Fire Detection and Alarm (FD&A) system.
- Eliminate or reduce risk from dangerous substances (chemicals etc.).
- Consider additional emergency measures in respect of dangerous substances.
- Provide adequate means of escape in the case of a fire such as sufficient and suitable fire exits; fire doors and compartments; signs, notices and emergency lighting.
- Take measures for fire fighting e.g. fire extinguishers.
- Ensuring that an effective fire emergency plan is followed in the event of a fire.
- The maintenance of all fire safety systems and equipment.
- Ensuring the capabilities of employees who are given special tasks in terms of fire safety and fire procedures, and provide training to all employees and others who may need it.
- Regular review of all these processes and amend if necessary.
Fire Risk Assessment
At the core of the legislation lies the Fire Risk Assessment. This is an organised appraisal of your premises to enable you to identify potential fire hazards and those who might be in danger in the event of fire and their location. You should evaluate the risks arising from the hazards and decide whether the existing fire precautions are adequate and identify any measures that need to be taken to further remove or reduce the fire risk.
Fire authorities no longer issue fire certificates and those previously in force have no legal status. However, any fire certificates issued in the few years before the new legislation came into force may be a good starting point for your fire risk assessment. If your premises has been designed, built and approved in accordance with Building Regulations, then the fire precautions forming part of the structure, such as fire doors, fire alarms and emergency lighting, should be acceptable. However, it is critical that these and other elements of the fire precautions are relevant to the risks and hazards. These other elements include the use of the building; the provision of fire fighting equipment; the training of personnel and the management and maintenance of all fire precautions.
If your organisation employs five or more people; or your premises are licensed; or an alterations notice is in force you must record the significant findings of the assessment. But it is good practice to record your significant findings in any case.
It is important that the person carrying out the fire risk assessment is competent to do it. The law requires that where employers delegate this task to employees they must take into account their capability. Legal liability may arise on the part of both the Responsible Person and the fire risk assessor if the fire risk assessment is inadequate and people are placed at risk of serious injury or death in the event of fire.
Structural and Passive Fire Protection
Structural and passive fire protection is the primary measure integrated within the constructional fabric of a building to provide inherent fire safety and protection. In the event of fire, these measures will provide the fundamental requirements of structural stability, fire separation through building compartmentation and safe means of escape.
Various structural and passive fire protection measures may be necessary to limit and control the spread of flame, heat and smoke from a fire. The following are some of the measures that need to be considered:
- Structural steel protection.
- Fire walls and partitioning.
- Fire and smoke curtains.
- Fire rated ductwork and dampers.
- Fire doors.
- Fire resistant glazing.
- Intumescent sealing systems.
- Cavity fire barriers.
- Fire stopping or seals for penetration of fire barriers.
Fire Alarm and Detection Systems
A fire in your premises must be detected quickly and a warning given, allowing people to escape safely.
Fire can be detected by people and manual fire detection may be all that is required. However an automatic fire detection and alarm system is normally considered necessary in the following buildings/situations:
- Buildings in which people sleep.
- Covered shopping complexes and large or complex places of assembly.
- Buildings with phased evacuation.
- In compensation for a reduction in standards of certain other fire protection measures (e.g. extended travel distance or reduction in the fire resistance of construction protecting the escape route).
- In lieu of vision between an inner room and its associated access room.
- As a means of automatically operating other fire protection measures such as closing fire doors, the release of electronically locked doors or initiation of smoke control systems.
- An appropriate FD&A system will warn everyone in the building at the earliest opportunity so that they can exit the building or follow other instructions that are issued, and to also alert the Fire Brigade to allow early intervention. The FD&A system may be connected to other systems or equipment for the automatic control of fire protection measures, e.g. fire dampers or fixed extinguishing systems.
Means Of Escape
When considering the likely consequences of fire, the fire risk assessor needs to take into account the effects of fire on escape routes; considering how quickly fire could be detected, how quickly it may grow; how it could affect the escape routes; and how quickly people in the building are likely to respond to an alarm.
In general, adequate means of escape are provided if people can immediately, or within a short distance of travel, turn their back on any fire and move away from it to a final exit along smoke-free escape routes.
It is important to consider how many people will use the escape route and make arrangements for disabled or elderly people. The escape route should be as short as possible and the impact of a blocked escape route must be considered. Emergency lighting and escape route signage should be installed and all employees must be informed and trained in how to escape the building.
There are several critical factors in the assessment of means of escape:
- Maximum distance occupants must travel to reach a place of relative or ultimate safety such as an exit to a protected stairways or a final exit.
- Avoidance of long dead ends in which escape is only possible in one direction.
- Number, distribution and width of story exits and final exits.
- Means of protecting the escape routes from ingress or build up of smoke that might prevent occupants escaping.
- Ability of occupants to use the escape routes especially arrangements for people with disabilities.
In large or complex buildings, the advice of specialists on the adequacy of means of escape will often be necessary.
Self contained emergency lights with the battery and charger built into the light fitting are commonly used. In large buildings central systems may be used where the batteries and charger are remote from the light fittings.
In some cases an emergency light doubles as an internally illuminated exit sign. However it is not recommended to simply stick an exit sign over an emergency light fitting as this will probably reduce the light output and so may become ineffective as an emergency light.
There should be a simple method of testing the emergency lights without interfering with the normal lighting from the consumer unit.
Signs and Notices
In order for occupants, particularly those who are unfamiliar with the building, to use the building safely, there is normally a need to provide fire exit signs to direct people towards alternative means of escape. It is therefore important to consider the adequacy of such signage in the fire risk assessment.
The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 requires that these signs incorporate the appropriate pictogram. Guidance on escape routes signs is given in BS 5499-4.
In the course of the fire risk assessment, there is also a need to consider whether other forms of fire safety signs and notices are necessary, and whether existing signs are adequate. Examples include:
- Safe condition signs, e.g. indicating the use of escape hardware.
- Signs on fire doors indicating the need for doors to be shut, kept locked shut or kept clear as appropriate.
- Other mandatory signs such as those indicating the need to keep a fire exit clear.
- Fire equipment signs primarily where equipment is hidden from direct view, e.g. fire extinguishers.
- No smoking signs.
- Fire procedure notices.
Fire Fighting Equipment and Facilities
Your risk assessment may identify the need for fire fighting equipment such as:
- Portable fire extinguishers
- Fire blankets
- Fire buckets
- Hose reels
- Sprinkler systems
- Water mist systems
- Waters pray systems
- Gaseous fixed fire extinguishing systems
- Foam systems
- Powder systems
- Kitchen fire suppression systems
- Facilities for use by fire fighters including fire mains, fire fighting lifts and fire fighters switches for high voltage
- illuminated signs
Fire Safety Maintenance
UK Fire safety legislation requires that the responsible person must ensure that the premises and any protective measures are subject to a suitable system of maintenance. Maintenance is essential for any equipment but particularly for safety critical uses such as fire safety equipment. All protective measures for fire safety must be safe, reliable, efficient, effective and ready for use at all times. The maintenance system should cover all fire safety equipment, systems and facilities such as, fire detection and alarm systems; means of escape; emergency lighting; signs; notices and fire fighting equipment.
Fire Safety Training
You must provide adequate training for your staff. The type of training will depend on the premises but should:
- Reflect the findings of the fire risk assessment.
- Explain your emergency procedures.
- Explain the duties and responsibilities of staff.
- Take place in normal working hours and be repeated periodically.
- Be easily understandable by staff.
- Be tested by fire drills.
The responsibilities of staff will include, for example, a weekly test of the fire detection and alarm system by operating a manual call point. In small premises, showing new staff the fire exits and giving basic training on what to do if there’s a fire should be adequate. However, in larger premises with a high staff turnover and shift patterns, staff training should involve:
- The general fire precautions in the premises.
- What to do on discovering a fire.
- How to raise the alarm.
- What to do when you hear an alarm.
- Procedures for alerting members of the public and visitors.
- Arrangements for calling the emergency services.
- Evacuation procedures.
- Location and use of fire fighting equipment.
- The location of emergency exits.
- The importance of keeping fire doors closed.