Does Fire Safety Law Apply to Me or to My Premises?
In simple terms – if you are the ‘Responsible Person’ and the premises is a workplace or in any way open to the public, then the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, 2005 applies. It also applies to multi-occupied rental properties and to the common parts of blocks of flats.
If you are responsible for a premises, the law requires you to make sure it is safe in terms of its ‘General Fire Precautions’. If you do not do this and someone is hurt or injured by a fire, then you can expect to be prosecuted. In fact, if you do not do it, and the risk is considered serious, you can be prosecuted without a fire actually even happening. This is quite a common occurrence and the penalties can be severe. This is not to alarm you unnecessarily – in cases of less serious deficiencies the enforcing authority, usually the local Fire Service, will work with you and allow time for matters to be remedied without taking formal action. ‘General Fire Precautions’ is a catch-all phrase that summarises the detailed requirements covered in other articles, but put simply, it means that your premises should have, to the extent necessary:
- An adequate fire alarm (and possibly automatic detection) system
- Suitable exit routes and fire exits
- The correct type and number of fire extinguishers
- Fire safety signs and notices
- Suitable controls of ignition sources and fire hazards
- Measures to restrict the spread of fire
- An effective emergency plan
- Staff that are adequately trained
- A Fire Risk Assessment should have been completed
This is where it gets a little more complicated because what is deemed acceptable varies greatly depending on the size, type, use and construction of the premises. A detailed knowledge of the various CLG Fire Safety Guides is a good starting point, but then there are British Standards, Building Regulations, Codes of Practice, NFCC Guidance and a host of other documents and guides that recommend appropriate measures. In short – if you do not have detailed knowledge and experience then it is highly unlikely you could establish the necessary measures in all but a small and simple premises.
If you are responsible for a premises that is Licensed under another enactment, e.g. a Licensed Pub / Restaurant/ Place of Entertainment / House in Multiple Occupation,etc; then you must record your risk assessment regardless of the number of employees.
It is your responsibility to ensure that any person you appoint to carry out fire safety duties is ‘competent’. That is defined as ‘a person with the necessary skills, knowledge or experience’. Whilst everyone accepts this when looking for an electrician or alarm engineer for instance, the same applies to your Fire Risk Assessor. Many people have a go at doing their own – perhaps encouraged by the availability of tick box style forms on the internet. I would always advise against this except for the smallest and lowest risk premises where the consequences of a poor risk assessment are unlikely to endanger anyone. Take time to question your potential risk assessor – your risk assessor takes on some legal responsibility after carrying out the assessment, but you cannot avoid responsibility if you did not exercise reasonable diligence in choosing the right person.