The Fire Safety Order
Since the days of William the Conqueror, who passed a royal decree that all fires be put out at night to prevent straw roofs and flooring from setting ablaze, fire safety has been a going concern for the authorities.
Many different sets of standardised fire safety regulations were introduced over the following centuries that ranged in detail and efficacy, with the 1938 FOC rules perhaps being the first to resemble current legislation.
This directive, the result of research carried out by the Building Research Board and the Fire Offices’ Committee (FOC) together, was not initially intended to result in regulation, just observational research. The findings were released in 1946, and expanded on in a 1952 report which detailed such areas as means of escape and more.
Other, scattered pieces of law, including the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997, were introduced largely as reactionary measures to particularly major fires, until 2005.
Fire Safety Order 2005
This was the year that saw the creation and development of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order; a bill that brought together the 70-or-so disparate bits and pieces of legislation in existence up to this point.
The focus of the Fire Safety Order is on non-domestic properties, and puts the responsibility of upholding correct fire safety procedure in the hands of employers, business owners, landlords and other responsible persons. The order details a minimum standard of practice in relation to this, and enforces those charged with executing it with performing risk assessment procedures so as to optimise safety for all employees and visitors to the premises.
Duty to take general fire precautions
8. (1) The responsible person must—
(a)take such general fire precautions as will ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of any of his employees; and
(b)in relation to relevant persons who are not his employees, take such general fire precautions as may reasonably be required in the circumstances of the case to ensure that the premises are safe.
One of the biggest specifications of the Fire Safety Order is the requirement of responsible persons to carry out a fire risk assessment.
The nature of the assessment varies slightly from one commercial property to another, but its principles remains largely the same:
- Identification of hazards
- Identification of those at risk
- An evaluation, removal or reduction of risks
- Recording of evaluation, preparation of evacuation plan and training
- Review and updating of assessment
The assessment must consider a number of factors related to fire safety. These include the installation and maintenance of fire safety equipment (alarms, extinguishers etc.), nominating emergency exits and assembly points, planning for the needs of vulnerable persons, ensuring safe storage procedures and keeping all staff well trained and informed of procedures.
Specific alterations and considerations must be made for potentially hazardous working environments, such as factories, warehouses and construction sites where flammable materials and sources of ignition are prevalent.
As a government-enforced directive, local fire and rescue authorities will be checking on the quality of risk assessments (or indeed if they’re being carried out at all), as well as offering advice and assistance regarding the best way to comply with the laws.
If your fire safety provision is deemed insufficient or substandard, the authorities will issue you a warning, suggesting improvements. If you fail to act on these suggestions, or if the initial discrepancy is serious enough to warrant it, then you will receive a formal fire safety notice.
There are a number of different types of formal notice you might receive. These include:
- Enforcement Notice: An enforcement notice will give you specific details about what needs to be improved along with a strict deadline.
- Alterations Notice: If the use of your premises changes in such a way that safety risks may be increased, an alterations notice will detail the changes to fire safety practice that needs to be made.
- Prohibition Notice: If the fire and rescue authorities deem your property to be a considerable fire risk, they can take steps to restrict or prohibit access.
Regular failure to comply with fire safety standards and any resulting notices can lead a £5,000 fine for minor discrepancies, and an unlimited fine or even prison time for more serious offences. All notices can be challenged within 21 days of receiving them by appealing at your local magistrates’ court.