Changes to Fire Safety Law in the UK during 2006

 

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is responsible for Fire Safety legislation in the UK.

In May 2004 the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order was laid before Parliament for review and process. After several delays, it came into effect on 1st October 2006.

This piece of legislation is designed to roll up nearly all the preceding pieces of UK Fire Safety legislation into one comprehensive law. It's most significant actions in this respect are to repeal the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and to revoke the Fire Precautions (workplace) Regulation 1997. The latter represented a significant shift of emphasis of the law toward Risk Assessment and it is in this direction that the new Order continues.

Here is a brief summary of the significant parts of the Order that affect all of us who run a business or institution located in a building, based on the key words used and their meaning and significance:

Key words

Meaning and significance

Responsible Person

The person who owns or controls the business or premises. (Where two or more such persons share responsibility (ie Landlord / Tenant) they are obliged to co-operate.) This person is responsible for the safety of the Employees and other Relevant Persons by properly managing the following:  -

  • Fire Risk Assessment
  • Fire Safety Policy
  • Fire Procedures (such as evacuation)
  • Staff Training
  • Fire Drills
  • Means of Escape
  • Signs and Notices
  • Emergency Lighting
  • Fire Alarm
  • Fire Extinguishers
  • Fire Doors and Compartments

These terms are amplified below.

The Responsible Person must appoint one or more Competent Person(s) to assist in the delivery of the above.

Failure to carry out these responsibilities may result in Enforcement by the Enforcing Authority through the actions of an Inspector. Conviction of failing to comply may lead to a penalty consisting of a fine or up to two years imprisonment.

Competent Person

This could be an employee or an outside contractor (ie Fire Extinguisher Engineer). Competence is demonstrated through sufficient training, experience and knowledge. A Competent Person must be appointed to carry out Fire Fighting duties (where appropriate), contact the Emergency Services, and assist in evacuations. This person would typically be a "Fire Warden".

Employee

A broad term which can include sub contractors, self-employed and casual workers. The Responsible Person must consult employees on Fire Safety matters and provide them with information. An employee must not act in a way that endangers himself or others and must co-operate with the employer.

Relevant Person

Anyone other than an employee who may be on the premises or affected by an incident arising in the premises.

Enforcement

Failing to comply with the relevant articles of the Order may result in a fine or up to two years imprisonment.

Enforcing Authority

Usually the local Fire Brigade, but the HSE, MOD and Local Authority are also responsible for specialised establishments under their control.

Inspector

Usually the local Fire Officer. He may enter a premises (but not by force) to inspect, ask about the extent of the premises and the identity of the Responsible Person, inspect or copy Fire Safety Records, and take samples of certain materials.

Fire Risk Assessment

This is the central plank of the Order and must be formally recorded if the Responsible Person employs 5 or more people, or if the premises are licensed or the Inspector requires it. The Fire Risk Assessment must record significant findings and any action required as a result of the findings. It must be reviewed regularly and when any significant changes to the building or work activity occur.

Policy

There must be a policy in place which aims to minimise the risk of fire, reduce the spread of any fire, provide means of escape, and take preventative action.

Procedures

Procedures for dealing with a fire must be set up and recorded. They must identify circumstances that trigger the emergency procedure and give details of the evacuation and readmission drill. In addition measures must be identified to ensure that evacuation routes are clear, that Fire Extinguishers are provided and maintained, that employees are given appropriate instruction or Training, and that visitors are controlled and informed.

Records

Records should be kept of the Fire Risk Assessment, Fire Safety Policy, Procedures, Training, Drills, and Installation and Maintenance of Alarms, Emergency Lighting and Extinguishers.

Means of Escape

Must be provided and kept clear at all times. The Evacuation Route must be clearly marked with appropriate Signs.

Signs and Notices

Appropriate signs must be deployed to mark Evacuation routes, Fire Fighting Equipment and Fire Doors. Notices must be displayed reinforcing instructions to employees (Fire Action notice).

Fire Detection and Alarm

Appropriate Fire Detection and Alarm Systems shall be provided.

Emergency Lighting

Escape Routes must be provided with Emergency Lighting.

Fire Extinguishers

Appropriate Fire Fighting Equipment must be provided.

Staff Training

All Employees must be given adequate Fire Safety training (during normal working hours) when they commence employment and receive refresher training as appropriate, or when circumstances change which affect Fire Safety.

Fire Doors

Measures must be taken to reduce the risk of spread of fire. Fire resisting walls and doors must be kept in good order and the doors equipped with appropriate seals and self closing devices.

The Order is not always clear as to what is deemed "appropriate" regarding Fire Safety measures. However it is generally held that conformity with the relevant corresponding Regulation or British Standard will give adequate cover in most circumstances. These are: -

  • Safety Signs - The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996;  BS5499 part1 1990.
  • Fire Extinguishers - BS5306 part 3 (provision); BSEN3 (manufacture).
  • Fire Alarms - BS5839: part1 2002 (commercial) and part 6 2002 (HMO and domestic).
  • Emergency Lighting - BS5266 (buildings other than Places of Entertainment