06 Jul Have confidence your workplace is fire safe!
This week, the government published its Building Safety Bill with the aim of bringing about far-reaching changes to the way high-rise residential buildings are developed and managed. The new rules are heavily based on the recommendations of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, which came about in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster in London in 2017, where 72 people lost their lives.
Images of Grenfell Tower in flames, and the communities and families it left devastated, will remain imprinted on our minds for years to come. Fortunately, such tragedies are rare, but every business owner or landlord is required by law to have fulfilled certain obligations to ensure they have prevented, and prepared for, this worst-case scenario – in the hope of avoiding any fire, big or small.
So, what are your obligations when it comes to fire safety in the workplace?
As an employer, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 sets out the requirements for every business owner to follow in a commercial property. The objective is to reduce avoidable fires and ensure employees are safeguarded in emergency situations.
If you do not meet your legal requirements, you could face penalties and enforcements, which can range from a fine of £2,500 up to two years in prison. A fire, of course, could be much more costly, and many businesses fail to resume activity if they have suffered one.
Here we outline the steps you are required to take to keep your employees and workplace safe, and keep on the right side of the law:
Assign a person responsible for fire safety
This is the very first step. You must designate yourself as responsible for fire safety or delegate the role to someone in your team. This person must be able to carry out a risk assessment of your business and premises, and ensure relevant safety measures are in place to reduce the risk, prevent and manage fire. If you don’t have a competent person able to carry out this task, you can bring in an external professional to carry out this job on your behalf.
Carry out a Fire Risk Assessment
A Fire Risk Assessment, usually carried out by the person responsible for fire safety, identifies vulnerable areas or people at risk within your business and premises, and introduces measures to help remove or reduce these risks. It is good general practice to ensure your premises and facilities are compliant and up to date with fire, building, electrical and gas regulations, etc., as if you keep on top of your compliance requirements, then you’ll already be on your way to completing your Fire Risk Assessment.
You should update your Fire Risk Assessment annually to make sure your existing fire safety measures still serve their purpose and you should always keep a written record of any changes or updates you make. Examples of such updates may involve regular inspection of your electrical equipment (looking out for fraying cords or overloaded circuits), ensuring your emergency exits are still sufficient for your workforce, and checking that dangerous substances are safely stored.
Install, maintain and test the necessary fire prevention and fighting equipment
As part of your risk assessment, you’ll have reviewed whether you have adequate safety measures in place to minimise the danger of fire. So, in this next step, you’re required to install safety equipment as specified in your risk assessment, such as water sprinklers, fire extinguishers and blankets, fire alarms, smoke detectors, emergency lighting and signage.
However, as with most equipment in life, it’s no good having something if it doesn’t work! Maintenance and testing are crucial, as is training and experience in using such equipment. For example, fire alarm testing is advised weekly and if you’ve got fire extinguishers, your staff should know how to use them.
Remember to keep a record of when your equipment is maintained and tested.
Train and inform your staff
It is a legal requirement to train each new member of your team, so they are aware of fire risks and how to manage them. Training schemes must also be updated over time to take into consideration changing numbers of staff, different business premises, and new machinery, etc. A detailed log should be kept of all staff training and updates.
Make an evacuation plan & carry out fire drills
As part of your Fire Risk Assessment, you’ll be expected to provide a written Disaster Plan where you set out exactly how an evacuation in the case of fire would proceed. Alongside your Evacuation Plan, you’re expected to carry out fire drills, ideally every 3-6 months, depending on your type and size of business.
Fire drills are an excellent way of checking that your fire prevention measures, evacuation plan and staff training are still appropriate and work! When physically carrying out the drill it will be easier to check if fire doors can be opened and shut, as required, if signage clearly marks escape routes, if passageways are unobstructed and accessible, if emergency lighting is functional and if the fire assembly meeting point is safe.
Don’t forget to make plans for staff or clients with special needs or mobility issues and to record any improvements or updates that come to light after fire drills.
Fire safety, at home and work, is crucial, and individuals, be they builders, business owners or landlords, can expect stricter regulations and enforcement to ensure we all work towards reducing the risk of fire.
The steps listed above will help keep your employees safe and your business functioning without interruption. You’ll also have peace of mind that your legal obligations have been fulfilled and your company compliance is in order.
If you need any support in making sure your business is compliant with fire safety requirements, please contact the team at KCS Compliance Services.