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Fire Safety Legislation

Fire can be devastating, but the effects of a fire related incident at a business premises, can cause major disruption for the business long after the fire itself. Whilst the application of some commonsense fire precautions can assist in minimising the likelihood of fires, employers have legal responsibilities too.

There are various regulations and requirements placed on businesses and business managers, amongst them are The Licensing Act 2003, The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 as amended by The Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amendment) Regulations 1999, The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

These Acts and Regulations all relate to the issue of fire and the safety of people in fire-related incidents. They place a legal requirement on business managers/owners to ensure the safety of staff and visitors alike. The penalties for failing to comply are varied but, for example, can be as high as 20,000 for any breach of sections 2 to 6 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act, so it is understandable that there is very high level of concern about fire safety.

The majority of Regulations require employers to undertake risk assessment that takes into consideration the risks to people who can reasonably be expected to come into contact with the workplace or activities associated with it.

Risk assessment requires employers to identify hazards and assess the risks associated with them. Significant risks must be controlled by the introductions of measures to minimise them if it is not reasonably practical to eliminate them totally. Risk assessments must be recorded. Employers may undertake fire risk assessments themselves if they are competent to do so. Alternatively they may wish to enlist the assistance of a competent external consultant.

Fire risk assessments require employers to identify potential fire hazards. The first part of the process will involve looking at the fire triangle and establishing whether the three essential ingredients (ignition source, fuel and oxygen) are adequately segregated to avoid fires occurring or spreading if they do. Secondly, it is necessary to establish how people might escape from the premises in the event of an outbreak of fire. This requires employers to consider the escape route, ensuring it is adequately lit, signed, clear of obstructions and free from other hazards.

Once this has been done it is necessary to evaluate the risks associated with the findings. At this point it will be necessary to identify control measures if it is not possible to totally eliminate risks. To comply with the legal requirements to control risks as far as is reasonably practicable, employers may take into account the costs of minimising risks but at all times must balance this against the risks involved, e.g. if the risk assessment identified that a school has a number of curtains that are not flame retardant, it is not necessary to replace them if a product can be applied that will make them flame retardant.

After the control measures have been identified they must be implemented. These control measures must be reviewed along with the whole risk assessment upon significant change or at pre-specified regular periods.