Responsible persons and Fire Regulations
In the time that it has been in effect, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 has probably saved hundreds of lives.
Under the Order, property owners and managers have to appoint a “Responsible Person” for each building owned or managed. That could be anyone who has control of premises or anyone who has a degree of control over certain areas or systems, for example:
an occupier, or
any other person, for example a facilities manager, building manager, managing agent or risk assessor
Where does the order apply?
Virtually all premises are covered by the Order, including:
offices and shops;
premises that provide care, including care homes and hospitals;
community halls, places of worship and other community premises;
the shared areas of multi-occupied residential buildings;
pubs, clubs and restaurants;
schools and sports centres;
tents and marquees;
hotels and hostels (including bed and breakfast, guesthouse or self-catering property);
factories and warehouses.
Where premises are shared, there may be more than one responsible person and if this is the case, they should co-ordinate fire safety plans to ensure every person who uses the premises is safe.
Alterations, extensions and new buildings
If new premises are being built, or building work is being carried out on existing premises, building regulations must be complied with, including incorporating fire safety measures into the proposed building or extension.
The responsible person must:
carry out an annual fire risk assessment of the premises, identifying any possible dangers and risks and documenting them;
tell staff or their representatives about the risks that have been identified;
provide staff information, fire safety instruction and training;
consider who may be especially at risk (for example, disabled people);
get rid of or reduce the risk from fire as far as is reasonably possible and provide general fire precautions to deal with any possible risk left;
take other measures to make sure there is protection if flammable or explosive materials are used or stored;
create a plan to deal with any emergency and, in most cases, keep a record of the findings; and
review the findings of the Risk Assessment when necessary.
Where the responsible person lacks the knowledge to carry out their duties, they are obliged to take on somebody who has the expertise required to discharge the duties laid down by the regulations.
The Fire Risk Assessment
The risk assessment should cover all aspects of fire safety management, including active and passive fire measures, signs, means of escape and evacuation procedures.
The matters to be considered in carrying out the Assessment are:
What combustible materials are on the premises?
What sources of ignition are present?
Are fire wardens required?
Will fire extinguishers work?
Are employees trained to recognise the appropriate extinguisher for different types of fires and to operate it?
Are escape routes appropriately signed and sufficiently illuminated after mains failure (where appropriate)?
Are fire exit doors indicated and illuminated and do they open outwards?
Can the means of alerting fire be heard throughout the premises?
Are evacuation drills carried out (under the control of a nominated person)?
Alternatively, in a small business with few employees where evacuations would not be appropriate, is the issue discussed regularly?
Is there a Fire Log book on site with records, where applicable, detailing tests of the fire alarm, break glass units, emergency lights and any fire drills carried out?
Are highly flammable liquids/gases stored safely?
Are electric heating appliances and electric wiring regularly maintained?
Where are the stop valves/ isolation points for gas, water, and electricity? Are employees aware of these locations?
Employees should know where the risk assessments are located and what is in them. This is particularly relevant where employees are required to take certain actions of their own to protect their safety e.g. wearing personal protective equipment, following a work procedure etc.
When to review a Risk Assessment
Risk assessments should be reviewed:
on a regular basis;
where there are new employees, new equipment or new substances introduced into the workplace;
where there has been an accident or near miss; this is to ensure these were not due to inadequacies in the risk assessment;
changes to legislation or health and safety good practice advice e.g. the safety classification of some materials may change due to increased medical knowledge;
Once reviewed, the risk assessment should be changed to reflect the new circumstances or, if suitable, initialled and dated to show that the risk assessment still applies.
Responsible Persons need to make sure that the fire protection arrangements are appropriate for the size of the undertaking and the nature of its activities. This includes means of escape, provision of information and training of employees, the maintenance and installation of a Fire Alarm system and duties of employees in regards to fire safety.
Penalties and enforcement
The Order is enforced by Fire Safety Enforcement Officers (FSEOs) from the local Fire and Rescue Service.
FSEOs have the right to enter any workplace at any reasonable hour, without giving notice, though notice may be given where it is considered appropriate.
They can issue fire safety enforcement or prohibition notices to advise responsible persons about changes that need to be made.
If a person fails to carry out their fire safety duties or fails to comply with an enforcement notice or prohibition notice, they will be liable for an unlimited fine in the event of summary conviction in the Magistrates’ Courts. If they are convicted on indictment in the Crown Court, the maximum penalty is an unlimited fine and/or two years’ imprisonment.