Fire Safety Update
Fire safety reforms were introduced on 1st October 2006 to simplify, rationalise and consolidate existing fire safety legislation. Previously, fire safety legislation had developed in response to particularly tragic fires which resulted in huge casualties. As a result, fire safety provisions had been scattered over many pieces of legislation.
- Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
- Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
Since the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force on 1st October 2006, it has made compliance easier, by replacing the existing legislation with a single fire safety regime which applies to all workplaces and other non-domestic premises.
However, recent research by the Fire Industry Association (FIA) has found that UK employers could be putting their employees’ lives at risk by cutting back on fire safety. According to the survey published in June 2011, almost a fifth of bosses admitted to revising fire safety procedures in the current economic climate, through actions such as delaying maintenance checks of fire safety equipment, reducing staff training or delaying updating their fire risk assessments. This is despite the fact that 20% of them also admitted to already having had a fire in their premises.
The survey found that a third of staff don’t know what to do in the event of a fire. Over half of the staff surveyed said they don’t know how to use a fire extinguisher or fire alarm and a quarter of workers don’t know where their nearest fire exit is, whilst a third don’t know where their fire assembly point is.
So it is important for all employers to note that although the old fire certificate regime was abolished, the legislation still requires employers to carry out a fire risk assessment, and to provide and maintain such fire precautions as are necessary to safeguard those who use the workplace. They also require employees to be provided with relevant information, instruction and training about fire precautions.
- Make sure any plans you make have been thought through, tested and discussed with key members of staff.
- Don’t forget that business continuity documents have to be accessible all the time, e.g., they’re no good on the server if IT has gone down or in a filing cabinet in the office which nobody can get to because of the weather.
- Business Continuity Plans (BCPs) have to be reviewed on a regular basis to make sure they are still competent and relevant.
The Fire Industry Association (FIA) has reported that 12 Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) have now modified their policies on the fire call-outs they will and won’t attend, due to false alarms.
Explains Fire Safety Consultant, Clive Raybould:
“Call Challenge Systems have been introduced due to the large number of ‘Unwanted Fire Signals’ (false alarms) that [FRS] receive.
“When making a 999 call from a commercial property, if the caller cannot confirm that a fire is actually taking place, then the company / organisation is told to check the building to see if there is a fire and to call back again if there is one.”
Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service has said that due to ongoing problems with false alarm call-outs arising from Automatic Fire Alarms (AFAs) on business properties, it will no longer respond to AFAs at commercial buildings between the hours of 9a.m. and 9p.m.
The service said that, despite its efforts, these types of calls have remained at a high level, with the majority being caused by faulty or poorly maintained fire detection systems and originating from a relatively small number of commercial premises.
Fire authority leaders have been reported as saying too many businesses use the brigades as a cheap fall-back rather than paying for regular maintenance of automatic alarms or lifts.
The FIA is recommending that businesses review their fire risk assessment and contact their Fire Detection and Alarm (FD&A) maintenance company to review their FD&A system if needed.
Case Study 1
Fire alarm breach
A care home manager who was in charge when a fire alarm was silenced during a blaze has been convicted of a safety breach.
According to Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue, who brought the prosecution, this is the first time an employee has been prosecuted under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
Karen Sykes appeared before Manchester Crown Court following the fire at Oldfield Bank Residential Care Home in Altrincham.
The Court heard how fire broke out in May 2009 when Sykes was Duty Manager. The fire alarm went off at about 6p.m. The alarm was silenced but Sykes failed to ensure that a proper search of the premises was carried out. A fire was later discovered in one of the rooms and a 999 call was made at about 7.15p.m. The alarm was discovered in ‘silence’ mode when crew from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service arrived to tackle the blaze.
In sentencing Sykes, who was fined £500 and ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £15, Judge Justice Lakin said:
“My duty is clear. I have to apply the law. As the manager of the care home it was Sykes’ responsibilityfor the fire alarm and evacuation.”
Case Study 2
Breach of RRO
A restaurant owner has been fined after pleading guilty to 10 charges of failing to comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, including not carrying out a fire risk assessment.
On 6th November 2009 the Fire Service was called to a fire in accommodation above the Connoisseur Tandoori Restaurant in Gloucester, where several breaches of fire safety legislation were discovered.
Fire safety enforcement officers conducted an investigation and found that some partitions and escape routes were not fire-resisting and employees had not been provided with fire safety training.
Unauthorised sleeping accommodation for staff had been provided and no fire alarm and smoke detectors were available. The investigating officers also found that a fire risk assessment had not been completed.
Restaurant owner, Mr Choudhury, was fined £2,900 and ordered to pay costs of £1,500. He was also required to pay a £15 victim surcharge.
Case Study 3
Jail for fire safety offences
An external fire risk assessor and a hotel manager have both been jailed for 8 months for fire safety offences.
David Liu, who runs The Dial Hotel and Market Inn, both in Mansfield, was jailed for 8 months and ordered to pay £15,000 costs after pleading guilty to 15 fire safety offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
John O’Rourke, who runs Mansfield Fire Protection Services, was also jailed for eight months and was ordered to pay £5,862.38 after he pleaded guilty to 2 breaches of the fire safety legislation.
The judge said that the time had come to “send out a message to those who conduct fire risk assessments and to hoteliers who are prepared to put profit before safety”.
Ian Taylor, Fire Protection Group Manager at Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, advises: “It is a legal requirement for places of work to have a fire risk assessment. If employers are unsure about their own ability to undertake a fire risk assessment within their premises they should seek advice from a competent person.
“In ascertaining someone’s competence to provide fire safety advice I would encourage people to ask for references, be aware of what fire safety training and qualifications they have, and check to see if they are registered or accredited with an appropriate third party body.”