On the 1st of October 2006 the Regulatory Reforms (Fire Safety) Order came into place and repealed a multitude of previous fire-safety legislation. Yet it is estimated that over 60% of UK businesses are not fully compliant under the act. However pointing to a neighbouring business should a fire or a near miss hit you will not help - ignorance is no plea in the British judicial system.
If you are a business owner then the buck stops with you. Not meeting all the fire-safety regulations has been likened to driving a car with no tax (the inference being you’re okay if you don’t get caught) but it’s a poor analogy as rarely does driving with no tax end up with loss of human life.
There are many more questions but can you answer these core questions in the affirmative?
There are a number of reasons your business could receive a visit from a fire-officer: someone reported fire-safety concerns regarding your business, randomly picked for an inspection, a fire or a near-miss event. Times are indeed tough but avoiding faire-safety legislation can have perilous consequences.
It doesn’t have to cost the earth, start by taking advantage of our free fire safety resources.
The Fire Safety Order is clear that where extinguishers are provided then fire extinguisher training must be provided too. Most people would agree that hands-on training is the ideal. However the ideal can prove difficult and expensive to implement for the average business.
A more pragmatic view therefore may be that any training (e.g. book, video, DVD or online) is preferable to none at all. Legally though an issue exists around what could be accepted as ‘training’. It is fairly clear that merely reading or viewing training (video based or real) without a test of knowledge and understanding is unlikely to be accepted as training.
A DVD with an integrated test is therefore good but perhaps better would be interactive fire extinguisher training online. Online extinguisher training can offer video tutorials, interactive revision and finally a multiple-choice examination with minimum pass mark. It also allows training to be inexpensive and simple to deliver to all staff, negating the necessity to bring everyone together in one place at one time. Online training is truly flexible and allows employees in different locations and with different shift patterns to undertake the training at a time that suits both employee and employer. It also provides printable pass results for company fire-safety records.
One such example can be found at this site http://www.lalors.co.uk/
The British insurance industry has seen a phenomenal rise in insured fire losses for commercial buildings over the past ten years. There has been an amazing 50% rise in the cost of fire-losses between 2002 and 2008 with the annual cost standing at a staggering £1.3bn per year.
What did the insurance companies do to combat this? Many would say ‘Not a lot!’ Quality fire-protection and consultancy businesses prepared for insurance action expecting them to adopt a similar stance to that of burglary cover. Professional companies trained their staff, adopted quality procedures and entered third-party certification schemes such as BAFE. All the indications were that insurers wouldn’t continue to stand huge losses and would, like the intruder model, insist on third-party certified companies and even demand minimum specifications or categories of protection.
No such requirements emerged and when times got hard for everyone, including insurers, then requirements seemed to be relaxed and specifications became softer. This short-term scramble to retain custom has proved a long -term loss with record claims for fire damage.
While BAFE-approved suppliers were jumping through hoops ensuring standards remain at their highest, one-man-band sparkies were undercutting on price and quality and insurers were saying ‘Okay we’ll accept that.’
There are, of course, many factors that have contributed to the rise such as: a distinct change in methods of construction ( a more relaxed approach to building regulations has seen many buildings constructed with much larger compartments), ‘The Green Lobby’ has successfully pushed for better insulated buildings (which means more combustible materials being used).
The legislative changes introduced in October 2006 also may have, inadvertently, had an adverse effect; the move to a risk-based assessment where business owners became responsible and a move away from prescriptive enforcement has initially led to a situation where many business simply do not comply. [At the FireEx North event last year Richard Stott, enforcement policy manager at Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, stated that up to 60% of local SMEs were not even aware of the existence of the Fire Safety Order].
However things look set to change. In an article in this month’s ‘Fire Risk Management’ Roy Watkins (Technical and commercial insurance director – AXA Insurance) describes how the fire and rescue service and insurers are beginning a model of sharing data and even shared inspections. In the article he says “We need to make progress through a dynamic partnership involving fire and rescue services, insurers, end users and the trade. It is in all our interests.” Amen to that!
Even when businesses have carried out their own fire risk assessment many of them mistakenly underestimate the amount of records they should keep. The vast majority of UK businesses, if inspected tomorrow, would fail a fire-safety inspection due to insufficient checks and record keeping.
“Do you test your fire alarm weekly?” we ask – “Weekly?” comes the reply. The fire-safety order requires certain fire and emergency provisions to be checked regularly. Some checks have a weekly frequency, others monthly and even some daily!
Here is a list of fire-protection provisions and there required inspection frequency:
Fire Alarm – Daily Check by user no recording required.
Fire Alarm – Weekly test by user and recording in fire-safety log.
Emergency Lights – Monthly test by user and recording in fire-safety log.
Fire Extinguishers - Monthly test by user and recording in fire-safety log.
The fire-alarm daily check is visual inspection of the control panel to ensure there are no faults displaying.
Fire-alarm weekly test requires the user to operate a call-point (different point each week) and ensure the system operates correctly and can be heard throughout. The test should occur at the same time each week so that occupants are aware that it is indeed a test. The test should then be recorded in the fire-safety logbook. Should any faults be present then this and the remedial action planned should also be recorded.
Emergency light monthly tests require the user to test every emergency light in the building. This is not a duration test and requires the user to note merely that the light successfully lit. This is usually achieved via operation of a test-key facility. The test should then be recorded in the fire-safety logbook. As with fire alarms should any faults be present then this and any remedial action required should also be recorded.
Fire Extinguisher monthly inspections require the user to inspect every extinguisher in the building. The inspection involves checking the following: Is the extinguisher mounted on its bracket? – Is it under the correct sign? – Is the pin in? Is the anti-tamper tag in place? If there is a pressure gauge is it reading in the green band? Are the extinguisher operation instructions, on the body, legible? Again the test should be recorded in the fire-safety logbook and any faults present and remedial action planned should also be recorded.
This is the most common failing in fire-safety provision yet the most easily discovered by an investigating body.