Tag Archives: business fire safety

Too many fire extinguishers
Don’t get me wrong there are many qualified and extremely professional fire-safety engineers across Britain unfortunately though there are also many cowboys. When looking to provide extinguishers for a business it seems to make sense to ask an extinguisher company to tell you what you need. However the employment model for many companies is to pay engineers a very basic wage and a high commission which serves only to incentivise over-specification. It is a point well made in this blog from Harrogate Fire Extinguishers.

The best approach would be to carry out a fire risk assessment first. It is a mandatory requirement anyway so why not have a risk assessment carried out first? The result of the assessment should provide the answers relating to your extinguisher provision i.e. how many, in what positions, numbers and even if you need them at all.

It’s sad to acknowledge that fire safety companies may not be competent or highly incentivised to sell but it’s often the case.  So having an assessment first is one good approach if however you do want approach an extinguisher company then look for third-part approvals such as BAFE, FIA or FPA. Ask if staff are qualified and have undertaken FETA / FIA training and get more than one quotation. Ask how long the company has been in business.

It is extremely important that you have good fire-safety provision but it is not acceptable to be ripped-off in the name of compliance.

Weekly fire tests and evacuation drills for crowded places

As Fire Risk Assessors one of the most common non-compliances with fire safety legislation we find is lack of weekly testing and evacuation drills. This in the average workplace is easy to address and implement swiftly.

However in large buildings that entertain vast numbers of the public (such as hotels or shopping centres) then implementation is not so straight forward. How do you carry out weekly tests and evacuation drills without causing mass panic and economically penalising the business (e.g. if a shopping centre evacuated everybody how many would actually bother to return).

But safety of life must come first and a practicable solution must be sought. Good information and regular, expected regimes of testing would help.

But there are perhaps some tools out there that can help implement systems in public places and crowded spaces, one such example is Alert Innovation’s Shop Alert – Muster Point App which can integrate tests, drills and emergency evacuations.

It is true that regular tests and drills are more challenging in public places but are they not even more important in such an arena?

Fire Risk Assessors are not the Fire Police
A fire risk assessment is a legal requirement - YES .... However it should not be just another tick in the health and safety box, just another drain on your resources that you could do without ..... NO! 

A fire risk assessment keeps you and your staff safe and protects your business. A well carried out assessment offers you great protection and peace-of-mind. However everybody has to understand the importance of fire-safety planning. All too often risk assessors come across staff who think they are the Fire Police. Many staff think they are towing the company line and give assessors the answer they think they should give rather than just simply the truth. This approach is a waste of everybody's time and money and quite frankly can be dangerous.

Here is an all too typical scenario:

Assessor: "Does your company provide you with fire extinguisher training?"

Staff member: "Yes, absolutely"

Assessor: "Good' so if this computer went on fire which of these extinguishers would you use?"

Staff member: "Ermm... Er....Em..... Foam?"

Fire risk assessors are not the fire authority but they are there to ensure you keep on the right side of that authority. This can only happen if you are open and honest. It doesn't matter where you are now but where you will be after the assessment has been carried out and the significant findings have been applied.

There is one word within the fire safety legislation (RRO 2005) that is particularly significant - 'Responsibility'. Ultimately the business owner / MD is 'The Responsible Person' but responsibility cascades and has legal ramifications.

So if you want to keep safe and legal treat fire risk assessments with the respect they deserve and give helpful, open and honest responses.

Risk assessors are safety consultants and definitely not the Fire Police!

Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005
The fire safety (regulatory reform) order came into force on the 1st of October 2006. The major shift was to place ‘Responsibility’ firmly with the business owner. It is true that English legislation talks about ‘The responsible Person’ but at the end of the day that virtually always turns out to be the business owner.

There are lots of implications and requirements for UK businesses but perhaps the best advice would be to start with the requirement to carry out a fire-risk assessment. If a business has five employees or more it is a legal requirement to carry out and document an assessment.
This is the best place to start as, if carried out correctly, the results will highlight any other areas of fire safety where you may be deficient such as evacuation planning, fire safety training, provision of fire alarms, fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, PAT testing etc.

If you have been delegated some of the responsibility from your boss / business owner it is worth pointing out that they have not shifted the responsibility. Indeed if they have not ensured you are capable of carrying out an assessment (via existing knowledge, training or employing a consultant to help) then they are on rocky ground from a legal perspective.

If your business is relatively uncomplicated and low risk then carrying out your own assessment makes perfect sense. There are fire-risk-assessment government guides for virtually every type of business. However if your building is large and over several floors or you have inherent fire-risks within the business then you may wish to employ the services of a professional.

Too many businesses look at fire-safety requirements as just another tick in the box required to keep the authorities happy; they are far from that. Properly adhered to fire-safety legislation keeps everybody safe and alive and transcends business budget-concerns. Times are tough but cut any area you like except fire-safety. You owe it to you and your staff to have the best fire-safety you can attain.

Fire Safety Order 2005On 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?

Have you carried out and documented a sufficient fire-risk assessment?

Have you put in place adequate fire-protection measures?

Has your staff received appropriate fire safety training?

Are all the above updated frequently?

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.

fire extinguisher training online
Online Fire Extinguisher Training

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/

For UK businesses what legally represents ‘Fire Extinguisher Training’?

 
Fire extinguisher demonstration
 
 

 

What is clear under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 is that when you provide extinguishers for your staff then they must be trained to use them. Training must take place on induction to the company and at regular intervals thereafter.
This is one of the most frequently non-compliant areas of fire-safety legislation for the vast majority of British businesses. The problems are obvious:

1 - It is logistically difficult to organise a large group of staff to take part in practical extinguisher training.

2 - It is cost restrictive (anywhere from £30 - £120 per head).

3 - Organising practical training for one person (on induction) is even more costly and many trainers have a minimum number of trainees before they will offer their services.

The alternative of a fire-extinguisher training DVD therefore seems more practical. It is certainly more cost effective and much easier to deliver to groups and more particularly single inductees.
Obviously it does not hold the currency of physical hands-on training but compared to what most companies settle for ‘Nothing’ – it is perhaps the best alternative. Factor into this also the ability to get most fire-extinguisher servicing companies to deliver ad hoc and free training when extinguishers are due a discharge / extended service and as a whole this becomes quite a reasonable approach.
So far so good eh? – However simply playing a training DVD would be most unlikely to pass for ‘training’ in a court of law. The trainees could have chosen to watch it and take everything onboard or alternatively daydreamed the time away enjoying the paid break from work. Then there are the trainees who watched it avidly but misunderstood or just plain got it wrong. Training without ‘a test of understanding’ is just not training.
Therefore a fire-extinguisher video training course / DVD should be accompanied by supporting test materials and have a minimum pass mark to prove competency. If you don’t pass you can’t use the extinguishers.

This is an example of just such a DVD 

 

comptent fire risk assessorThe ‘Fire Safety Order’ requires that commercial premises carry out a fire risk assessment to determine the risk to people from fire. Legislation also requires that measures are taken to keep people safe from fire whilst on those premises.

In simple premises it is quite likely and practical that the owner or duty holder carries out the assessment. In more complex buildings however it is wise to consider employing a professional consultant.

In fact, in England and Wales, Government guidance suggests that where buildings are more than four storeys high then the duty holder should seek the advice of a competent person.

As this requirement becomes more and more in demand this year saw the setting up of ‘The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council’.
Their advice to duty holders carrying out their own assessment in simple places is as follows:

The following attributes of a fire risk assessor might be sufficient in conjunction with a study of suitable guidance documents. Even in such a simple building, the fire risk assessor will need:-

a) An understanding of relevant current best fire safety practices in buildings of the type in question;

b) An awareness of the limitations of the fire risk assessor's own experience and knowledge;

c) A willingness and ability to supplement existing experience and knowledge, when necessary, by obtaining external help and advice

In order to help in this regard we are putting on a series of workshops. The first being held in Harrogate on Tuesday July 19th, 2011.

For more details click [Free Fire Safety Training]

2 Comments

Staggered risers a boon to fire safetyI can hear every architect, surveyor, plumber, electrician, and comms provider shouting ‘What a stupid idea!” And as an ex-fire alarm engineer I can fully understand that viewpoint.
Utilities would take a deal longer to install if risers were not placed inline on every floor. Cables and pipes would have to snake across floors before reaching the next riser; both the original installation and future remedial work would be more difficult – Yes… but it could save lives.
Risers are essentially a flue-like construction – We’re building chimneys in multiple locations around high-rise buildings. Risers, should compartmenting between floors be breached, would rapidly draw smoke and flames between floors.
“Well compartmenting must be in place!”, shouts the plumber. True, but how many buildings, that are no longer new, have breached compartments in risers? In our experience it’s as high as 70 to 80%.
Retrofit work is rarely checked and often only on a fire-risk assessment is the problem discovered. Breaching of compartmentation in risers is widespread – fact! So if risers were not inline and didn’t form a flue the problem would be much less severe.
Is a longer install and more awkward retrofit a reasonable price to pay for vastly increased fire safety? Money no-object I think everyone would answer ‘Yes’. But money is an object isn’t it? So it’s highly unlikely to happen.
Tell us your thoughts – good idea or totally unworkable?

Fires caused by smoking in UK businessesSince the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007 most UK businesses think that the potential of fires due to smoking has been snuffed out. However our research shows that the vast majority of businesses have poor or no provision for employees who want to smoke.

Did the smoking ban magically encourage employees to stop smoking? Is it fair to say that, on the whole, those who smoked before the ban still smoke now?

When carrying out fire risk assessments across the UK we often find that the provision for smoking members of staff is so poor that it is a significant fire risk.

When there is no real safe environment in which to smoke (either a smoking shelter or at least a fire-proof ashtray) then smokers often discard cigarettes close to a building.

Consider the following:
Cigarettes burn at  approximatley 700 degrees Celsius and they are designed to stay lit and can therefore smoulder unseen for some time.
Nationally, someone dies every three days as a result of a fire caused by cigarettes.
Approximately 800 injuries each year occur as a result of fires caused by smoking.

There is still a big potential fire-safety risk to businesses due to smoking and this is one reason why the UK Government has pushed for a new EU study into the effectiveness of 'Reduced Ignition Propensity' cigarettes - which go out quickly if left unattended.

With 80% of businesses likely to never recover from a major fire it is about time that business owners stopped turning a blind-eye to smokers and ensure there is safe provision for smoking on or near their premises.