Tag Archives: fire safety failings

Fire Safety Order 2005On the 1st of October 2006 the Regulatory Reforms (Fire Safety) Order came into place and repealed a multitude of previous fire-safety legislation.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.

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]

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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.

employees responsible for fire safetyDecember 2010 saw the first prosecution of a fire-protection service provider – Christopher Morris who was responsible for the fire-alarm system at Oldfield Bank Residential Care Home - Altringham, was convicted for fire-safety breaches. Mr Morris was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £6,000 costs. He pleaded guilty to two charges of failing to maintain a fire-alarm system.

The fire at the Care Home resulted in a fatality and as the fallout unfolds an employee of the home has been prosecuted. This is now the first employee to be prosecuted under ‘The Fire Safety Order’ and this one case alone shows the Fire Authorities’ intention to bring all persons involved to justice not just the owner.

Karen Sykes, 41, from Sale, on the 18th of March pleaded guilty to breach of article 23 of the Fire Safety Order - a failure to take care of herself and other relevant persons.  The fire alarm sounded around 6pm but was quickly silenced by Ms Sykes who had not carried out search of the site to investigate the reason for the activation.

A fire was later discovered in a resident’s room and an hour and fifteen minutes after the alarm activation a call was finally made to the fire and emergency services. When fire crews arrived they found the fire-alarm to be muted.

Elderly resident Enid West died following the fire and an inquest into her death is scheduled to be heard by the Stockport Coroner this month.

Assistant county fire officer, Peter O'Reilly, said: "This case clearly highlights and enforces the message that employees have a duty to ensure the safety of the people they are looking after. This type of behaviour simply isn't acceptable and we should not forget that an elderly resident in Sykes’ care died that night. "This is the first time an employee has been prosecuted under this legislation, as opposed to the employer, and I am proud of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue for bringing this about."

The fallout continues and the message surely is the ‘responsible person’ carries the ultimate can but responsibility is devolved along the way. If you think 'I’m just an employee it’s not my responsibility' - then you’re wrong!

rising uk insurance claims due to fire loss
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!

insufficient fire risk assessment
A vast amount of prosecutions for breaches in UK fire legislation include the phrase ‘insufficient fire risk assessment’.

There are obviously a myriad of reasons why a risk assessment could be deemed insufficient but to point you in the right direction here’s a ‘heads up’ to the the seven most common:
People at Risk through lack of or inadequate training. Many business owners delegate fire-safety responsibility to a senior member of staff or manager. Typically we find it has been passed to the head of HR or in a smaller business an admin or department manager.
Very often however no training, to assist them in their role, is put into place. If a member of staff is to become ostensibly a ‘fire marshal’ then there is a duty to provide them with adequate training.
On a broader note all members of staff can lack training when it comes to fire protection provision. If fire protection methods and services are employed then any staff that can avail themselves of these services should be trained to do so. A good example is fire-extinguisher training; if extinguishers are intended to be used by any member of staff then every member of staff needs to  receive training
Electrical Hazards are most commonly represented by the lack of regular testing. All portable appliances (usually recognised by the provision of a plug and cord *but not exclusively) should have a regime of ‘Portable Appliance Testing’.
The fixed wiring in the building (lights, sockets etc.) require a ‘periodic inspection’ and certification. Most commercial premises require these tests at five-yearly intervals but this can vary dependent upon environmental factors.
* Items with a flex and no plug, such as a hand-dryer, also require PAT testing.
Combustibles on the escape route are commonly overlooked. Escape routes should be free from combustibles and or wall-linings that promote fire-spread. Many businesses in their efforts to cheer up a drab workplace introduce plants, coat stands, paintings etc.

Other small businesses are just simply challenged with space and place combustibles and sources of ignition on escape routes and stairs such as photocopiers or vending machines. They all need to go!
Insufficient compartmentation can be easily overlooked often due to lack of knowledge in terms of what to look for. If an escape route is required to have 30 minute fire-resistance and classified as a place-of-safety then the fire-stopping methods should be adequate. Generally people spot doors that don’t close or missing intumescent strips but rarely do they think to look above ceiling tiles or under floors. These are the areas that, over the years, have had compartments breached by various infrastructure installations (plumbing, phone and computer networks etc.). If there is a whacking big hole above the ceiling with a couple of small pipes going through – guess what? It won’t do!
Inadequate fire protection systems can be overlooked. When filling in a tick-box form ‘Does the building have a fire alarm?’ gets a big tick. When often this should be expanded to ‘Yes but it’s woefully inadequate’.
Likewise extinguisher provision can either be poor or non-existent. It is essential that any fire-fighting equipment provided is adequate in both terms of coverage and suitability to the potential fuels that are present.
No regular testing or too greater frequency of testing is common place. This is one of the most consistent failings for the average UK business. Simply the tests are not taking place or the frequency is not short enough inline with the British standard requirements. Further guidance can be found in my previous blog.