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?
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!
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.
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.
UK fire safety legislation requires that adequate fire safety training is provided. Therefore if you have extinguishers then those people who are allowed and expected to use the extinguishers must receive adequate training.
So what etype of extinguisher training course should you choose? Well if budget is no no object then the best form is of course hands-on practical training. However this can prove costly and difficult to put in place. On a one off basis practical training is very achievable but the law requires staff to receive training on induction which can be a challenge. Not only would training just one member of staff be costly but also difficult to organise such detailed training for such small numbers.
There are therefore various alternatives, online training, extinguisher training DVD’s and even training books and guides. Each have their merit but with any form of training what is important is that a test-of-knowledge is undertaken and an arbitrary pass mark established.
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’?
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.
I 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?
Sounds familiar? It is true to say that after carrying out a fire-risk assessment it is highly likely that some remedial action is required and some of which will probably incur additional costs. There I’ve said it! Don’t stop reading yet though because if cost reduction is what you’re aiming for then flouting fire-safety legislation is not the answer.
Ask New Look who recently had to pay a whopping £400,000 for fire-safety breaches and £136,000 costs or the Brandon House hotel that paid a mere £200,000.
Those who ignore fire-safety can pay fines at the magistrates’ court of up to £5,000 per offence. Some of these offences can be things like blocked exits which would have incurred zero expense to remedy. Very often the major failings are lack of training, lack of planning and lack of information; all these measures are minimal in terms of capital expenditure.
The costly items are usually poor fire-protection systems: extinguishers, alarms, emergency lights and poor electrical-safety (lack of PAT testing or periodic inspections).
However a fire-risk-assessment should not put you out of business. It is reasonable to phase in remedial action and even if the action required is urgent (such as no working fire alarm) then temporary measures can be put in place (such as instigating regular patrols and / or issuing manual air-horns).
Health and Safety legislation brings just as many potential expenses, new systems and training issues but has much less opposition in terms of capital investment – why is that? A law in place since 1974 has had the time, profile and financial impact to ensure that the vast majority of businesses believe it to be a necessary expense. The key however with both fire safety and health and safety legislation is deciding what is ‘reasonably practical’ in terms of expense, time and effort. This concept is highlighted well in a HSBC business-network blog – ‘Health and safety what is reasonably practicable?’Every business owner should realise that the Fire-Safety-Order, legislation introduced in late 2006, has bedded in and all the relevant stakeholders have become more comfortable with their roles – none more-so than the fire and emergency service. Insurers too are heightening their requirements and can no longer sustain £1.3bn annual fire-loss claims.
As with all safety legislation however surely the final word should not be about expense but common sense good-practice – As a business owner – It’s the right thing to do!
The new Localism Bill has perhaps as many detractors as it has advocates but whether for devolution or against there are a growing number of industries worried about how it will impact on their sector.
For the Fire Protection Industry the concern is Chapter 2 – clause 18 (Fire and Rescue Authorities) and the concept of charging ‘a person’ for false alarms.
Professional fire-protection companies are totally behind the concept of reduced false-alarms to the fire brigade. Like many companies though we don’t want the baby out with the extinguishing water.
On the back of the maverick action of the London Fire Service, who are intending to independently stop responding to fire-alarm activations, the ramifications of this bill could have a huge effect on fire alarms and fire-alarm maintainers.
Just who is ‘a person’? – How enforceable is such a bland phrase?
Our industry is not alone in its concerns as highlighted in a great article in the Landdlord-Law Blog ‘Localism Bill to amend tenancy deposit regulations’. Service providers and commerce caught up in this legislation need reassurances that well-intentioned devolution doesn’t have a massive negative impact on particular industry sectors.