Tag Archives: fire safety

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Fire Safety Order 2005On the 1st of October 2006 the Regulatory Reforms (Fire Safety) Order came into place and repealed a multitude of previous fire-safety legislation.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

extinguisher training coursesUK 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.

You can click to visit a site that caters for all these [ extinguisher training courses ].

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.

fire extinguisher training
Many businesses recognise the requirement to have portable fire-fighting equipment but the vast majority are untrained or poorly trained. Fire-safety legislation requires that persons who are able to use extinguishers are trained to do so.

When carrying out fire risk assessments we ask ‘Have your staff been trained in the use of extinguishers?’ Nine out of ten answer in the affirmative but when we then test understanding a similar ratio prove to have poor or insufficient knowledge.

What people regard as training differs greatly from reading the instructions on the extinguisher through watching a DVD or very often by listening to a quick run through from the extinguisher chap!

As with many aspects of the ‘Fire Safety Order 2005’ just a token gesture towards compliance will hold no water in a court of law. Assuming that the ‘extinguisher chap’ is qualified to train you can be a big mistake. When choosing any fire-safety supplier, whether a service or a training provider, then you must prove due-diligence in your choice of contractor. Government guidelines suggest the easiest proof of due-diligence is via third-party certification schemes such as BAFE or FETA.

Training without any test of knowledge has little value therefore merely playing a DVD to staff would not suffice. Watching a presentation then having to achieve a minimum pass mark on a test afterwards may well be acceptable.

There is however no substitute for the real thing and live, real-time training delivers the best results.

Training cannot be a one-off ‘been there – done that’ experience. It must be re-delivered at appropriate intervals and whenever circumstances change within a workplace.

Fire safety training, like all safety training, is a positive boon to everyone whether they are in the workplace or not. Much like first-aid training it should be taught in schools. A topic covered well in this blog entitled ‘The Importance of First Aid Training’.

If you walked around the corner in a hotel tomorrow to discover a small fire between you and the lift would then be a good time to start learning which of the three available extinguishers to use?

The fire safety ninja toolbox
The internet is scattered with fire safety resources but it is always handy when someone brings them altogether. These are specifically UK sites (but fire-safety advice really knows no boundaries).
Each of the following links has a dedicated topic other than our very own final link we like to think is the ‘Daddy of them all!’ With resources galore!

Fire Safety Resources catalogue
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Candle safety advice
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Arson Prevention

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Fire Kills government advice site
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British third-party certification scheme for fire protection equipment and services
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The Fire Safety Management Journal
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Means of Escape website
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Government advice on fire risk assessments
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Fire safety advice for people with sight, hearing or mobility difficulties
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Fire Safety Outdoors
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Fire Safety in shared accommodation
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The Top 50 free fire safety resources

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.

fire safety checks weekkly and monthlyEven 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.