Employers are legally required to carry out a fire risk assessment in the workplace and put resulting fire safety measures in place to ensure the safety of their workers and the general public in the case of a fire. This requirement is in accordance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales, and Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 in Scotland, and in some instances, the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002.
The fire risk assessment should be a key part of the overall risk assessment and ongoing health and safety regime for the workplace.
Penalties for fire safety non compliance
Depending on the severity of the non-compliance and any resulting injuries and incidents, the penalty for failing to comply with fire safety regulations can include prosecution, unlimited fines and imprisonment.
Fire risk assessment
The fire risk assessment should be carried out by the employer or by an appointed, suitably qualified and experienced ‘responsible person’.
The fire risk assessment should be regularly reviewed to ensure continuing safety, with a written record of each review kept with the original risk assessment.
It is not a legal requirement to keep a record of the fire assessment unless the workforce numbers five or more, however, it is recommended to maintain a record for the employer’s information, for the purposes of health and safety, and also as evidence in the case of any fire related claim or prosecution being brought against the employer or their business.
The fire risk assessment can be broken down into five steps:
Identify fire hazards
Is there anything in the workplace that could cause a fire? This could be an electrical heater, naked flames, electrical equipment, processes that involve heat, or matches.
Is there anything in the workplace that could burn? Most offices have a supply of printer paper, for instance. This would obviously burn. What about cardboard boxes used for holding stock? Are there flammable liquids on site, such as petrol or white spirit? What about the substance of the workplace itself, such as the ceiling and wall coverings?
Make a detailed list of both of these factors present in the workplace, both inside and outside.
Who is at risk?
A fire at work could put the whole workforce, any visitors to the site and the general public at risk.
Is there anyone who is specifically at risk from any of the fire hazards you have identified, or is at risk due to a personal factor, such as disability or age?
Evaluate and respond
Evaluate the information you have gathered (fire hazards and people at risk) and decide on:
- Fire prevention and risk reduction measures: What can be done to reduce or even eliminate fire risks? For instance, can flammable items be stored in an area that is apart, or even closed off, from anything that could start a fire?
- Protection measures: How can you protect your employees and any other persons in the premises in the event of a fire, and ensure they can leave the premises safely?
Record findings, make a plan and train staff
Keep a record of the risk assessment findings and the corresponding response (fire prevention and risk reduction measures, and protection measures). This record is a legal requirement where there are more than five members of staff.
Make a plan of fire prevention measures put in place and how these will be maintained, how the workforce and any other persons will be protected, and what will happen in the event of a fire. For instance, how will staff exit the building and where will they wait while the fire is tackled?
Inform and train your staff on:
- who will maintain any fire measures put in place (employer or appointed person)
- how to maintain fire measures
- what is expected of all staff members
- fire drills
- what to do in the case of a fire, including fire exit routes
Regularly review your fire assessment and any fire safety measures you have put in place, especially where there have been any changes to the premises, the processes carried out at work or any substances stored there.
The purpose of the review is to ensure that:
- everyone is working safely and in adherence with the fire safety plan
- the fire safety measures are being maintained and are effective
- nothing has changed in the workplace that may affect fire safety
- fire fighting equipment is operational and up to date
Where necessary, make changes to the fire safety plan.
A record of fire risk reviews should be kept with your fire risk assessment.
Fire safety measures
The specific fire safety measures an employer puts in place at work will vary depending on the workplace and the nature of the business.
Fire extinguishers and other fire fighting equipment
Employers are required to provide fire fighting equipment at work that is adequate for the size of the workplace and appropriate to the risks presented by that particular business.
The most commonly used and familiar fire fighting equipment is a fire extinguisher. The legal requirement is to have 2 fire extinguishers on every floor of a building, unless the premises are very small, and the fire extinguishers would hinder escape.
Employers must ensure that the type of fire extinguisher provided (water, foam, powder, CO2 and wet chemical) is appropriate to the nature of the business. Again, there are legal requirements related to the type of fire extinguisher. All workplaces that have electrical equipment must provide a CO2 extinguisher that is at least 2 kg in size.
Fire extinguishers should be sited close to fire exits and fire alarm buttons. Specialist fire extinguishers, such as wet chemical, should be kept close to the specific fire hazard they are provided for.
It may be necessary to also provide other types of fire fighting equipment in the workplace, such as hose, nozzle and sprinkler, fire blankets, fire bucket and sand, and fire protection pillows.
Fire safety signs
There are four types of fire safety sign:
- what to do in the case of a fire
- fire exit routes, doors and assembly areas, including directional signs pointing out the shortest route to escape
- location of fire fighting equipment
- warning and prohibition (e.g. No smoking)
Employers are legally required to provide signs stating what to do in the case of a fire and where to assemble outside the premises. Signs indicating the location of fire fighting equipment, including fire alarm buttons, must also be provided.
The requirement to display fire exit signs will be dependent on the size and layout of the workplace, however fire exit door signs (stating which door is a fire exit and to keep clear or keep closed) are a legal requirement.
Warning and prohibition signs are not a legal requirement but are advised where there is a heightened risk of fire.
Fire alarm and detection systems
All employers are legally required to provide a fire detection system, including a fire alarm system. This may be manual (e.g. operated by a person using a fire alarm button) or automatic (set off by a smoke detector, for instance). There must be a fire alarm located at each exit on each floor, and where the fire alarm is activated it must be easily heard by anyone in the workplace.
The fire alarm system must be tested on a weekly basis and serviced at 6 monthly intervals.
Emergency lighting is used to illuminate exit routes, make it easy for fire fighting equipment to be found, and keep communal areas lit. In workplaces where it is necessary to shut down hazardous processes in the case of a fire, high risk task area lighting can be installed.
Employers are legally required to provide emergency lighting where natural lighting would not be sufficient in the case of a fire.
Fire safety training
Employers are legally required to provide fire safety training for their workforce, including:
- refresher training, usually on a yearly basis
- fire safety training updates where changes have been made to the premises
- regular fire drills
Where members of staff are appointed to be responsible for fire safety and prevention, they should receive training on the use of fire extinguishers and other equipment, contacting emergency services, and evacuation.
Why take legal advice
All employers are legally required to assess any fire risks in the workplace and ensure the health and safety of their workforce through the instigation of appropriate fire safety measures and practices. Each workplace, however, will vary in its risks and requirements due to the size of the premises, the nature of the business and other factors specific to that site. Take specialist advice to be fully informed of legal obligations and to ensure continuing fire safety compliance.