The 2017 Grenfell tragedy was a stark reminder of the critical need for preventative fire safety – and the collective duty of businesses, suppliers, regulators and other stakeholders to uphold best practice.
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, employers and those responsible for business premises must carry out a fire risk assessment (FRA) and take steps to make their workplaces safe. If you can’t conduct the assessment yourself, you need to appoint a competent person to support you.
Your risk assessment should highlight fire hazards across your site. These could be ignition sources like heat or sparks, substances that burn like chemicals, petrol, wood or even flour and sugar, or processes that could lead to a fire or explosion. You also need to consider the people who could be harmed in the event of a fire.
The HSE website shares a range of risk assessment success tips, including:
- Think about the risks of fire and explosions from the substances you use or create in your business and consider how you might remove or reduce the risks
- Use supplier safety data sheets to help identify flammable substances
- Consider reducing the quantities of flammable/explosive materials you store on site
- Keep sources of ignition (such as naked flames and sparks) and substances that burn (like vapour or dusts) apart
- Safely dispose of flammable or explosive substances
- Regularly review your risk assessment
- Keep your site in good order, removing rubbish, dust or grease that could start or exacerbate a fire
Recent fire-related prosecutions
With the right approach to risk reduction, most fires are preventable. Sadly, prosecutions from the past 24 months reveal that businesses continue to cut corners on compliance, placing employees and the public in harm’s way.
- A Berkshire restaurant was fined £85,000 plus costs after negligence caused a life-threatening blaze. The business was found to have violated several fire safety regulations, including non-compliant fire doors and inadequate fire alarm and detection provision in a residential part of the premises. The original conviction was upheld on appeal.
- A landlord of a house in multiple occupation (HMO) in Luton received a suspended sentence following a fire that took the life of one of his tenants. Another occupant suffered burns, smoke inhalation and severe injuries during a rescue attempt. A judge found that insufficient fire precautions, such as a lack of fire doors and poorly functioning fire alarms that were not interlinked, had put residents at risk of death or serious injury. The landlord was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment (suspended for 12 months) and fined £20,000 plus £12,000 in costs.
- Three companies were fined a combined total of £54,000 and more than £20,000 in costs for failing to take proper fire safety precautions during the design and build of a timber frame extension to a sheltered accommodation residential home. A HSE investigation showed the construction work was not planned, managed or monitored to protect against fire risks, highlighting the vital importance of proactive prevention measures.
In addition to your fire risk assessment, you should take simple steps to ensure early warning and escape from your premises is possible at all times:
- Have an evacuation plan in place, e.g. alerting employees and other people, escape routes, assembly points.
- Regularly check or service any alarm systems, whether these are air horns or automatic fire detection systems and keep a record of these checks.
- Regularly check any escape routes to ensure they are not blocked, free from the trip and slip hazards and free from overgrown vegetation if external.
- Regularly check any final exit doors can be opened easily.
- Regularly check any emergency lighting is functioning and keep a record of these checks.
- Regularly practice your fire or emergency escape drills and keep a record and act on any outcomes.
- Ensure anyone with specific responsibilities such as fire wardens are given training relevant to their role and that it is refreshed regularly (this can be undertaken on Safety Cloud).
- Ensure any site-specific requirements are considered on your evacuation plan, e.g. isolating electrics, gas or machinery processes.
It is advisable to have a document of your site with all the key hazards and features listed, e.g. electrical isolation, gas isolation, LPG locations, hazardous substances or processes, any rising mains, dry risers, water sources, e.g. lakes. This document can then be given to emergency services attending the site and can be part of your regular checks.
To help you monitor and record your checks, you can utilise the Safety Cloud Work Equipment Check module and the Flexi Audit Module. You can assign any actions to be carried out and upload any relevant photos and documents as evidence.
Customised support for your fire safety strategy
Southalls’ experienced, qualified consultants can act as your competent person, helping you locate and act on fire safety risks across your business.
As part of a comprehensive fire risk assessment, we’ll evaluate your existing safety controls, warning systems and emergency procedures, routes and exits. The inspection also ensures you’re safely storing dangerous substances, providing the right training and considering the requirements of vulnerable people.
Following the survey, you’ll receive a detailed fire risk assessment report, in line with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. To help you shape a robust fire safety plan, the document covers:
- A summary of immediate workplace fire hazards
- Reminders of your fire safety obligations
- Bespoke recommendations on minimising site fire risks
- Maintenance guidance for alarms, wiring systems, lighting and fire extinguishers
- A point-by-point emergency plan, tailored to your premises