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Fire prevention

28 April 2005
Fire prevention

The obligations of employers in respect of fire prevention are laid down in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Regulation 3(1) of the regulations requires employers to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees and others, and to identify the measures needed to comply with the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997.

Part II of the 1997 regulations contains requirements on:

• the equipment needed for fire detection and fire-fighting
• emergency routes and exits for use in case of fire
• the maintenance of the workplace itself and the equipment required under the regulations.

Risk assessment

Risk assessment involves identifying the fire hazards in the workplace and the people placed at risk by those hazards. If it is reasonably practicable to remove or reduce the hazard, this should be done. If some risk remains, the employer should evaluate this and decide whether the means available to deal with that risk are satisfactory.

Risk assessments should be in writing. This is a statutory requirement where more than five people are employed, but should be done in any event, so that it can be demonstrated that the assessment has been undertaken.

Hazards

The most common hazards arise from:

• Electrical equipment and circuits
• Heating appliances
• Cigarettes or matches
• Oil flare-ups from frying pans and deep-fat fryers in kitchens.
• Poor housekeeping - this can increase the risk of fire if waste is allowed to accumulate, or if easily flammable liquids, such as aerosols or liquid propane gas, are incorrectly stored.

Particular hazards result from poor maintenance of gas appliances and from allowing dirt and deposits to build up in ventilation filters and ducting. Fire risks in kitchens, which are high-risk areas, are aggravated by inadequate supervision.

Responsibilities

All employers are responsible for fire safety at the workplaces they control. Employees also have a duty under general health and safety law to co-operate with their employer to enable him to comply with his duties, and to alert the employer to any dangers and shortcomings.

Equipment requirements

Employers must provide appropriate fire-fighting equipment, taking into account the size and nature of the premises, the properties of substances likely to be found on the premises, and the maximum number of people likely to be present at any one time. Practical advice can be obtained from the local fire brigade.

Every workplace must be equipped with fire detectors and alarms to the extent that is appropriate. Smoke detectors are a simple and cheap fire detector, but it is important to ensure that they are properly maintained and, in particular, that batteries are regularly replaced.

Building requirements

Fire doors: Building regulations for new buildings require that provisions are made to slow down the internal spread of a fire and ensure that the stability of the building is maintained for a reasonable period. Practical guidance on these requirements is contained in Approved Document B to the Building Regulations, available from HMSO Books. Older buildings may require structural alterations, including the provision of fire doors to meet these standards.

Fire escapes: There are a number of legal requirements under the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997:

• Emergency exits from a workplace and the exit itself must be kept clear at all times;
• Emergency routes and exits must lead as directly as possible to a place of safety;
• The number, distribution and dimensions of emergency routes and exits must be adequate for the workplace and the maximum number of persons that may be present at any one time;
• It must be possible for employees to evacuate the workplace as quickly and safely as possible;
• Emergency doors must open in the direction of escape;
• Emergency exits must not consist of revolving or sliding doors; and
• Emergency doors must not be locked or fastened so that they cannot easily and immediately be opened in an emergency.

Lifts, escalators, ladders, spiral staircases and old-fashioned "line" systems (using slings and ropes) are unsatisfactory means of escape in case of fire.

Notices

Emergency routes and exits must be indicated by signs under the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997, and safety signs should also be provided to identify or point to the location of fire-fighting equipment. Signs or signals need to comply with the requirements of the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996.

Hoses and sprinkler systems

These are required as fire-fighting equipment where appropriate to the nature of the premises. In the case of hoses, it will be necessary to train specific employees to use them, and to ensure that they are not used inappropriately, for example in the event of an electrical fire.

Emergency lighting

Under the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997, emergency routes and exits that need illumination must be provided with emergency lighting of adequate intensity in the case of failure of normal lighting.

Training

Employers are under a general obligation to ensure all staff are adequately trained in health and safety matters. In respect of fire risks, they are under an additional obligation to nominate individuals to take responsibility for implementing measures for fire-fighting and to ensure that their training is adequate.

Fire drills

Notices explaining the fire drill should be posted prominently and an evacuation in accordance with the drill should be practised at least every six months and preferably more frequently. For this purpose it will be necessary to designate and train a suitable number of employees as fire wardens. The fire alarm should be sounded every week so that staff are familiar with it.

Fire certificates

A fire certificate is a document granted by a local fire authority. Certain "designated use" premises (see below) are required to certify that they meet fire safety requirements. The certificate specifies the use of the premises and lays down requirements regarding means of escape, alarms and fire-fighting equipment. It may also specify requirements for maintenance and staff training, and may limit the number of people who may use the premises.

A fire certificate will be required in the case of premises including an office or shop and where there are more than 20 people at work at any one time, or more than 10 people at work other than on the ground floor. However, the fire authority may grant exemptions for certain low-risk premises.

Hotels and boarding houses (including pubs with rooms) are also "designated use" premises if they provide sleeping accommodation for more than six people. This includes sleeping accommodation for customers or employees, but not the proprietor or resident manager or members of his family. A premises is also a designated premises if any employee or guest bedrooms are above the first floor or below the ground floor.

To apply for a fire certificate, an employer should contact the local fire authority, which will provide advice on specific requirements. He will then need to fill in the required application form, which will set out details of existing fire precautions. The fire authority may ask for a plan of the premises and a fire authority officer may visit the premises. The fire authority can ask for additional measures to be taken before it approves the application.

Fire risk amendments

Amendments made in 1999 require employers to carry out fire risk assessments against the requirements of the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 for nearly all workplaces. Previously, premises that needed a fire certificate were exempt from this specific requirement.

Risk assessments should be reviewed regularly and must be reviewed at any time if there is reason to suspect that they are no longer valid, or if there is a significant change in the matters to which they relate. If premises are certificated, the local fire authority must be informed of any proposed structural or material alterations to the premises.

Roy Tozer is a Partner in the Regulatory Group of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary UK LLP. roy.tozer@dlapiper.com

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