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Fire regulations heat up

23 February 2006

The Problem
Restaurants, pubs, hotels and catering companies face new Government fire regulations this April. Companies that fail to comply with the new regulations will not only face prosecution, but insurance companies may re-examine their warranties and claim conditions to penalise deliberate offenders by withholding cover.

The Law
The biggest single reform of commercial fire and safety legislation in more than 30 years will take place when the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 comes into force on 1 April 2006. At present, fire safety regulations are scattered across more than 70 pieces of legislation, and the new law will comprise one piece of legislation.

The new law aims to improve fire safety by placing the responsibility on the employer or "responsible person" for that building or premises. He or she will be required to assess the risks of fire and take steps to reduce or improve them.

These measures should pay particular attention to those at special risk, such as young people, the disabled and those with special needs, and must include consideration of any dangerous substance likely to be on the premises.

The new legislation is similar to the workplace regulations, the main difference being that fire certificates are no longer required and the onus is now being placed on the employer to ensure the building complies. However, fire and rescue authorities will still be allowed to inspect premises to ensure adequate fire precautions are in place.

The new regulations will apply to virtually all premises and cover nearly every type of building, structure and open space, for example:

  • Offices and shops.
  • Premises that provide care.
  • Community halls.
  • Common areas of houses in multiple occupation.
  • Pubs, clubs and restaurants.
  • Schools.
  • Tents and marquees.
  • Hotels and hostels.
  • Factories and warehouses.

But it excludes purely domestic premises occupied by a single family group.

Expert Advice

  • Ensure someone in your company is trained to conduct a fire risk assessment for your building.
  • If you employ five or more people, you must record the significant findings of the assessment.
  • You will need to ensure there are adequate escape routes, warning systems and firefighting equipment, and that staff have been trained to react in the event of a fire.
  • If necessary, outsource this activity to a qualified fire-safety consultant, but be aware that you are still legally responsible.

If you introduce changes into your workplace, your original risk assessment may not address any new hazards or risks arising from them. For this reason, it is also important to review and revise your assessment regularly.

This doesn't mean you need to amend your assessment for every trivial change that occurs, but the impact of any significant change should be considered, for example:

  • A new work process might introduce additional fuels or ignition sources.
  • Changes to furniture layout or internal partitions could affect employees' ability to see a fire and escape in time.
  • Increasing the number of employees may mean a fire exit is now too small to cope with their escape within a safe time.

Beware! If you have suspended ceilings, it is possible that, over time, additional fittings such as lights, fans and air-conditioning could have compromised your fire protection.

If a property is managed by an agent or there is a facilities management contract in place, it could be the manager who holds responsibility for the fire-risk assessment. The situation will be quite complex in multi-let properties such as offices, because there are likely to be various duty holders responsible for different parts of the building.

If a fire occurs at a premises and the owner has not complied with the new law, they could face prosecution. It would also be no surprise if their insurer has inserted a strict warranty into their policy stating that if fire regulations are deliberately breached, claims will not be met.

ContactJohn Davies
Alexander Forbes Corporate Risk Solutions
020 7933 0000
daviesj@aforbes.co.uk

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