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Frequently asked questions - fire safety order

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Frequently asked questions

Fire safety plan


Q. What is the fire safety order?


A. It’s actually the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order but shortened to the fire safety order for convenience.  It came into force on 1 October 2006.


Q. What premises does it cover?


A. The definition of premises can be any place and, in particular, includes; a workplace, a tent or a moveable structure.  It does not apply to domestic premises and it does not apply to some other premises such as a ship, an aircraft, a locomotive or a mine which are covered by other means.


Q. Who is the responsible person?


A. This question is causing confusion and will continue to do so until case law gives us a more accurate steer.  For instance, the Managing Director of a leisure company was fined in January 2007 for six offences against the Order following a fire in a hotel in which eight people had to be rescued.  One of the offences was that no fire risk assessment had been carried out, another was that the fire alarm was faulty.


So for the moment its a best guess and it depends on who has control of the premises.  It could be the employer, the occupier or the owner.  In a workplace, it would normally be the employer but enquiries about responsibility could be made of the following:

a)     the employer;

b)     the general manager;

c)      the health and safety manager;

d)     a nominated agent of the employer or other person having control;

e)     the owner in respect of matters outside the employer’s control.


Q. What do the responsible person have to do?


A. They have to take reasonable precautions to protect anyone on the premises (i.e. employees, visitors and members of the public) or anyone in the immediate vicinity of the premises from the effects of fire.  They do this by making an assessment of the risk to those people and identifying the fire precautions that need to be taken to comply with the order.  They also have a number of other legal duties including nominating people to undertake special roles, consulting with their employees, co-operating with other employers, making sure that the emergency services can be easily and quickly called etc.


Q. Are disabled employees, visitors or members of the public treated differently by the fire safety order?


A. Yes.  The Government has published a supplementary guide (Means of Escape for Disabled People) to be read alongside the other guides it has published with the Order.  The supplementary guide provides additional information on accessibility and means of escape for disabled people and should be used to assist in completion of the record of significant findings in the assessment of risk.  The significant findings should include a detailed account of measures in place to facilitate and assist disabled people to leave the premises and gives advice on how to draw up, record and practice a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP).


Q. Who carries out the assessment of risk?


A. The fire safety order gives the responsibility for carrying out an assessment of the risk, the identification of appropriate fire precautions and the provision of suitable controls to the responsible person.  However the Order also states that the responsible person must appoint one or more competent persons to assist in undertaking his or her responsibilities.


Q. Can a consultant be nominated to assist the responsible person?


A. The Order states that where there is a competent person already employed, that person must be appointed in preference to a competent person who is not employed.  This means that the responsible person can nominate a consultant to assist with responsibilities providing there is no employee suitably qualified.


Q. What does the risk assessment cover?


A. It covers the whole of the premises, the people who occupy the premises and the processes that take place and includes the following checks:

a)     that a fire can be detected in a reasonable time and that relevant persons can be warned;

b)     that relevant persons in the premises (employees, visitors and members of the public including disabled persons) can get out safely;

c)      that reasonable fire-fighting equipment is provided;

d)     that relevant persons in the premises know what to do if there is a fire;

e)     that all safety equipment is checked and maintained at the required time periods, and to a satisfactory standard.


Q. Do you mean things like fire alarms, fire extinguishers and exit signs?


A. The term ‘fire risk’ collectively describes both the risk of fire occurring and the risk to people in the event of fire, so, things like the construction of the building, the integrity of the fire compartmentation and the resilience of the evacuation plan must all be assessed as well as the obvious things like fire alarms, fire extinguishers and exit signs.


Q. How frequently must the risk assessment be carried out?


A. The Order states that a risk assessment must be reviewed regularly so as to keep it up date:


l        if there is reason to suspect that it is no longer valid;

l        if there has been a significant change in the matters to which it relates.


This means that there is no one answer to this question but it simply depends on the circumstances.


Q. Must the risk assessment be recorded?


A. If an employer employs 5 or more people (they don’t all have to be in the same premises) he/she must keep a written record of the risk assessment for each premises.  The record should include all the identified significant findings and the measures taken to deal with them.


Q. Does anyone check to make sure I’ve done a risk assessment?


A. Your local fire and rescue service are the enforcing authority in most cases (the Health and Safety Executive and the Defence Fire service are the enforcing authority for some premises).  They have powers to enter premises, inspect premises and question people at any reasonable time.  They will be more likely to make a visit where:

a)     they’ve attended the premises in the past and discovered a situation that concerns them;

b)     they’ve attended a fire at the premises and discovered a situation that concerns them;

c)      they’ve visited the premises for a different reason but discovered a situation that concerns them;

d)     trends in the local area give them concerns about the premises;

e)  other agencies such as the Health and Safety Executive, the local authority, the Environment Agency etc. have concerns and ask them to make a visit to the premises.


Q. Does the fire and rescue service no longer give advice?


A. The role of the fire and rescue service has changed considerably as a result of the fire safety order.  Yes, they will continue to give advice but their primary responsibility is the reinforcement of the objectives of the fire safety order.  Those objectives are:


l        To create a single regulatory regime based on risk assessment, fire prevention and mitigation measures;

l        To increase compliance with fire safety law;

l        To focus fire and rescue resources on those premises which present the greatest risk;

l        To ensure that fire safety facilities and equipment are well maintained.


Where the fire and rescue service are not satisfied that the fire precautions are adequate, rather than stipulating what must be done, they will advise where the law has not been complied with, why they are of that opinion and, where necessary, require some action.  This is in a similar fashion to health and safety inspectors administering health and safety law.


Q. The fire and rescue service issued me a fire certificate, is this no longer valid or of any use?


A. Fire certificates were issued under the Fire Precautions Act 1971.  This act is now repealed so the fire certificate is no longer valid.  The fire certificate was the risk assessment carried out and issued by the fire and rescue service and can be of considerable use when carrying out the risk assessment required by the present legislation, the fire safety order.