If you are an owner, landlord or occupier of business or other non-domestic premises, i.e. all workplaces and commercial premises, all premises the public have access to and the common areas of multi-occupied residential buildings you have responsibilities for fire safety.

Department for Communities and Local Government, Great Britain April 2013- March 2014

Fire statistics show that over this period Fire and Rescue Services in Great Britain attended 212,500 fires, 22,200 of which were recorded in buildings that were not classified as ‘dwellings’.

The majority of these occurred in non-residential buildings (e.g. retails units, pubs/wine bars/cafés/take away, private garage, private garden sheds and industrial manufacturing plants) and led to 17 fatal and 1,083 non-fatal casualties.

Interestingly whilst most statistics show an improvement in fires and related injuries Accidental fires in non-residential buildings were up by 4% to 12,500; Accidental fires in road vehicles up by 2% to 13,400

The most common identified cause of death from a fire incident is being overcome by gas, smoke or toxic fumes. Fire and rescue authorities reported 322 fire-related fatalities of which 133 people died because of overcome by gas or smoke, accounting for 41% of all fatalities. A further 66 (20%) deaths were due to burns alone whilst 63 (20%) deaths were attributed jointly to burns and being overcome by gas or smoke.

About 75% of all fires in ‘other buildings’ were started accidentally compared to 89% of dwelling fires. A total of around 14,900 accidental fires were recorded in ‘other buildings’, 2% higher than the previous year but a third fewer than ten years earlier in 2003-04.

Cause of fire

The main cause of accidental fires in ‘other buildings’ is, once again, faulty appliances and leads, which resulted in 25% of all fires. Another key cause of accidental fires was the misuse of equipment or appliances which accounted for 2,000 fires and was down by 8% from the previous year.

Source of ignition

The main source of ignition in fires in ‘other buildings’ was electrical distribution. These accounted for nearly 20% of accidental fires in ‘other buildings’. Other key sources are cooking appliances and other electrical appliances.

25% of other building fires were due to deliberate ignition, down (6%) the previous year.

As an owner, landlord or occupier of business or other non-domestic premises etc. you are known as the ‘responsible person’ and as such you must

Carry out a fire risk assessment of the premises and review it regularly

  • Tell staff or their representatives about the risks you’ve identified
  • Put in place, and maintain, appropriate fire safety measures
  • Plan for an emergency
  • Provide staff information, fire safety instruction and training

As the’ responsible person’ you must carry out and regularly review a fire risk assessment of the premises. This will identify what you need to do to prevent fire and keep people safe. In addition you must keep a written record of your fire risk assessment if your business has five or more employees.

Listed below are some of the requirements that need to be considered:

Shared premises

In shared premises it’s likely there’ll be more than one responsible person. You’ll need to co-ordinate your fire safety plans to make sure people on or around the premises are safe.

For common or shared areas, the responsible person is the landlord, freeholder or managing agent.

Alterations, extensions and new buildings

When building new premises or doing building work on existing premises, you must comply with building regulations. This includes designing fire safety into the proposed building or extension.

Fire safety and evacuation plans

Your plan must show how you have:

  • A clear passageway to all escape routes
  • Clearly marked escape routes that are as short and direct as possible
  • Enough exits and routes for all people to escape
  • Emergency doors that open easily
  • Emergency lighting where needed
  • Training for all employees to know and use the escape routes
  • A safe meeting point for staff

People with mobility needs

You should also make special arrangements for people with mobility needs, e.g. make sure there are people to help wheelchair users get downstairs in the event of a fire.

Fire detection and warning systems

You must have a fire detection and warning system. You may need different types of detectors, depending on the type of building and the work carried out in it.

Fire fighting equipment

The types of equipment you need depend on your business premises. You’ll need to have any equipment properly installed, tested and maintained and train your staff to use them if necessary.

Maintenance and testing

You must carry out regular checks to make sure that:

  • All fire alarm systems are working
  • The emergency lighting is working
  • You record any faults in systems and equipment
  • All escape routes are clear and the floor is in good condition
  • All fire escapes can be opened easily
  • Automatic fire doors close correctly
  • Fire exit signs are in the right place

 Fire drills and training

You need to train new staff when they start work and tell all employees about any new fire risks.

You should carry out at least one fire drill per year and record the results. You must keep the results as part of your fire safety and evacuation plan.

Fire Risk Assessment

As with all health and safety related topics the risk assessment is a legal requirement and key to identifying the necessary control measures that need to be put in place. Your fire risk assessment has to be carried out by a competent person with relevant fire safety knowledge and experience. Remember that no matter who carries out the fire risk assessment the duty holder retains the responsibility for ensuring the adequacy of that assessment.

The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council has provided some guidance related to choosing a Competent Fire Risk Assessor in their guide published in 2013.

A fire risk assessment identifies possible hazards as well as the actions you need to take to keep the people on your premises safe. It needs to be kept up to date and reviewed on a regular basis, in particular when something changes that could affect fire safety or you have any other reason to suspect that it is no longer valid (e.g. a change in occupancy,  the nature of contents or after a fire).

Whilst you are not expected to be an expert in fire safety, if you employ someone to undertake the fire assessment you should make reasonable checks to ensure that they are competent to do the job properly.

In their guide, the Competency Council has identified some simple steps and precautions you can take to help verify the competence and suitability of a prospective fire risk assessor. These include:

  • Be satisfied that the fire risk assessor providing this service is competent to do so. We recommend you check that those providing this service have independent registration with, or certification from, a professional or certification body.
  • Check that they have experience of undertaking fire risk assessments for your kind of business and premises.
  • Request references from previous clients in premises of your type; ask these clients if they were satisfied and if any problems were later identified.

You should also undertake the following:

  • Ensure that the scope of the work you want carried out is agreed in writing.
  • Ensure that you provide the assessor with access to all areas of the premises and with all relevant information
  • Obtain alternative quotes – make sure they all cover the same scope, so you can compare like with like
  • Ask for proof that they have sufficient professional indemnity insurance, public liability insurance and assure yourself that the fire risk assessor is impartial and you have access to a complaints procedure if necessary.
  • Ensure you have adequate records of the steps you took in selecting your fire risk assessor.

It is important that the person who carries out the fire risk assessment is competent. There are two principal methods by which people can demonstrate their competence;

  • Professional Body Registration schemes.
  • Certification by a Certification Body that is UKAS accredited for the activity.

It is also important that the company for whom the fire risk assessor works has adequate management systems in place, even if the fire risk assessor is self employed. Competence of a company to deliver fire risk assessments can be demonstrated by third party certification of the company by a UKAS accredited Certification Body.

Failure to undertake a fire risk assessment and/or adequately manage fire risk can and does lead to prosecution of which there have been many. These have included the following;

Shell International Limited – Crown Court, June 2009 The Shell building is a prominent London landmark in which about 2,700 people work. Two small unrelated fires occurred in the building, caused by contractors working there. An inspection followed the second fire and a prohibition notice was issued. The inspector’s complaints related to:

  1. Open and/or poorly maintained fire doors
  2. Obstructions to fire doors and fire escape routes
  3. High fire loads
  4. No fire risk assessment review since 2003

No-one was injured and there was no suggestion that any of these faults contributed to the fires or had aggravated the consequences of either fire.

Despite this Shell International Limited was prosecuted for 13 breaches of the Regulatory Reform Order (RRO). The Crown Court imposed a fine of £300,000 plus prosecution costs of £45,000.

Co-operative Group Limited – Crown Court, April 2010 The Co-operative Group Limited was prosecuted for six breaches of the RRO which came to light following an inspection in September 2007. There had been no fire and no one was injured as a result of the breaches. The failures complained of were:

  1. Locking rear emergency exit doors
  2. The use of a lock requiring a security code on an emergency door
  3. Fire alarm call point in the storage area obstructed
  4. Manager’s insufficient fire safety instruction and training
  5. Absence of regular alarm testing
  6. Absence of early detection of fire in one area which would alert those in the manager’s office and allow safe evacuation

The Co-operative Group Limited was fined £210,000 and prosecution costs in excess of £28,000.

New Look – Court of Appeal, November 2009

This prosecution followed a fire in April 2007 at New Look’s Oxford Street premises. No one was injured but there were some aggravating features, including the alarm being switched off when it first sounded and staff ignoring smoke pouring out of a window. There were 150 people in the store at the time and another 300 were evacuated from neighbouring premises.

Initially 35 charges were brought against New Look. This was negotiated down to two on guilty pleas, with nine other charges taken into account on sentence. The issues complained of by the prosecution were broadly inadequacies in the risk assessment for the premises and inadequacies in staff safety training. The failures complained of were failures to:

  • Provide clear statements about fire alarm arrangements and testing
  • Clearly identify emergency escape routes
  • Make arrangements with neighbouring occupiers as to emergency procedures
  • Identify deficiencies or remedial steps in its risk assessment
  • Identify emergency escape lighting
  • Organise refresher training and fire drills
  • Keep an exit from a basement area clear
  • Electrically link the fire alarm system to the basement fire exit so that it would unlock in an emergency

New Look had no relevant prior convictions, took effective steps post fire and pleaded guilty promptly. No one suffered injury. Additionally the breaches admitted had not caused or contributed to the fire that occurred. It was, nevertheless, fined £400,000 and ordered to pay more than £136,000 in costs.

The court considered that these failures resulted in a system falling a very long way below the standard required and to be expected of a company of this size. It considered that as a result, the potential for real human tragedy was very real and an appeal against the level of fine was dismissed.

In all of these cases no-one was injured and it wasn’t shown that the failures led to the fires however the potential risk of such fires was great and hence the level of fines imposed.

It is vital for organisations to ensure fire risk assessments are undertaken by competent assessors and that adequate plans are developed and the fire risk managed adequately.

Cardinus currently undertake over 3000 fire and property audits and inspections annually and we have been successfully assessed and granted Certification in accordance with the new BAFE SP205 scheme for organisations that provide Life Safety Fire Risk Assessments. This means that companies commissioning Fire Risk Assessments from Cardinus can be confident that the services are relevant and of a high standard.

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