The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 is a piece of legalisation which places responsibility on individuals within an organisation to carry out risk assessments to identify, manage and reduce the risk of fire with in their premises. This law came into force on 1 October 2006 and applies to the whole of England and Wales. New legislation was also introduced in Scotland which mirrors the risk based approach of the English/Welsh legislation.
These new pieces of legalisation replaced over 70 pieces of existing legalisation and two major acts - The Fire Precautions Act 1971 and Fire Protection (Workplace) Regulations 1997, with the intention to make it easier for everyone, including businesses and fire & rescue services. Intended benefits were to simplify, reduce and consolidate the existing legislation into a new pro-active order that would reduce the burden on business and allow better use of Fire Service resources - as they are no longer required to assess premises and issue certificates.
The simplified message of the order is that any person, who has some level of control of premises, must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire & ensure that everyone who may be on the premises, at the time of the fire, from employee to general public, can escape safely.
Whilst this simplification amounts to common sense, the legislation places more emphasis on paying particular attention to people who may have a disability and/or those who need special help to reach a place of safety, should emergency evacuation be required.
Main Rules under the Order are as follows:
- Carry out a fire risk assessment.
- Consider who may be especially at risk.
- Get rid of or reduce the risk from fire as far as is reasonably possible.
- Take other measures to ensure that there is protection from flammable or explosive materials.
- Create a plan to deal with any emergency & keep a formal record.
- Take steps to ensure everyone within your building can reach a point of safety.
- Ensure that all employers have adequate fire safety training, which is refreshed on a regular, periodic basis.
Who Does this Apply to?
The order applies to virtually all premises and covers every type of building, structure and open space. So if you operate from an office, shop, factory, pub, club, restaurant, hotel or even community hall, church or marquee then the order applies to your business and you will need to comply with these regulations. Premises that provide care such as hospitals, care homes and hospices are singled out as being a particularly high risk category for obvious reasons.
What does a Business Owner need to do?
It is vitally important that every person who manages an environment where people congregate are fully aware of the information contained in The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The onus is on the business owner to ensure that the requirements of this legislation are followed. Any repercussions, from any incident that results from a misdemeanour will fall squarely at their door. Hefty fines/ lawsuits and closure can occur for businesses who fail to comply.
Under the order, a fire risk assessment needs to be produced. Whilst this sounds hard work, it is an essential task to complete because you will look at risks to your business and all involved with. The fire risk assessment needs to consider who is at risk, how to eliminate or reduce the risk of fire starting and also how your business would deal with a fire emergency.
An official plan will need to be created on how you will deal with the fire or any emergency. Prevention and tackling measures will need to be put in place and adequate training given to all staff, with formal records kept on all measures taken, in the form of an up to date log book or computer-based record system.
Steps to ensuring the safe evacuation of people in your environment
Once the risk assessment has been carried out, fire detection systems and fire fighting equipment such as fire blankets and extinguishers need to be in place and some decisions then have to be made about the equipment required to evacuate your staff, visitors & service users. If the building consists of more than one floor, steps will need to be taken to ensure that all persons within the building can reach a point of safety, bearing in mind that lifts may be deemed as “out of service” in the event of a fire and not all the service users/employees/general public may be able to walk or descend stairs.
The options generally boil down to three main choices:
- Evacuation chairs - some of which are suited to use on staircases.
- Evacuation Mats/Pads such as Ski Pads, Ski Sleds, Resqmats and Albac Mats, which some users feel more comfortable using as an alternative to chairs for staircase evacuation.
- Evacuation on a mattress using either Ski Sheets or Evacuation Straps (used in hospital/care home environments).
These product choices will form a vital part of your emergency plan and again all staff must be properly trained as to how to use these products, should the need arise.
At the end of the day these decisions will be strongly influenced by factors such as the age & design of the building concerned - modern architects have tended to place far more emphasis on designing for evacuation than their predecessors.
This legislation has now been in force for approximately six years and it is believed that as many as a third of businesses are still not aware of their duties under the order. Of those that are aware of their duties it is hard to say how many are taking the law seriously or may be using the assessment approach as a way to go unmonitored in choosing not to spend on fire safety.
With local fire authorities no longer required to assess premises and issue certificates they now both enforce the order and raise awareness of it.
Under the order an inspection officer has the following rights:
- The right to entry.
- The right to require the production of relevant documents.
If either of these requirements are not met or the officer feels that any part of the order has not been satisfied, then formal action may be taken. Initially this is likely to be the issue of an “alterations notice” or even an “enforcement notice”. If it is believed that the level of non-compliance is such that a serious risk to life is posed, then a prohibition notice can be served restricting the use of the premises for certain activities i.e. a hotel not being allowed to host and sleep guests.
Repeated disregard for these notices is not advisable. Offenders will be liable for a fine or even imprisonment for up to two years - The highest recorded fine to date was £240,000 given to an Essex based company for constant and repeated disregard for The RRFSO and Fire Safety. The legislation has now been in force for approximately nine years and it is believed that as many as a third of businesses are still not aware of their duties under the order. Of those that are aware of their duties it is hard to say how many are taking the law seriously or may be using the assessment approach as a way to go unmonitored in choosing not to spend on fire safety - thus putting lives in danger and risking serious repercussions.
So after reading this piece please ask yourself one question - do you conform to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005?