The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (introduced in October 2006 and colloquially known as the Fire Safety Order or FSO) is almost three years old. Earlier this year, the Government published a report consisting of the views, opinions and experiences of people who are affected by it. Interviews were held either face-to-face or by telephone with:
The report suggested that the regulations were bedding in and being received positively both by the ‘enforcers’ (the fire and rescue authorities) and the ‘enforced’ (the businesses who are regulated by it). The ‘enforcers’ welcoming the introduction of the order and the ‘enforced’ supporting the principle of a risk-based approach to their fire protection.
The report showed that, overall, 60% of businesses (mostly the large companies employing in excess of 50 people) are aware of their responsibilities under the regulations showing both understanding and some compliance with it. The other 40%, mostly smaller businesses with less than 50 employees, had the lowest rate of understanding with little or no compliance.
What is the attitude of the fire and rescue authorities?
To date the fire and rescue authorities have given a generally supportive and educative approach regarding the provision of fire safety advice to businesses but as time passes and the requirements are no longer new, they say they will be offering less discretion and shifting to a more enforcement-based approach with a greater pursuit of prosecutions.
What are the biggest concerns?
There was uncertainty amongst businesses interviewed about their responsibilities and where to get further advice but most recognized risk assessment as a good way to assess their property and put in place procedures and practices to minimize the impact of fire. Many were concerned about the variable quality of fire risk assessments carried out by non-specialists and there was also concern that the responsible person in the organisation might lack the necessary expertise to implement the recommendations resulting from the assessment.
Has anyone been prosecuted?
Prosecutions under the fire safety order are rising with some notable ones occurring during the last twelve months. The prosecutions are not confined to the properties that are seen as the highest risk (i.e. the premises where people sleep or are cared for) although the two custodial sentences awarded so far (4 months and 6 months) have been in this sector.
The list of premises where prosecutions have taken place covers a wide range including houses-in-multiple-occupation (HMOs), care homes, hotels, offices, shops, pubs, clubs etc. with fines ranging from a few hundred pounds to many thousands of pounds.
The most notable monetary fine (£345,000 in fines and costs) being awarded in June 2009 to an international petrochemical company who failed to act on the findings of their fire risk assessment in their headquarters building. The fire and rescue authority only became aware of the fire safety failings in the building when they decided to inspect it following a fire.
How can I be compliant?
The regulations require an employer or an owner to carry out and act on a ‘suitable and sufficient’ fire risk assessment of their premises.
A fire risk assessment is an organized and methodical look at the premises, the activities carried on there and the likelihood that a fire could start and cause harm to those in and around the premises. It has three aims, to:
For further information or guidance on the New Fire Regulations contact Jim Baker (Fire Safety Consultant) at Allan Baker Associates, Hinckley, Leicestershire on 01455 881 050.