Know your fire safety law

How good is your knowledge of fire safety law? And do you know your legal responsibilities? The Fire Industry Association shares the main points from fire safety legislation in the UK

Fire safety legislation in the UK is enacted differently under the three jurisdictions of England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

These differences are nothing to worry about as they are largely identical in terms of where they apply and what people have to do to comply with them. This is a gentle introduction to the subject and is not a substitute for more detailed government advice which is referenced towards the end of this article.

Where does it apply?

The law applies to virtually all premises and covers nearly every type of building, structure and open space, including schools. It applies to offices and shops, care homes and hospitals, community halls, places of worship and other community premises. It also applies in pubs, clubs and restaurants, sports centres, tents and marquees, hotels and hostels, factories and warehouses.

Where does it not apply?

The law does not apply to people’s private homes, including individual flats in a block or house.

In England and Wales the law applies to the common parts of flats and HMOs, but not in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Broadly, the law does not apply to the underground parts of mines or off-shore installation. It also doesn’t apply to anything that flies, floats or runs on wheels unless it is static and being used like a building,for example, work in dry dock.

Who is responsible?

The person responsible for fire safety is anyone who has, to any significant degree, control of the premises, control over the activities on the premises, or employs people.

They are responsible for the safety of people who may be legitimately, on the premises or not on the premises but might be directly affected by a fire on the premises.

In many cases, responsibility may be shared between several people but it is not the responsibility of the fire service or any other statutory body.

More on fire risk assessments

The guidance documents that support fire law recommend a five stage approach to fire risk assessment.

Identify the hazards within your premises including; sources of ignition, sources of fuel and any oxidising agents other than air.

Identify people at risk. You must consider everyone who might be at risk from a fire on your premises, whether they are employees, visitors or members of the public. You should pay particular attention to people who may be at particular risk such as people working near to fire hazards, lone workers, children, parents with babies, the elderly, the infirm and people with disabilities or anyone who may need special help.

Evaluate the level of risk in your premises. You should remove or reduce fire hazards where possible. The residual risk should be minimised.

You need to look at means of detecting fire and how you’ll give warnings. You’ll also need to look at fire fighting, including first aid fire fighting and summoning the fire and rescue service. You need to look at escape routes including fire exits, emergency lighting and escape route signs, as well as the training of staff. Information on fire safety for anyone who may need it (e.g. staff and visitors) must be given. What’s more, a management system should be deployed to make sure that your fire precautions, including your risk assessment, remain effective.

Record, plan, inform and train

You should record the findings from the fire risk assessment as well as the fire safety measures you have taken and are going to take.

If you haven’t already got one, make an emergency plan, tailored to your premises. Give staff and occasionally others, such as
guests or volunteers, information.

Provide employees (full time, part time, temporary and unpaid) with training about the risks, the actions they should take to prevent fires and how to respond to fire if it occurs. Some, such as fire marshals, will need more training.

Review your fire-risk assessment to ensure it is up to date. You will need to re-examine your fire-risk assessment if you suspect it is no longer valid, such as after a near miss or
if there is a significant change such as a change of processes occupants or the layout of the building.

Enforcement

Fire authorities are the main agency responsible for enforcing the law. Fire authorities will look into complaints, carry out investigations after fires and carry out targeted inspections. Where poor fire safety management is discovered they may prosecute.

If there is a very serious risk to life, the fire authority can issue a notice preventing the premises being used for certain things, or preventing people from using all or part of the premises.

Fire certificates

The Fire Precautions Act required the fire brigade or local authority to issue a fire certificate for certain classes of premises. The authorities no longer issue fire certificates and those previously in force will have no legal status but don’t throw them away. Any fire certificates you have may be useful as a starting point for your fire risk assessment.

What do you need to do?

The person (or persons) responsible must make sure that everyone is safe from fire. If that is you, you or a person engaged by you must carry out a fire risk assessment to determine what the risks are and to identify those measures necessary to minimise the risk to an acceptable level.

If you purchase goods or services you want to be confident that they are fit for purpose. Not just that; it is a legal requirement for the purchaser of fire safety services to ensure that the person or organisation carrying out the work is ‘competent’.

As most people commissioning this work are unlikely to be experts in fire safety, how can they be sure that the individual or organisation they are hiring is competent to do the job?

Third Party Certification (TPC) is evidence that a service or product adheres to certain standards. An independent expert, the third party, has assessed the service or product and certified that it complies with those standards.

TPC can cover the technical qualities of what is being provided, but it can also relate to environmental, ethical or other qualities. This allows purchasers to be confident that what they are purchasing is fit for purpose or that the supplier is capable doing the job.

TPC – the detail

TPC is when a Third Party Certification Body (CB) assesses the qualities of a supplier by comparing them with the requirements of a particular scheme. If the organisation meets these standards then it is issued with a certificate detailing the scope of its certification.

The supplier (now a Certificated Organisation) is permitted to claim compliance with the scheme, display copies of their certificate and, in most cases, display the logos of the scheme and the CB. Depending on the scheme, then they will also issue certificates of conformity for the product/service they provide, such as a complete fire alarm system or extinguisher service.

There is a wide range of TPC schemes covering such diverse areas as the installation and maintenance of fire alarms, extinguishers, sprinklers, emergency lighting, fire risk assessments, fire doors and passive fire protection so you need to make sure you use a supplier with certification to the relevant scheme for your needs.

It is recommended that you choose a supplier with certification. A list of certified companies is available on the FIA website under the ‘Find a Member’ section.

For more information on fire safety law and your legal responsibilities, visit the website where you can download our Best Practice Guide to Fire Safety and also a Fire Safety Law leaflet

Further Information: 

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