The recent reform of fire safety regulations has streamlined the maze of old legislation and reduced the burden placed on the fire services. Alan Oliver considers what this change means for the FM community
18 March 2005
The purpose of the new Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2004 is to reform the law relating to general fire safety in non-domestic premises.
The main aim is to reduce burdens on business caused by existing multiple legislation and consolidating requirements that were previously scattered among many pieces of legislation under one new order. This will also remove previous inconsistencies.
The new reform places emphasis on a risk-based approach to fire safety, which should allow for both practical application and more effective enforcement. The new order is not expected to impose significant additional burdens on employers, since the intention is to clearly re-state requirements which already exist under previous legislation.
One significant change is that there is no longer a need to apply for fire certificates. Also fire services will no longer carry out fire safety inspections. Instead, the onus is on organisations to self-certify, with fire services policing the scheme. As a result, a 'responsible person' must now ensure that fire safety assessments are undertaken at their premises by 'competent persons', defined as someone with 'sufficient training and experience or knowledge or other qualities to enable them to implement the measures'. Failure to comply can lead to both prosecution and 'enforcement action', with the imprisonment of directors in extreme circumstances.
What does this mean for facilities managers? As with any change there are mixed views as to whether they are faced with an opportunity or a threat.
By taking fire inspectors out of the equation, it could be construed that they have yet another responsibility to their name. But equally facilities managers now have the opportunity to tailor a fire safety risk assessment to the needs of their organisation. In the words of Simon Topman of the Small Business Council: "I say you need to make your business safe. I can ensure that better and have far more incentive to get it right first time than any fire inspector".
Traditionally all fire service inspections have focused on means of escape. Their duty was to focus on life safety; as a consequence little or no emphasis was placed on business continuity. By contrast facilities managers, if they are defined as the 'responsible person', can now ensure that a holistic fire-safety risk assessment of their property equally covers life and property risks.
Altogether, there is a requirement to comply with 17 articles (numbered 8-24), which make up the body of the new order. These include:
Taking adequate fire precautions to ensurethe premises and routes of entry/exit are safe(article 8)
Making an assessment of fire risks in order to provide necessary fire precautions
Planning, organising, controlling,monitoring and reviewing all fire safety measures, all of which must be put in writing where there are five or more employees (article 11)
Ensuring premises are subject to a suitable system of maintenance and are maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair (article 17)
With regard to article 17, most organisations will already have in place maintenance agreements to deal with active fire safety measures such as fire extinguishers, emergency lighting and fire detection systems, but this is rarely the case for passive fire safety components such as fire doors, fire walls and roof, ceiling and floor void fire barriers, all of which require regular inspection and maintenance.
Fire compartments are regularly breached by the introduction of new building services - not least IT cabling. Ironically, many organisations that take safety and security seriously unwittingly have their fire compartments damaged by the introduction of fire detection and CCTV systems.
Unless proper inspection and maintenance is addressed, most defects to the fire compartment will remain hidden in ceiling and raised floor voids, roof voids and riser cupboards. As a result, flames and smoke will spread rapidly when a fire breaks out. As well as putting lives at risk this can also have serious implications for business continuity. Even after a minor fire the damage to electronic equipment can seriously affect business activity.
This applies particularly to communications rooms, which are often the lifeblood of an organisation. Assessment and protection should equally apply to archive rooms and other areas of strategic importance.
Another hidden-from-view issue is the risk of fire in extract ventilation systems. Inadequate inspection and cleaning to prevent a dangerous build-up of grease and lack of general maintenance of fire dampers to ensure correct working frequently present fire hazards.
The need to comply with article 22, "Co-operation and Coordination" is particularly relevant to facilities managers in large multi-occupancy premises where the responsible person of each organisation must:
(a) Co-operate with the other responsible persons
(b) Co-ordinate the measures taken to comply with the order
(c) Inform the other responsible persons concerned of risks in their business
By reassessing fire safety measures to ensure compliance with the new order, facilities managers should, as a consequence, benefit from measures that are both relevant and adequate to their premises.
Alan Oliver is marketing director of Checkmate Fire Solutions