New fire safety regulations come in to force next year but facilities managers should be planning now for their arrival argue David Wood and Sarah Lamont
11 June 2004
The new fire safety regulations - the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2004 - will come into force in 2005 or 2006 and will apply to the vast majority of premises, so facilities managers need to start planning ahead. The aim of the new regime is to create one simple fire safety regime applying to all workplaces and other non-domestic premises - there will be no separate validation mechanism for higher risk premises. The regime will be based on risk assessment; a duty to maintain fire precautions which are for the use of firefighters; and new duties on fire authorities for fire safety, investigation and testing.
Under the new regime, which mirrors more closely existing health and safety legislation, duties are placed upon the responsible person (or more than one) which is defined as the employer, where there is one; the person in control of the premises; the owner and any other person who exercises, to any extent, control over the place - this might include a facilities maintenance operator or a fire
There is a general duty for the responsible person to "take such general fire precautions, which include methods of reducing the risk of fire and securing means of escape, as will ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of any of his employees; and in relation to relevant persons who are not his employees, take such general fire precautions as may be reasonably required to ensure that the premises are safe". Relevant persons are anyone lawfully on the premises and include firefighters.
The responsible person must make a risk assessment for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions that he needs to take. This should be based on an understanding of the relevant legislation, guidance and good practice in the fire prevention field. Where dangerous substances, which are defined in the order, are present, specific consideration needs to be given to the risks that they pose and the information required by the responsible person to properly complete the risk assessment. The risk must then either be eliminated or, if that is not reasonably practicable, reduced by taking measures to, among other things control the risk, mitigate the detrimental effects of a fire and arrange safe handling of the substances. All assessments should be regularly reviewed and significant findings recorded. No young person may be employed unless a specific risk assessment has been carried out with them in mind, having regard to their immaturity and lack of understanding of risks.
After risk assessments, the responsible person must implement appropriate fire safety arrangements for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of the preventative and protective measures. This includes taking into account the features of the premises and the nature of the activity carried on, providing fire detectors and alarms, taking measures for firefighting, nominating competent persons to implement those measures, arranging contacts with external emergency services and train their competent persons.
All precautions must be installed and maintained by competent persons. This means that the responsible person must ensure that there is a sufficient number of competent persons who have the necessary training and knowledge to assist in undertaking the preventative and protective measures. It may be someone who is not employed by the responsible person and, in practice, may well be a retired firefighter.
Results of risk assessments and preventative measures must be communicated to employees as must specific details of any dangerous substances. In practice, the corresponding provisions of the Management of Heath and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (Regulation 10) are inadequately observed. The risks from fire are probably greater and a failure to inform will be viewed seriously by the regulators.
All employees must undergo adequate safety training when first employed and when exposed to new or increased risks.
They must also care for their own safety and that of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions. It will be an offence for an employee to fail to co-operate with the employer so far as is necessary for the employer to perform his duties and this provision, not widely known, applies to all levels of staff up to senior management level.
Enforcement, as now, will be by enforcement notice or in the cases of really serious risk, a prohibition notice. Another provision relates to alteration notices which can be served on a responsible person where premises constitute a serious risk to persons lawfully on the premises or to the immediate vicinity. The notice may require works to be carried out to alleviate the fire risk. All the notices are appealable.
Enforcement will be undertaken by the local fire authority. Inspectors will have wide powers of entry and to obtain information and samples. The order contains a long list of offences and, as with health and safety legislation, the trend is for large fines particularly in the case of corner cutting to maximise profit or persistent breaches. There is also the defence of due diligence but it will be necessary to prove that all reasonable precautions have been taken. In practice this is very difficult.
The regulations are unlikely to change to any significant degree from the current draft order. There is also unlikely to be much in the way of transitional arrangements and therefore facilities managers will need to ensure compliance from day one. Much can be done now to review current procedures and arrange for necessary training well in advance.
Although there is a welcome unification of the two parallel fire safety regimes, this order does introduce new and onerous provisions, such as the alteration notices. However, it is to be welcomed that fire safety is now based on the same risk assessment approach as mainstream health and safety.
David Wood and Sarah Lamont are partners at Bevan Ashford Solicitors