Open-access content Monday 7th February 2011 — updated 1.53pm, Tuesday 5th May 2020
The Fire Safety Order has greatly simplified and clarified requirements for fire alarms and fire extinguishers. Paul Caddick of PHS Group explains the essentials.
by Paul Caddick
11 February 2011
The Fire Statistics Monitor was published in August and reported that from April 2009 to March this year, there were 328 fatalities from fire in the UK and that the Fire and Rescue Services attended over half a million incidents in the period. Sobering figures for anyone and certainly a motivator for facilities managers to thoroughly understand the legal requirements for provision and testing of fire alarms and fire extinguishers.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) is the central and essential legislation to consider for fire safety. The FSO was brought in to 'simplify, rationalise and consolidate existing legislation' and it replaces over 70 different, disparate pieces of law - including the abolition of fire certificates.
The FSO demands that a 'Responsible Person' must carry out a fire safety risk assessment and implement and maintain a fire management plan for all non-domestic premises. The Responsible Person must then put in place appropriate fire safety measures to manage the risk, based on the specific circumstances of their premises. Scope of the specific plan and measures must include the property and the area around the site as well as protecting life.
Emphasis within the FSO is on prevention and reducing risk. The Responsible Person must get rid of the risk from fire, as far as reasonably possible and put in place precautions to deal with any risks that remain.
Fire detection and warning
The FSO demands that you must have an appropriate fire detection and warning system, capable of warning all the people in the building in all circumstances: Part 2, Section 13 details: The responsible person must ensure that "the premises are, to the extent that it is appropriate, equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment and with fire detectors and alarms".
To establish what is 'appropriate' the FSO suggests that attention must be given to the dimensions and use of the premises, the equipment contained, the physical and chemical properties of the substances likely to be present and the maximum number of persons who may be present at any one time.
Effective and reliable detection and warning systems can facilitate the safe and swift evacuation of people. Detection is also crucial in locating, containing and extinguishing the fire. The various types of warning and detection systems include manual alarms, conventional fire alarms, analogue addressable alarms, optical/ionisation/heat/beam detectors, air sampling detectors, sounders/beacons. The essential thing to remember is that the system must be fit for the specific site and circumstances; it could be that more than one system is required, so that different parts of a site are served by the most appropriate detection and warning device.
Extinguishing the fire
The FSO states that the Responsible Person must "take measures for fire-fighting in the premises, adapted to the nature of the activities carried on there and the size of the undertaking and of the premises concerned". Your risk assessment is likely to conclude that the provision of fire extinguishers is required so people can seek to extinguish a fire in its early stages. There should be one for every 200 square metres of floor area and at least one for every floor of a building.
Fire extinguishers are red and their labelling colour-coded to indicate the contents and class of fire effective against. There are four fire classifications:
Other fire fighting equipment may also be appropriate to consider, including extinguisher systems, fire blankets, fire doors, door guards and flame retardant spray.
Maintenance & Training
The FSO makes it clear that systems, equipment and procedures must be maintained "in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair".
Fire drills are an obvious requirement and the FSO dictates that the Responsible Person must ensure that employees are provided with adequate safety training at the time when they are first employed and on being exposed to new or increased risks. It goes on to explain this training must be repeated periodically.
www.legislation.gov.uk for a full copy of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005; www.communities.gov.uk; www.hse.gov.uk; www.bafe.org.uk
Fire safety risk assessment
Identify the hazards
Anything that can start a fire, anything that can burn in a fire, oxygen sources which might intensify a fire.
Identify people at risk:
- People who work close to or with fire hazards, people who work alone or in isolated areas, children or parents with babies, elderly or disabled people.
Evaluate, remove or reduce the risk
Where possible, get rid of the hazards you identify, replace flammable materials, separate fire starters from flammable materials, have a safe-smoking policy.
Record, plan, inform, instruct and train (including preparation of an emergency plan)
If you employ more than five people you must keep a written record of your fire safety risk assessment and have an emergency plan in place, plus records of fire-fighting arrangements. Everyone must know how to raise the alarm, contact the fire brigade, use fire-fighting equipment and how to evacuate the building - including where to assemble and report.
Review regularly and change where necessary
The risk assessment should be reviewed regularly and when any significant changes have occurred that might affect the risk.