Business owners legally have to abide by The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order of 2005 and as a result, need to designate a Responsible Person (RP) to coordinate things in the event of a fire. They are also responsible for preventative measures and ultimately an evacuation plan should the worst happen.
The Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) conduct regular inspections on high-risk, none domestic premises to ensure companies comply with the order and take the necessary precautions to minimise risk to the public. While premises such as hotels, residential homes and hostels are obvious areas of interest any company may be inspected if they are involved in a fire or have been brought to the attention of the FRS by a third party. Any concerns no matter how small may lead to an inspection and this article is to help prepare you regarding what to expect if you are ever asked to allow inspectors on site.
The exact term used to describe the role of Fire Safety Inspector by each Fire and Rescue Service across the county may differ due to the size of the department involved but they are often referred to as Fire Safety Enforcement Officers, and Fire Safety Inspectors or Fire Prevention Officers. For the purpose of this article, I shall refer to them as Fire Safety Inspectors as the role is typically the same across them all.
Who is responsible for looking after fire safety in a place of business?
Depending on the size of the company this could be the owner, a manager or an employee that has been specifically assigned the role of Responsible Person. This person is responsible for risk assessments, an evacuation plan, disclosure of high-risk materials/waste to the fire service and any precautions that need to be taken onsite to minimise the level of risk to live prior to and during a fire.
As this article is focused more on what to expect from a safety inspection rather than what the Responsible Person do we have prepared should you need it, a three-part list of items the Responsible Person must take into account for Fire Safety. These can be found here:
Who enforces the Fire Safety Laws?
In your geographical area it is typically a Fire Safety Inspector (or enforcement office) from the local Fire and Rescue Service (fire brigade). They legally have the right to enter any workplace at any reasonable hour, without notice to survey premises they feel may be at risk. Normally the inspector will give an appropriate warning and arrange a visit with the Responsible Person present but you should be aware that they can enter your premises without consent if they believe there is a credible risk. Other than the obvious risk to life this is why it is extremely important that you ensure your policies and procedures relating to Fire Safety are up to date at all times. This may sound alarming to some (the fact they can inspect without notice) but it is reassuring to know that a large part of their role also includes guidance and where possible they’ll help inform businesses of the steps that need to be taken in advance to minimise risk. As a result, it is quite common for organisations to seek advice directly from the fire brigade as a way of alleviating any concerns they may have.
A typical visit will include an officer visiting your workplace and reviewing the activities in the workplace. He/she will audit your fire risk assessment plans and document any procedures you have in place. They may also speak to employees, take photographs of equipment/escape routes and advise of measures that need to be included in your plan if any aspects aren’t as thorough as required.
If the inspector finds a breach of fire safety law, he/she will decide what action to take. The severity of the breach will dictate which action is required.
These are as follows:
Where a breach is considered minor, the Responsible Person will be told (either at the point of breach or at the end of the inspection) what the issue is and how they can address the issue so that they comply with the law. An informal notice will be given and the Inspector may write to the Responsible Person a few days later to confirm what advice was given and that the company understands what action to take.
Where the breach is considered to be more serious the officer can issue an enforcement notice to tell the company to implement changes to comply with the law. The notice will list what needs to be done, by what date and why this is required. The time period will generally be at least 21 days giving the company the opportunity to put things right or if they choose to make an appeal to a magistrates court.
An Alteration Notice may be issued if the officer is of the opinion that there is a serious risk to the public/workforce within the premises. This can include:
- Whether due to the feature of the premises, their /its use, any hazard present, or;
- Any other circumstances or;
- May constitute such a risk if a change is made to them or;
- The use to which they are put.
The notice must state that the enforcing authority is of the opinion that the matters identified constitute a risk to the public / relevant persons, or that they may constitute such a risk if:
- A change if made to the premises or
- The use to which they are put.
The Responsible Person for the company must address the risk-reducing it to a satisfactory level if an Alteration Notice has been issued. They will be told in writing about the right to appeal at a magistrate’s court. Before making any changes which will result in a significant increase in risk, they must notify the enforcing authority of the proposed changes.
The most serious of any notice given is Prohibition. Where an activity involves, or will involve, a risk so serious that people are in imminent danger – emergency powers can be used to restrict or prohibit the use of the workplace until the risk has been reduced to an acceptable level. The notice will explain why the action is necessary and what is deemed acceptable. Any right to appeal will be confirmed in writing.
Where breaches are extreme (and/or warnings have been ignored) the inspector can initiate prosecution against the Responsible Person / Company for failing to comply with fire safety law.
Information to Employees
During a visit, an inspector may check that those in charge have arrangements in place for consulting with and informing employees about fire safety matters. As mentioned above, such arrangements are required by law and this is why we recommend training on a fire safety course, particularly for your Responsible Person. The inspector may meet or wish to speak to employees during an inspection unless this is clearly inappropriate at the time (IE using heavy machinery). You should always be as helpful as possible with the inspector and make arrangements for any employees to speak in private if needs be. Encouraging your employees to take fire safety seriously can bode well in audits and more importantly save lives in the long run.
TutorCare run a number of courses that cover Fire Safety in the Workplace. These include training for the Responsible Person (Fire Marshalling Courses), Fire Safety Awareness for all staff, CIEH Fire Safety Awareness and NEBOSSH certification for low risk environments.