Some years after changes to fire safety law, London Fire Brigade is warning that many businesses still don’t have enough understanding of how the law affects their business or premises, and could be risking financial ruin or even prosecution.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order came into affect in October 2006 and replaced over 70 separate pieces of fire safety legislation. The Order applies to virtually all buildings, places and structures (the main exception being private homes) so includes premises like shops, restaurants, offices, nightclubs, care homes, sports venues and also communal areas, parts of blocks and houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) used in common by the occupants of more than one flat or bedsit.
The law places the responsibility for fire safety in the hands of employers and other people who have control of premises such as landlords, owners and other people with control of premises, so having an understanding of fire safety and the role you have to play is at the heart of good business management. This understanding is particularly important for small and medium size businesses and landlords who might not consider fire safety to be a top priority. Research from Touche Ross and London Chamber of Commerce estimates that up to 80 per cent of businesses fail within 12 months of suffering a major catastrophe, such as a fire.
The biggest change under the legislation is that fire risk assessment and a duty of fire safety care was introduced for most premises and replaced fire certificates for those premises that previously required them (factories, offices, shops, railway premises, hotels and larger boarding houses). If you are an employer or have control over a premises (known as the ‘responsible person’) then you are required by law to carry out a fire risk assessment and act on its findings.
The document should assess the fire risks to the property and people that work, live in or visit the premises. The risk assessment should also identify actions which need to be taken in order to protect the building from fire. It must be kept under consent review and amended if any changes are made to the premises.
London Fire Brigade carries out around 14,000 fire inspections of premises each year and although the majority of buildings are managed well in regard to fire, there are still too many buildings that do not have an adequate fire risk assessment and as a result have fire exits blocked, inadequate fire alarms or poor training for staff. The Brigade can and does prosecute companies or individuals if there are breaches to fire legislation and though court action is a last resort, recent cases show that the courts will issue fines or even consider prison sentences for serious cases.
London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety Regulation, Steve Turek said; “It is essential that anyone who owns a business or premises understands their responsibility under the fire safety order. The honeymoon period is over and the legislation can no longer be classed as new, as it has been in place for over three years. The amount of businesses that do not recover shows that during economic hardship it is even more important to take fire safety seriously. You cannot run a good business without good fire safety management.”