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Setting out fire safety strategy for a small business

It’s been a tumultuous time for SMEs, but with the recent announcement of the roadmap out of government restrictions comes hope that life and trading can return to normal. It’s the ideal time to consider the fire safety of your premises. However, for small-business owners, the intricacies of fire safety, and keeping up to date with regulations, can be challenging to navigate.

Fire safety provisions are required by law in businesses of all sizes. Here, we demystify the often-misunderstood standards and regulations so you can be confident of your legal responsibilities and take steps to comply with fire safety law.

 

Fire safety: What the law states

Commercial premises are governed by the requirements of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO). It holds certain individuals within the business responsible for conducting fire risk assessments in the first instance, before taking steps to reduce the risk of fire and installing protective equipment throughout the building. As a small-business owner, you are the so-named ‘responsible person’ with whom this responsibility falls. It is your duty to ensure your workplace complies with fire safety standards and that employees are well-informed of measures in place and how to protect themselves should a fire take hold.

 

What does a fire risk assessment entail?

As the responsible person, you must carry out and regularly review and update a fire risk assessment of the premises. This is a thorough and detailed physical inspection of the building in which the competency of existing fire precautions is assessed. A fire risk assessment can be undertaken by yourself or someone else you deem competent. You must, as far as is reasonably practical, make sure that everyone who uses the premises can safely escape in the event of a fire. A fire risk assessment will identify fire hazards and people at risk. You will then evaluate, remove and reduce the risk. If your business is hoping to reopen soon as lockdown restrictions ease, it’s the ideal time to review your fire risk assessment given that, as you look to make the environment COVID-secure, changes may impact fire safety provisions.

If there are five or more people working on the premises, a written record of the fire risk assessment is required. Read more about fire risk assessments and your responsibility as the business owner.

 

Installing and maintaining firefighting equipment

Fire safety in the workplace doesn’t end with the fire risk assessment. You must act on its findings and remove or reduce any fire hazards – for example, replace highly flammable materials with those that are less flammable – and then take further protective and preventative measures. General fire precautions include an appropriate fire detection and warning system (any fire alarms are encouraged to be tested weekly), as well as providing the means to fight a small fire: fire extinguishers.

 

To comply with British Standards, your fire extinguishers must be serviced annually by a qualified technician, who will check correct installation and application. They have a specialist knowledge and know safe methods of inspection of pressure vessels, and they’ll also ensure you’re compliant.

The right maintenance and annual servicing of your fire extinguishers is vital if they’re to remain fit for purpose and perform as expected in the event of a fire.  

 

Communicating fire safety around the building

In a business of any size, it’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure all staff feel safe at the premises and that they’re well-informed about what they should do in the event of a fire. Fire safety training should be carried out by staff on a regular basis – they should be familiar with all fire exits and escape routes, the location of firefighting equipment, and correct procedures. You’re legally obliged to conduct fire drills at least once a year. However, it’s recommended they’re practiced more regularly than this, particularly if the environment has changed in anyway or has many risk factors. Article 19 of the RRFSO is clear about the provision of fire safety information to all employees. Staff must have general fire safety awareness, be appropriately trained and supported to meet their fire safety duties and all actions must be recorded.

Fire safety signage is not only crucial in communicating required actions in the event of a fire – it’s an obligation under the RRFSO, which states that all workplaces must have adequate signs to inform people of the location of firefighting equipment, emergency exits and escape routes. Read more about the importance of signage in an emergency.

 

If there is found to be a breach, in most cases, the fire authority will work with the business owner to achieve satisfactory safety levels. However, in serious cases, where a threat to life and disregard for safety is deemed, the responsible person is held accountable and could face a fine or imprisonment. Take the time now to ensure your small business’ premises are safe for all who use them and be confident that, as the responsible person, you’re fulfilling your legal duties.

Can we help you get your premises ready for a return to business? Talk to us about fire safety equipment required to ensure your premises satisfy the law and local fire authority.

The content of the CheckFire blog is for general information purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure accuracy at the time of publication, under no circumstances should it be considered professional advice. Any reliance you place on the information is at your own risk. Always seek the advice of a fire professional for your particular circumstances and requirements.
  • by Toria Jones

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