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How a small business can comply with fire safety rules

By Paul Sweeting, technical director at Bradbury Group

Most fires are preventable, so all workplaces and commercial premises with more than five people are required to follow fire safety legislation. The safety and security of employees, visitors and company assets can all be secured by following procedure but, as every company is different, it can be difficult to know if you're doing it right. Here’s a guide to working out what your premises should be doing to comply with the fire safety code.

Who is responsible for fire safety?

The responsible person (RP) when it comes to fire safety is whoever is in control of the premises: usually the employer, owner, landlord or manager. RPs must ensure that all aspects of fire safety are implemented and up to date, including fire risk assessments, emergency plans and staff training. As well as being responsible for the safety of staff, the RP is also responsible for all areas of the premises that the public have access to.

Creating a risk assessment 

Fire risk assessments are used to identify fire hazards and determine what can be done to remove or reduce them, as well as making a note of who would be at risk if a fire did occur. RPs are required to ensure that this information is reviewed and updated on a regular basis.

There are plenty of resources online that can help RPs compile a fire risk assessment for their premises, but it’s important to think about what the business does. Are there any aspects of its daily operations that could present a fire hazard? Similarly, consider if there are any structural aspects of the building that could pose a problem, either by starting a fire or preventing escape. 

Escape routes, fire doors, and exits

Fires spread quickly, and inadequate escape routes can lead to people getting lost, having accidents or becoming trapped. Routes to emergency exits should be as short and direct as possible, ending in a safe meeting point away from the building.

Having the right kind of fire exit door – one that opens quickly, without compromising security – at the end of an escape route can save lives. These do not have to be fire-rated, unless they are the only emergency exit on the premises.

Internal fire doors are designed to divide a building into sections so that a fire can be contained, allowing employees and visitors to escape, and minimising fire damage. To ensure they have the right kind of door fitted, RPs can incorporate the five-step fire door check into their risk assessment:
• Look for certification labels 
• Check intumescent seals are intact
• Check hinges are fixed firmly
• Look for gaps in the frames
• Test to see if the doors close firmly without sticking 

RPs should also ensure that the fire doors within their building meet the required fire safety specifications. Third-party accredited steel fire doors are ideal, as they must pass a furnace test to ensure they can withstand heat and prevent flames from spreading.

Safety equipment and signage

Businesses need to have warning systems. These can be fire, smoke and CO2 detectors that emit noise when they detect a threat, or manually triggered alarms that are pulled or pressed if a fire is discovered. RPs need to ensure the alarms are tested every week. 

There should be plenty of green signs indicating fire escape routes and how to follow them, blue signs identifying which doors are fire doors, and red signs showing the locations of firefighting equipment. 

There are a few different kinds of firefighting equipment, and not all are relevant to every premises. Commercial organisations need to have a survey to find out the number and type of fire extinguishers that are required, for example, based on how high the level of risk is, and which classes of fire are most likely to break out. 

Planning for an emergency

The RP is required to use their risk assessment to develop an emergency plan that covers what action will be taken when a fire is discovered, or fire alarms begin to sound. They should aim to ensure that two fire drills are carried out per year to test the effectiveness of the plan and record the results, noting what can be done to improve.

An RP can organise training courses so that designated staff can act as fire marshals or stewards to assist in evacuations and fight fires. These people can also be entrusted to deliver fire safety training to new employees on behalf of the RP, if they have achieved a certificate.

Staff and visitors need to be told the contents of the emergency plan: where the escape routes are, how to use them, and where the safe meeting point is. RPs should take care to consider people with mobility issues: will they be able to use the same routes or will they require special arrangements? 

All aspects of fire safety can be found on the government’s website, and can be used to determine which codes of practice are suitable for your premises.

By adhering to fire safety regulations, the risk of fires breaking out and causing structural damage or endangering employees can be reduced. Businesses can receive hefty fines for not being up to code, so there are plenty of reasons to make sure that your premises comply.