Who is responsible for fire safety in the workplace

August 09th, 2017

Thankfully most workplaces demonstrate a responsible attitude towards understanding workplace requirements for fire safety and ensuring “a responsible individual” has been appointed.

The specific legal requirements for workplace fire safety depend on the type of activity or business carried out on the commercial premises.

The systems and processes to reduce the risk of fire are going to be infinitely more stringent and detailed in an oil refinery than those that have been recommended for an office block.

In almost all circumstances, the responsibility for enforcing fire safety legislation falls to local authorities and the fire brigade service. The health and safety executive (HSE) is responsible for implementing legislation across the construction and nuclear industries. It is the duty of a qualified fire risk assessor to carry out a thorough survey and detail the systems and processes required. Each workplace will be unique and needs its own survey.

To ignite, a fire needs three elements:

  • A steady supply of oxygen.
  • A source of fuel, meaning any combustible substance.
  • A source of ignition, meaning heat or naked flame and electrical equipment.

These three elements can be linked together in a fire triangle and if any one of the elements is missing the fire will become extinguished.

What is the employee’s role in prevention?

In general terms the fire safety legal requirements for business owners are set out in the Regulatory Reform Order of 2005, which covers England and Wales. In Scotland equivalent requirements are set down in a document called the Fire Scotland Act of 2005.

The employer is obliged to carry out a detailed fire safety risk assessment exercise. This review can be carried out separately or as a component of the workplace health and safety risk assessment.

Employers are advised to consult the relevant legislation concerning their business operations and its workplace requirements for fire safety. There are many self-evident differences in what is good practice across different industries or business settings. However, even within a given industry there are likely to be well defined and disparate obligations on the part of employers.

In all risk assessments, the fire triangle is applied to the mechanics of day-to-day business activity. It should ask the following questions:

  • What could cause (source) the ignition of a fire?
  • What combustible substances could cause a fire to spread?
  • Who is at risk of harm?

The above questions are vital in helping the employer and the workforce understand that “combustible substances” are not merely paper or wood, but includes plastics, foams and volatile chemicals. In other words, every possible eventuality must be considered during the assessment.

Managing and Controlling Fire Risk

No business activity is entirely risk-free. In terms of fire safety, identifying the potential risks and ensuring the right systems and process are in place should help to ensure that any subsequent fire can be controlled more quickly and more efficiently.

To reduce and prevent a fire occurring in the first place, the employer should:

  • Continually review and update the fire risk assessment
  • Initiate and maintain regular fire drills and allow the fire safety officers the time to carry out their duties properly.
  • Keep fire exits and escape routes free from obstruction.
  • Invest in the appropriate fire detection and suppression equipment and ensure it is regularly inspected and tested.

The above is only an overview of an employers obligation under fire safety legislation.  If you would like further advice on the workplace requirements for fire safety please contact us.