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Fire safety legislation in the UK is enacted differently under the three jurisdictions of England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Requirements (in terms of where they apply and what people have to do to comply) across the jurisdictions are very similar however, with the overriding purpose being to reduce death, injury and damage caused by fire.

The legislation introduced across the three jurisdictions was intended to simplify previous fire legislation and in particular remove the overlap created by the previous regulatory framework.

Other specific objectives include:

  • Provide a single fire safety regime, which can be better understood and administered by both businesses and the relevant authorities.
  • Develop a regime clearly based on risk assessment, fire prevention and mitigation measures.
  • Increase levels of compliance.
  • Focus resources for fire prevention on those premises which present the greatest risk.
  • Ensure that fire safety facilities and equipment are well maintained.

The legislation applies to virtually all premises and covers nearly every type of building, structure and open space, including, for example:

  • Offices and shops
  • Premises that provide care, including care homes and hospitals
  • Community halls, places of worship and other community premises
  • Pubs, clubs and restaurants
  • Schools and sports centres
  • Tents and marquees
  • Hotels and hostels
  • Factories and warehouses
  • Construction sites

In England and Wales, common parts of flats and houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) are also included, but this is not the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Broadly, the law does not apply to the underground parts of mines or off-shore installation. It also doesn’t apply to anything that flies, floats or runs on wheels unless it is static and being used like a building, e.g. work in dry dock.

In considering the information provided below, it is important to recognise that impact of other regulations on premises fire safety, including, for example, relevant Housing Acts, Buildings Regulations, The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM)The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR), The Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations, The Petroleum (Consolidation) Regulations, The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations, The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations and The Electricity at Work Regulations.

The person responsible (or duty holder) for fire safety is anyone  who has, to any significant degree:

  • control of the premises;
  • control over the activities on the premises; and
  • employs people.

In many instances this will be a company or other organisation. The person responsible or duty holder could therefore be:

  • the employer at those parts of a building where staff and visitors may go;
  • the occupier in premises such as those used by the self-employed, or voluntary organisations if they have control over a premises or part of the premises;
  • the managing agent or owner for shared parts of premises or shared fire safety facilities, such as sprinklers or fire detection systems; or
  • any other person who has control over a premises or part of a premises. 

They are responsible for the safety of any person who is, or may be, lawfully on the premises, and any person in the immediate vicinity of the premises who is at risk from a fire on the premises (excluding a fire-fighter who is carrying out duties in relation to a function of a fire and rescue authority).

In many cases, responsibility may be shared between several people but it is important to highlight that the management of fire safety in a premises is not the responsibility of the fire service or any other statutory body.

More specifically, the responsible person or duty holder must:

  • take general fire precautions to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of his/her employees;
  • take general fire precautions in relation to relevant persons who are not employees, as may reasonably be required in the circumstances of the case; and
  • carry out a fire risk assessment focussing on the safety in the case of fire of all ‘relevant persons’, with particular attention being given to those at special risk, such as disabled people, those who you know have special needs and young people and children.

The assessment must consider any dangerous substances that may be on the premises.

In addition, the responsible person or duty holder must:

  • Appoint one or more competent persons, depending on the size and use of the premises, to carry out any of the preventive and protective measures required. A competent person is someone with enough training and experience or knowledge and other qualities to be able to implement these measures properly.
  • Provide employees with clear and relevant information on the risks to them identified by the fire risk assessment, the measures taken to prevent fires, and how these measures will protect them if a fire breaks out.
  • Consult employees (or their elected representatives) about nominating people to carry out particular roles in connection with fire safety and about proposals for improving the fire precautions.
  • Before employing a child, provide a parent with clear and relevant information on the risks to that child identified by the risk assessment, the measures put in place to prevent/protect them from fire and inform any other responsible person of any risks to that child arising from their undertaking.
  • Advise non-employees, such as temporary or contract workers, of the relevant risks to them, and provide them with information about who are the nominated competent persons, and about the fire safety procedures for the premises.
  • Ensure co-operation and co-ordination between the responsible persons and duty holders for other premises in the building, keeping one another informed of any significant risks that have been identified and how those risks will be reduced/controlled and whether they affect the safety of any employees.
  • Arrange for the employer of any person from an outside organisation who is working in the premises (e.g. an agency worker) to receive clear and relevant information on the risks to the worker and the preventive and protective measures taken.
  • Establish a suitable means of contacting the emergency services and provide them with any relevant information about dangerous substances.
  • Provide appropriate information, instruction and training to your employees, during their normal working hours, about the fire precautions in your workplace, when they start working for you, with arrangements for refresher training also established.
  • Make sure that the premises and any equipment provided in connection with firefighting, fire detection and warning, or emergency routes and exits are covered by a suitable system of maintenance, this being carried out by a competent person.

It is also important to highlight your employees responsibility to co-operate with you to ensure the workplace is safe from fire and its effects, and to avoid doing anything that will place themselves or others at risk. Your fire risk assessment will help you identify risks that can be removed or reduced and to decide the nature and extent of the general fire precautions you need to take.

If your organisation employs five or more people, your premises are licensed or an alterations notice is in force, you must record the significant findings of the assessment. It is good practice to record your significant findings in any case.

After the fire risk assessment has been completed and any consequential remedial works carried out, it will be necessary to establish arrangements for periodic review. You will also need to review the assessment if significant changes are made to the workplace, premises, activities or personnel.