Fire Safety

Fire Safety Order & Risk Assessments: An interview with Ceri Flavell

In the following interview Ceri Flavell, Watch Manager in the Protection (Fire Safety) Department of Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, speaks to FireAngel about the Fire Safety Order; who it applies to, Fire Risk Assessments, and the importance of implementing and maintaining an appropriate fire alarm system.

The Fire Safety Order (FSO), otherwise known as the Regulatory Reform Order, applies to England and Wales, and covers “General Fire Precautions and other fire safety duties which are needed to protect ‘Relevant Persons’ in case of fire, in and around most ‘premises’”. The FSO requires fire precautions to be implemented reasonably, practically and  ‘where necessary’.

So Ceri, who enforces the Fire Safety Order?As shown in Article 25 of the FSO, which details the Enforcing Authority for specific premises types, there are several Authorities who enforce the FSO – not just the Fire and Rescue Service. Whilst we (the FRS) enforce it in most locations, the Crown Premises Fire Inspection Group (CPFIG) enforces the Order in Crown premises, and the local authority can enforce it in some premises, such as housing of multiple occupation and designated sports grounds etc. Generally speaking though, it’s normally the Fire and Rescue Services.

And who does the Fire Safety Order apply to?

Within the FSO, Article 6 outlines the ‘Application To Premises’, showing where the Order does and does not apply. Broadly speaking, it applies to nearly every type of building from where a business is running, or where there are Relevant Persons.

It doesn’t apply to single private domestic premises (your home, for instance) but it can apply to domestic premises when that premises is above -or is intrinsically linked to –  a commercial element. It also doesn’t apply to fields, woods, open land, ships, aircraft or other locomotive or rolling stock such as trailers. If anybody is unclear as to whether the Fire Safety Order applies to their premises (or who enforces it) they should contact their local FRS.

The FSO states that responsibility for complying with the Order rests with a ‘Responsible Person’, who exactly is this?

Article 3 of the Fire Safety Order gives a hierarchy of responsibility – this ultimately breaks the ‘responsible person’ meaning down for you. Primarily, in relation to the workplace, the responsible person tends to be the employer – there are people working for this person, so it is the employer’s responsibility to make sure the environment they’re working in is safe.

Second in the hierarchy (when there is no employer), is the person who has control of the building/premises. We tend to see this in village halls, scout huts, charity shops etc. Lastly, the third responsible person is the owner of the building.

How does this differ from appointing a ‘competent person’ to carry out the preventative/protective measures required by the Order? Can you give an example?

Well, if we were to take a licensed restaurant, for example, the responsible person would be the owner of the business – the employer – as it is his/her duty to ensure a fire risk assessment is conducted to ensure the premises is safe for all relevant persons. However, he/she may not have the necessary skillset to conduct the fire risk assessment, so will have to go to a competent person to carry out that fire risk assessment.

Therefore, this fire risk assessor will have the necessary training or skills required to conduct the fire risk assessment on the responsible person’s behalf. Another good analogy is a car driver and an MOT – it is the driver’s responsibility to make sure the car is safe, and will do so by taking it to a competent person (the MOT tester) every year to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

What happens when there is more than one Responsible Person in a building, e.g. in a multi-occupied complex with multiple landlords?

First of all, tenancy agreements need to be fully investigated to fully establish where the limits of responsibilities begin and end for each person involved. What would typically happen in a simple premises, for instance, is that you would have several communal areas such as reception or kitchen, and these areas would be the landlord’s or managing agent’s responsibilities. However, in the tenant areas (such as an office or floor), then the tenant has the responsibility for what happens in this area. This is all outlined in Article 22 of the FSO, which is all about cooperation and coordination.

When there are two or more responsible persons, there should be a great deal of communication. So when the landlord conducts a fire risk assessment in communal areas, he/she should share this information with the tenant(s), and vice versa. The same applies when practicing fire drills – all relevant persons should confer on the timing and process – or when there is a new tenant, or a new risk/problem occurs. Everyone should be communicating on the potential impacts of this change and cooperating on how to best to respond to it.

Typically the landlord will take responsibility for the over-reaching precautions such as a fire alarm throughout premises, and if there’s a problem he/she should liaise with the tenants.

Premises will often have equipment provided in connection with firefighting, fire detection, and specific emergency routes and exits. What is the best way to ensure these are in working order/are well-known to tenants?

This is dependent on what type of premises we’re talking about. If we’re considering a multi-storey office block, then the landlord or tenant will be required to provide fire-fighting equipment, which should be regularly tested on a maintenance schedule; it would be serviced annually by a competent person.

By having regular checks on equipment, this will confirm they are in good working order, and still located in the right place.There may be indicators to check, for instance, with fire extinguishers there may be a tamper tag or is a little pressure gage. This allows you to check that there isn’t a leak, or the extinguisher isn’t over or under charged. Similarly, emergency routes and exits should be regularly checked and logged by a competent person.

With regards to fire detection, it is highly important to regularly test fire alarms. For multi-occupied complexes, this can be particularly effective when done at the same time every week. The relevant persons will therefore know that, when the alarm sounds outside of this time-frame, they should treat it seriously and evacuate the premises. Communication is key, and it is important to educate everyone about fire escape routes – especially those which are not immediately obvious to common circulation areas.

What is the difference between a ‘hazard’ and ‘risk’ identified in a Fire Risk Assessment?

A ‘hazard’ is something that can cause harm, and the ‘risk’ is the likelihood that a hazard will actually cause harm to someone. For example, in a cooking environment there can be deep fat fryers, gas and naked flames- all hazards – but what are the chances these will cause harm? Well, the risk is greatly reduced by introducing control measures. For instance, oven gloves will reduce the risk of burns.

One of the big issues for fire and rescue of officers is when there are compressed Acetylene cylinders in the premises. The fire risk assessment would consider these, and ensure there is a minimum amount of these in a building at any one time, and never have multiple stored together – this, alongside knowing the location of the cylinders, would greatly reduce the risk of FRS officer injury during a fire.

How often should a risk assessment be undertaken?

The FSO recommends a minimum of every 12 months. However it is possible that your Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) may become invalid prior to this 12 month period. For instance, when there is a new processes introduced in a factory – this will bring about new risks. Therefore, the current risk assessment will not take into account these new risks, so it needs to be reviewed to take these into account. This could also be as simple as a fire door swelling over the weekend due to heavy rain- one escape route is no longer available, so the fire safety procedures in place will need to change accordingly. It is therefore important to treat the FRA as a “live document” which accurately reflects the current status of fire safety provisions and practices within the premises.

Obviously there is no ‘one size fits all’ for risk assessments. What advice would you give to housing providers to ensure their risk assessment is thorough in different properties?

Unfortunately, often generic risk assessments won’t account for the different standards in different premises. You may have a simple fire safety checklist, but this will not include specific factors such as travel distances, or specific persons that may need extra help. So yes, there is no ‘one size fits all’ for risk assessments. Ultimately, the assessment is only as good as the person conducting it. Therefore, my chief advice is to ensure that a competent person carries out your risk assessment. This is key in making sure your risk assessments are thorough in all your different properties. It is also vital that the document is “site specific”and definitely not just in a tick box format. Comments detailing thought processes, justifications and risk reduction/control measures need to be accurately detailed – it would be extremely difficult to defend a thought process if it wasn’t recorded in a written format.

Frequent Unwanted Fire Signals (false alarms) greatly impact on the availability of operational crews to attend further incidents. How can housing providers help to reduce these incidents?

It is difficult for the FRS to maintain availability, and it is a burden to residents, when there are frequent false alarms. But there are several things that can be done.

Firstly, housing providers must ensure the fire alarm system is maintained and in line with the British Standards. Secondly, within some premises with common areas in multiple occupation premises, be clear with the residents about how the fire alarm system works and what to be aware of. A lot of HMO premises will have two fire alarm systems – a domestic system, which will only activates in the flat or origin, and a commercial system/part 1 system. If the fire isn’t responded to by the resident of the flat (e.g. they are not at home), then the flat will begin to heat up, triggering the part 1 system which will initiate alarms across the whole building. This will provide warning to all residents to evacuate, before the fire breaches the compartment of origin and starts to impede means of escape.

It is therefore essential to make sure that the correct alarm system is installed in the building, and this is regularly tested and reviewed against the way the premises are used.