FIRE REGULATIONS AND ADVICE
Fire Regulations and Advice
Fire regulations and fire safety in commercial premises is controlled by The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. You find a huge amount of complicated, confusing and misleading information online, so to help business owners through this minefield, we provide free advice, templates and training to give you the definitive information you need.
Free fire safety advice for businesses
Every business must comply with the current fire regulations set out in The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Failure to do so will leave the business owner, the person installing or servicing the equipment, and anyone carrying out a risk assessment, open to prosecution.
In the course of installing and servicing fire equipment, we have seen many dangerous practices carried out in the name of safety – often when a customer sincerely believes they are doing the right thing. With this in mind, we’ve created this page to highlight some common pitfalls with fire regulations.
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Fire Risk Assessment
If you employ 5 or more people anywhere in the UK, you must have a documented fire risk assessment. Included in these 5 people are part time staff, non-paid staff and directors. A fire risk assessment ensures legality and compliance with safety legislation – in this case the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
All fire regulations and fire safety activity must be carried out by a ‘competent person’, which the Order defines as someone with:
‘Sufficient training and experience’ or alternatively they must possess ‘knowledge and other qualities’, which will in both cases, enable them to properly carry out the task at hand’.
Even when businesses get it right and there’s a good fire risk assessment in place, it’s easy to forget that it isn’t a one-off job. The general rule is that these assessments are carried out annually, unless changes to the structure of the building take place, in which case a full review of the fire risk assessment must take place.
Weekly Testing – Automatic fire alarms should be tested weekly to ensure that they work; details of these tests need to be recorded in a fire logbook. The company that services your fire alarm should also train you on how and when to complete these tests.
6 Monthly Tests – BS 5839 require fire alarms in a commercial setting to be tested every 6 months by a competent person, and suitable certificates supplied to ensure the system conforms to current standards (BS5839).
Zone Chart – BS 5839 requires pictorial zone charts to be supplied on the fire alarm panel, detailing the different zones the fire alarm is separated into. This is not only for the benefit of the customer, but also the fire brigade should they require access to the building outside of normal hours. In 80% of the automatic fire alarms we see, there is no zone chart in place.
Emergency lights are fitted with a battery backup, so that in the case of power failure they’ll illuminate internal escape routes out of the building. All buildings will generally require emergency lights installed in specific locations as detailed in BS 5266. Emergency lights should be serviced to BS5266 at least annually.
Common errors are lights not being serviced to British Standards, not being serviced often enough or at all, lights being installed in the wrong position or no emergency lights where lights are needed.
Over Supply - There are unfortunately many companies in the UK that pay their engineers commission when new equipment is installed. This unfortunately creates the temptation to install more equipment than is strictly necessary. On average, we find that customers’ previous suppliers have oversupplied them with at least 20% more extinguishers than they actually need.
We will often speak of equipment being serviced to BS 5306 (extinguishers) or BS 5266 (emergency lights); the BS in these codes refers to ‘British Standards’ – British Standards are the standards produced by BSI Group which is the National Standards Body for the UK. These standards are the code of practice by which all fire safety professionals must work.
Servicing Standards – Extinguishers should be serviced to BS 5306; to do this each different type of extinguisher requires a set regime of servicing. Quite often we find that engineers from some fire companies have not been servicing to current standards, even though the labels and certificates they have supplied advise that they are. The type of problems we note are:
- Failure to weigh extinguishers and record the weights
- Hoses and horns not sufficiently tightened
- Gauge seals missing
- Servicing labels fitted over previous servicing labels, any of which are against the code of practice laid down in BS 5306
Buying From the Internet – Some companies opt to purchase extinguishers from the internet and install them. BS 5306 states that all new equipment must have a commissioning service on installation; this should be carried out by a fire regulations servicing company, or someone who is trained in extinguisher servicing and can competently fit the extinguishers in the correct locations. A certificate of inspection should then be provided for the work carried out. When reviewing installations undertaken by customers without professional assistance, we nearly always find that they’re incorrectly fitted, in the wrong locations, show no understanding of compliance issues and are quite often the wrong extinguishers.
Incorrect Extinguishers – Powder extinguishers are generally classed as the most adaptable and cost-effective extinguisher in the marketplace. Powder extinguishers put out most fires extremely quickly. However, they have very limited use and should never be used generally in places such as offices, care homes, hospitals etc. Powder extinguishers restrict visibility and breathing and can destroy electrical items. They should only be used either in the open air, or in places with the room for the powder to dissipate into the atmosphere – places such as warehouses or plant rooms where their usage will not obscure visibility.
It’s still the case that most companies do not realise that it is their responsibility to appoint a sufficient volume of staff to implement basic, safe firefighting on their premises. These staff, usually called fire wardens or fire marshals, should have extra training on what to do in the event of a fire, how to safely evacuate other occupants, and how to identify and deal with a small fire safely. Many companies are still under the impression that their role is to evacuate the building and leave the rest to the Fire Service. This is no longer the case; recent studies have shown that in 90% of cases, staff who are trained in firefighting can extinguish a fire safely before it becomes serious, reducing the impact of fire on the building, the business and to staff.
The fire service state:
“Make it clear that firefighting equipment should be considered as a possible means of reducing a risk of fire spreading, providing protection and for providing assistance to others… it should also be considered as a possible means of mitigating the detrimental effects of a fire”.
Most companies will be required to do at least one fire drill annually and maintain records of this. Some companies with higher potential risks or greater impacts on individuals in the case of a fire might have to do this more often.
A drill should test the whole process of what happens in the case of a fire. No one knows when or where a fire could start, and drills should include all possible scenarios. Examples should include (where possible) blocking escape routes as if a fire were in that location and seeing how staff behave, positioning a member of staff in a toilet or hidden area to see if they are found on a building sweep, and creating scenarios with different types of fire and locations to test that a fire warden is able to simulate the correct response and locate the closest and correct extinguisher.
We always recommend a post evacuation exercise to ascertain if the evacuation plans and procedures match what occurred in the fire drill.