Fire Safety – Could trying to save a few £££ land you and your staff in prison?

Most business owners know that any organisation employing 5 or more people is obliged by law to complete a written Fire Risk Assessment on an annual basis. But what a lot of business owners don’t realise, is that if that Fire Risk Assessment has not been completed by a competent individual, both the Responsible Person (usually the owner) and the person who has carried out the fire risk assessment could not only face a hefty fine, but also even a prison sentence.

Legally a fire risk assessment can be undertaken by anyone as the law doesn’t stipulate required qualifications or seniority, but their competency is judged on sufficient training skills and knowledge. The more complicated a building is, or the activities being undertaken in it are, the higher the level of competency that is required by that individual.

Did you also know that senior managers and staff have a duty of care to ensure that fire safety procedures laid out in the fire risk assessment are being followed correctly and that failure to do so can lead to prosecution of both the company and individuals?

What the experts say

Fire extinguisher assessment

Solicitor Kizzy Augustin, a partner at Russell Cooke LLP, spoke at the FIREX International trade show in June about Fire Risk Assessments. As reported by Safety and Health Practitioner Online, she said ‘more individuals will be held accountable for the assessment and management’ of fire safety. Ms Augustin stated that ‘we’ve seen it a bit in general health and safety, where risk assessors have been prosecuted in a personal capacity for failing to provide adequate advice or adequate risk assessments for the use of a business.’

‘For the first time in 2014, a risk assessor went to prison for nine months for a breach of health and safety rules. Before that a risk assessor had never been prosecuted successfully and facing prison. It’s a real prospect now. We are seeing as a trend moving forward that owners, occupiers and Responsible Persons are starting to say we are owners, we are not safety professionals. We go out to look at people who are more experienced, so we went to a manufacturer and asked what’s the best fire door for our hotel. They suggested a particular fire door. They made no mention of the need for testing or appropriate standards. We went on that basis and the advice of experts’.

‘You can start to see how it might be used to fire safety risk assessors or anyone who is an expert in their field. There is now scope for owners and occupiers to push liability down to those who are advising on the use of various items at work or in a building.’

With the Responsible Person as defined under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 normally the owner, occupier or employer in a building, Ms Augustin said that ‘the problem is there are additional duty holders, by way of a contract or a tenancy that says something about your responsibility for maintenance or safety, which will bring you into play as another duty holder. But you are only responsible for fire safety to the extent of your control. There are a number of people who can be deemed to be duty holders. But how do you assess the extent of your control or liability when it comes to fire safety?’

The general definition of corporate responsibility is that ‘it is a duty to take general fire precautions’ to ensure ‘as far as reasonably practicable the safety of employees’, and there is a ‘corresponding duty’ under the Health and Safety Act discussing health and safety duties owed to employees and non-employees, but Ms Augustin noted that Section 37 of the Health and Safety At Work Act was important.

She explained that should an individual or senior manager commit a health and safety offence ‘by way of consent, connivance or attributable neglect’, the individual as well as the organisation could be guilty: ‘It does not matter whether you are defined, it’s about what you do day-to-day. If you have influence over decision-making in your business, you manage finances, you supervise people or you are responsible for projects, you could be placed in that very category as a senior manager.

‘It means you in your individual capacity could be investigated for fire safety breaches, and in the worst-case scenario be prosecuted.’

What can you do to safeguard yourself and your staff?

The easy answer is, hire a professional. Yes, it might cost you a bit more than doing everything in house, but for most companies the peace of mind that comes with that, far outweighs any monetary costs. Here are our top 5 tips to safeguard yourself and your staff.

1. Hire a Professional – Always ensure that the ‘professional’ you are hiring, is actually a professional. That might sound like an odd thing to say, but anyone can advertise their services as a fire risk assessor, so making sure that the company you hire are qualified and reputable is probably the most important thing you can do. Additionally, if your business or building is of a more specialist nature than just a standard office, for example a care home, check that the company you hire have experience in this specific field.

2. Act on Findings – Once you have your Fire Risk Assessment it is important that you act on it accordingly. If it identifies safety risks and you fail to address them in a reasonable amount of time you are leaving yourself wide open to prosecution.

3. Follow Up With Training – Once you have your assessment in place, it is important to ensure that it is followed up by an appropriate level of fire safety training to ensure that managers and staff understand the contents of the fire risk assessment and how fire safety procedures should be carried out.

4. Review Annually – Remember that Fire Risk Assessments are legally required to be reviewed and updated annually. It is also advisable to carry out fire safety training annually to ensure that any new members of staff are trained and that procedures are fresh in existing staff members’ minds.

5. Reassess After Changes – Although fire risk assessments only need to be reviewed annually if there are no significant changes, you must carry out a new fire risk assessment if any new building work or other significant changes are carried out in between assessments.

At FireCare Security & Electrical we carry out full fire risk assessments for our clients all over the South Coast and London. We’re based in Eastleigh, perfectly placed close to the M3 to look after our clients. Providing a first-class, professional service to our clients throughout Dorset, Hampshire, West Sussex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, London, Middlesex, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Wiltshire.