Regulatory requirements for public access and multi-use buildings
The UK Government’s fire regulations were put through a massive reform back in the early 2000s when attention was drawn to the outdated nature of policies that were in place. More efficient fire safety procedures were needed, particularly for public places where large numbers of people may be congregated at once. In such situations, the potential for crowding and panic increases health and safety risks, and warrants specialist fire safety measures to minimise danger.
A fire that broke out at the Aeronaut pub in Acton on New Year’s Eve saw some staff and patrons resorting to escaping through the roof of the building. Meanwhile, Clapham Junction station was evacuated a few days ago due to fears that overcrowding would present serious health and safety concerns in the event of a fire. Fires are unpredictable at the best of times, and these recent incidents have proven that even with modern health and safety legislation in place, more could be done to aid safe evacuation and firefighting, and prevent fires from breaking out in the first place.
The safety measures applied in public access buildings, as well as the rescue procedures and equipment used by the fire service and their associates, were subject to massive overhaul a few years ago, and regulations for the policing of these safety measures and procedures were instigated. These regulations are now subject to regular review and have been categorised for specialist environments to ensure individual circumstances are met to high safety standards. Public access buildings and those that serve more than one use are subject to their own separate sets of fire safety regulations, so ensure that responsible parties are well-informed before taking any action in such environments. Public access and multi-use buildings range from residential apartment buildings (houses in multiple occupation or HMOs) to shared offices and retail premises, and a variety of regulations apply depending on each place’s individual specifications. Applicable regulations vary by building purpose, capacity, age, size and intended occupants, and are quite particular with their requirements in relation to these factors. It is important in such environments to have a good understanding of your legal obligations as a proprietor or landlord, to best ensure the safety and wellbeing of a building’s occupants, and your legal compliance.
Separately-functioning residential settings such as apartment buildings, (residential healthcare settings do not count) are subject to different regulations to other public access environments. Landlords are legally bound to ensure fully-functioning smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms are installed throughout the property, to ensure any gas appliances are certified Gas Safe by a qualified fitter, and any electricals meet the British Safety Standard. Any additional furnishings should be fire-resistant and compliant with safety regulations. Specifics can be discussed with Landlord unions or Citizens Advice Bureau, who are able to help ensure that landlords are fulfilling all of their legal requirements.
To help you get a better idea of your individual fire safety requirements, ensure you work by the relevant fire assessment guide. Separate guides are available for different venues:
- Offices and shops
- Factories and warehouses
- Sleeping accommodation
- Residential care premises
- Education premises
- Theatres, cinemas and similar premises
- Open air events and venues
- Healthcare premises
- Animal premises and stables
- Transport premises and facilities
- Small, medium and large places of assembly
Depending on the individual requirements of the building and its uses, these fire risk assessment guides will ensure you take all of the appropriate legal safety precautions. The relevant document will help you to identify hazards and vulnerable people, and assess and remove or at least reduce these risks. The guides will also help you to get an understanding of who is legally accountable for putting these measures in place and making buildings suitable for occupation. The kinds of fire detection and warning systems used must adhere to regulations, and fire drill and training programmes suited to the building should be implemented. These guides, published by the Home Office, are available upon request from Communities and Local Government Publications, and fire safety assessments should be carried out and refreshed with regularity.
In many cases, publicly accessible buildings and multi-use buildings are subject to regulations specific to building specifications, with regards to fire safety and legal responsibility. These include the placement of fire safety equipment like fire escapes and extinguishers and regular fire training. Responsible parties are also encouraged to consider what extra measures can be taken to ensure the safety of occupants in the event of a fire. This can include safety lighting and ventilation. Although these aren’t always a legal requirement, they can make buildings much safer and easier to escape from in the event of an emergency. This not only shows occupants that their health and safety is of primary concern, but it offers everybody peace of mind, knowing that they are in a safe environment.
In the event of a fire, automated safety lighting and ventilation lower the risk of injury or death by providing improved visibility and rerouting the toxic gases and fumes that cause the majority of fire-related injuries and deaths. Inhalation of smoke and toxic fumes have been found to cause a significant 53% of fire-related deaths each year, and between 2014 and 2015, 263 people sustained fatal fire-related injuries in the UK alone. Efficient fire safety practices, and innovations such as smoke and heat exhaust ventilation, could have saved 139 of those lost lives. Although extra fire safety measures, such as lighting and ventilation are not always required by regulation, they are most definitely advisable. Consulting with fire safety professionals on your premises can give you a reliable idea of what exactly you need to do to meet your legal obligations, and what can further enhance the safety features of your premises.
Fire safety is more important than ever. Although safety precautions and innovations are working to make people safer – the UK’s fire service has seen a 17% drop in fire incidents in the past four years – building owners and landlords must commit to helping incident figures to drop further still. The laws of responsibility and fire safety are complex but tightly woven – non-compliers risk minor financial penalties up to £5000, and unlimited financial penalties and prison sentences in instances of major noncompliance. It is in everybody’s best interest that building proprietors and landlords be well-informed about their fire safety responsibilities and take every necessary step to ensure the safety of building occupants.
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