With the Fire Safety Act (2021) receiving its Royal Assent, further accountability is now placed on the Responsible Person within a business to manage and reduce the risk of fire.
Enforcement action is expected to rise as a result of the Act, and duty-holders can expect to face severe penalties if prosecuted. It is therefore crucial for businesses to ensure that review and upkeep of their premises’ fire safety solutions is put firmly back on the priority list, despite the recent disruption caused by Covid-19.
In summary, the Act:
- Applies to all multi-occupied residential and commercial buildings
- Requires all Responsible Persons to assess, manage and reduce the risk of fire posed by the structure and any common parts of buildings, including all doors
- Grants the Fire Service the power to take enforcement action against businesses that fail to comply with the Act’s requirements
- Enables the government to issue risk-based guidance which can be offered as proof as to whether a Responsible Person has complied with the requirements of the Act
Here, Simon Molloy MIFSM NAFRAR, Senior Consultant and National Fire Risk Assessment Manager at fire safety specialist, JLA, discusses the key measures that must be put in place by businesses in order to comply with the new regulations.
Appoint a Responsible Person
A Responsible Person (Duty Holder in Scotland & Appropriate Person in NI) is a designated individual who assumes control of a non-domestic building either through ownership or management and more than one can be assigned to a building.
Building on the Regulatory Reform Order 2005, the 2021 Fire Safety Act stipulates that a Responsible Person must take all possible steps to identify and reduce fire risks and establish both fire safety precautions and means of escape.
Responsible Persons are also responsible for carrying out or commissioning a suitable and sufficient Fire Risk Assessment.
Develop a commercial Fire Risk Assessment
A Fire Risk Assessment continues to be a legal requirement and promotes the long-term safety of both a building’s occupants and the building itself against potential harm from fire and smoke. Businesses can either conduct an assessment themselves or bring in specialist risk assessors to provide extra peace of mind.
Fire Risk Assessments should be detailed, step-by-step documents which identify the on-site activities and areas of a building that present a fire risk with itemised actions to help prevent incidents.
The five key elements a Fire Risk Assessment checklist should include are:
- Identification of fire hazards
- Identification of ‘at risk’ people
- Evaluation, removal or reduction of identified risks
- Development of emergency plan with suitable training provided
- Regular reviews and updates of the Assessment
Create a robust fire safety and evacuation plan
As with a Fire Risk Assessment, it remains a legal requirement for Responsible Persons to create an evacuation plan. In the event of a fire, a robust plan greatly reduces the risk of injury to a building’s occupants as it is commonly known what emergency action should be taken.
An evacuation plan must demonstrate the premises has:
- Clear passageways to all escape routes
- Clearly marked escape routes that are as short and direct as possible
- Enough exits and routes for all occupants to escape
- Emergency doors that are easily opened
- Emergency lighting where needed
- Training for all occupants so escape routes are known and can be used safely
- A designated safe meeting point
- A suitable number of fire drills to be completed (premises dependent) to ensure all staff have been involved and these recorded.
Install and maintain barriers to minimise the spread of fire and smoke
Physical barriers that prevent the spread of fire and smoke are essential for businesses that operate in premises containing multiple rooms and passageways.
Compartmentalisation of a building is critical to facilitating a safe means of escape. Managing and maintaining fire compartments is critical to ensuring your occupants safety.
Fire doors provide a formidable defence in the event of an uncontrolled combustion and, depending on the type of door, can give between 30 and 120 minutes protection – critical time in which a building’s occupants can be evacuated to a safe location.
Choosing an appropriate fire door and managing its usage are important considerations. Fire doors are manufactured with the sole purpose of halting a blaze and are thus usually heavier than standard doors. Opting for lighter varieties is advisable in premises such as care homes and primary schools where some occupants might struggle with the added weight.
Even if lighter varieties are deemed too heavy for those who may have to use them, Responsible Persons can acquire devices that automatically close all doors when a fire alarm sounds but can be held open at other times for occupants to pass through.
Perform regular fire alarm checks
Over the past ten years, the number of fire safety audits has declined by over 43%. This means that many premises are at an added risk of fire simply because they have inadequate or poorly maintained fire systems and processes.
Fire alarms often detect unidentified fires before any person on-site and are thus a critical first line of defence. Regular checks on their performance are an essential Fire Safety undertaking. The British Standard BS5839-1 advises fire alarms to be maintained at least twice a year, but the more checks completed throughout the year, the better.
For added peace of mind, professional site visits can provide a thorough analysis of all commercial fire alarm systems. Checks to detect faults or disablements can be carried out on fire alarm panel units, and core battery and device tests can be performed along with full sounder tests.
Make sure your smoke ventilators are fit for purpose
Finally, it is both a vital and a legal requirement to ensure smoke can clear quickly from hallways, stairwells, lobbies and other access routes in the event of a fire. Ensuring so allows people to evacuate a premises safely and means emergency services can manoeuvre, rescue and recover more efficiently.
Automatic opening vents (AOVs) are a highly effective means of allowing smoke to escape from a building thereby reducing injurious or fatal smoke inhalation. Usually, a combination of smoke vent windows, roof smoke vents and automated hatches, AOVs also help to reduce heat build-up and maintain a smoke-free layer above floors to aid safer evacuations.
Historically, it was deemed adequate to simply install a suitable device that could turn a standard window into an automatic smoke vent. However, in 2013, the Construction Products Directive stipulated that all automatic opening vents must be covered by a European standard and be tested by a recognised third party.
As the threat of fire is a constant worry for any business owner, it is essential that all designated Responsible Persons ensure premises are compliant with the recent Fire Safety Act 2021. Acting now, investing in the right equipment and ensuring that fire plans and systems are regularly checked and updated, will ensure businesses are in the best position possible.