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The new fire safety legislation

Trevor Davies, health and safety expert at online health & safety information and consultancy providers, Croner, outlines the implications of new fire safety legislation

In order to rationalise and simplify fire safety legislation and to help improve standards of fire safety within non-domestic premises in England and Wales, ODPM (now Communities and Local Government, CLG) reviewed existing legislation and subsequently produced the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO).

The RRFSO was made under the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, which gives Ministers the power to review and reform legislation that has become unwieldy and impractical to comply with, and consequently repeals over 100 pieces of existing legislation including the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997.

The current status

Approved by Parliament on 7 June 2005, the RRFSO came into force on 1 October 2006. Initially, it was to come into force in April 2006, but the Government decided to put the date back in order to give businesses more time to comply with the legislation.

What action does the legislation require?

If an organisation is currently complying with the requirements of previous fire safety legislation then they will more than likely be compliant with the RRFSO. It has been produced with stakeholders and business in mind and therefore it does not require major expenditure in terms of time, effort or finance. However, there has been a shift towards a more modern 'risk-based' approach to fire safety that makes it a critical part of any health and safety regime, even more so than before.

A major emphasis has also been placed on life preservation, which includes protection of fire fighters and other emergency personnel who may be called upon in the event of a fire emergency. This means that tougher measures may be implemented to ensure the safety of emergency personnel and also to cut down on the number of 'false alarm' calls that the emergency services deal with. This is most likely down to individual fire authorities in their respective areas.

One significant difference is that fire certificates issued under the Fire Precautions Act 1971 will no longer be required. Instead the Order imposes a general duty to carry out a fire risk assessment, the main points to cover being the safety of employees and any visitors (including contractors), the protection of property and resources from fire and the job security of employees, the safety of fire fighters and other emergency personnel and the environmental impact of fire. Organisations in possession of a fairly recent fire certificate may well be able to use this as a starting point in their risk assessment. Another main difference is the requirement to identify the responsible person in respect of fire safety at your premises. This will generally be the employer in control of a workplace, the person with overall management of a premises or the occupier of a premises or the owner of a premises (in the case of empty buildings).

The responsible person should nominate a competent person or persons, who will actually implement the requirements of the Order. They must be suitably trained, have adequate equipment available to them and the number of competent persons must be adequate for the premises and hazards associated with them. They also need to have sufficient training and experience and knowledge to enable them to properly implement the measures identified for fire safety. Local fire and rescue services will have adopted the enforcement of the RRFSO. This will include inspection and audit of fire safety measures within premises, the issuing of recommendations/improvement orders and any necessary enforcement action. They are still available to advise on aspects of fire safety management but they cannot perform risk assessments for organisations.

In addition, the Order has various specific requirements in relation to the elimination or reduction of risks from: dangerous substances; fire fighting and fire detection; emergency routes and exits; procedures for serious and imminent danger and for danger areas. Additional emergency measures in respect of dangerous substances; maintenance; safety assistance; provision of information to employers and the self-employed from outside undertakings; training; co-operation and co-ordination at work though the actual requirements may vary across industry and premises types.

What information and assistance is available?

The Government has published a series of guides to help businesses understand their responsibilities under the new Order. The guides address the following type of premises:

  • Offices and shops;
  • Premises providing sleeping accommodation;
  • Residential care premises;
  • Small and medium places of assembly;
  • Large places of assembly;
  • Factories and warehouses;
  • Theatres and cinemas;
  • Educational premises;
  • Healthcare premises;
  • Transport interchanges; and
  • Open air events.

All of the guides are available to download from the Fire and Resiliance section of the CLG websit www.communities.gov.uk/