Due to recent tragic fires in UK, the government has updated the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO). The Fire Safety Act 2021 further clarifies the FSO 2005 and extends the scope of the Order.
In this article, we will explain why fire safety is so important, outline workplace duties under the Fire Safety Act 2021 and provide information on who is responsible for meeting these duties.
Why Fire Safety Is Important?
Effective fire safety relies on safe work procedures and constant vigilance. Most fires are caused, or made worse, by people who fail to follow safe systems of work. Implementing a fire safety policy, that follows the guidelines of the Fire Safety Act 2021, will help to protect your employees, the public and your place of business.
The Fire Triangle
Three basic elements are required for any fire to start:
- Fuel – Material that burns and which provides the source of energy
- Oxygen – A fire is a chemical reaction and cannot work without oxygen
- Heat – Fire cannot ignite or spread unless there is sufficient heat
These three elements are called the Fire Triangle. Eliminate any one of these elements and a fire will not start or will be put out.
Who Is Responsible for Fire Safety in the Workplace?
Everyone in the workplace has the responsibility to stay vigilant against the risk of fire. However, your duties and legal obligations in the workplace will differ depending on your role in the company. Under the Fire Safety Act, there are designated fire safety responsibilities for:
- Responsible person/s
- Fire wardens
The Role of the ‘Responsible Person’
According to the Fire Safety Act 2021, a ‘responsible person’ is legally responsible for fire safety in the workplace. A ‘responsible person’ can be an employer, landlord, occupier, owner, or anyone who has a degree of control over a premises, such as a manager.
Many employers designate a fire warden to act as the ‘responsible person’. The basic aim of a fire warden is to help safeguard lives and property from fire risks. However, they must never take any actions that put their own safety in danger.
The Role of Fire Wardens
Fire wardens typically help to coordinate evacuations as part of a wider team – particularly in larger organisations. This can include senior fire wardens and perhaps a fire safety manager.
Fire wardens should assist in guiding people out of the building to a place of safety. This will involve standing in specific locations to guide staff and visitors to the nearest fire exit. It may also involve ensuring that staff power down equipment and store away flammable materials.
Once the evacuation has been completed fire wardens then move through their designated area to check that everybody has left.
Finally, fire wardens should ensure all doors and windows are closed.
Once everybody has left the building, they should be guided to a designated assembly point where a roll call will be taken.
Fire wardens who have performed sweeps of their areas must report to the person who is taking the roll call. This may involve reporting anyone who has refused to leave as part of the evacuation.
Once the premises are clear, nobody should re-enter the premises until the fire and rescue services say that it is safe to do so. If required, staff should be positioned at entrances to prevent customers from re-entering the building.
During fire drills, nominated fire wardens will assist staff in following the prescribed fire evacuation policy.
Fire Safety Responsibilities of Employees
According to both the Fire Safety Act and general UK health and safety legislation, employees must always act to take reasonable care of their own personal safety and the safety of those around them. They must co-operate with their supervisors and employer to identify and manage workplace risks. Any potential areas of risk, whether this is the actions of another employee or a work situation, must be reported immediately.
There are three main responsibilities employees have for maintaining the principles of fire safety:
- Fire prevention – Identifying fire hazards and taking action to keep the workplace safe
- Fire evacuation – Assisting with the rapid, safe evacuation of the premises in the event of a fire
- Extinguishing fires – Staff require training to help put out small fires before they can spread and cause significant damage
Fire Prevention Duties
In general, all employees should remain on guard and look for potential hazards based on the fire triangle. In simple terms, this will involve good housekeeping to ensure that unnecessary sources of fuel and ignition do not come together in unplanned ways.
To prevent fires, it’s essential that unsafe conditions, such as faulty equipment, blocked fire exits, or blocked escape routes are reported immediately. If there are any signs the fire safety policy is not being followed, all employees share a responsibility to report the issue.
Keep your workplace clean and tidy by disposing of any waste safely.
If you are a smoker, it’s essential you only use designated smoking areas.
Hot works involve an increased fire risk by nature. If you are involved, then it’s essential you understand how permits to work operate and follow fire safety arrangements.
Fire safety equipment should be regularly maintained and checked to confirm it is in good working order.
Fire extinguishers should never be removed from emergency points for any reason other than extinguishing a fire.
Fire alarm call points and fire exits should remain clear and free of obstructions.
Fire doors must be kept in good working order.
Smoke detectors, sprinklers, emergency lighting and fire safety signage must remain unblocked and kept in good working order.
Fire Evacuation Duties
During an evacuation, employees must do their best to remain calm and follow procedures. All hazardous machinery should be shut down before evacuating if this is possible. All employees should make their way promptly to the nearest fire exit and from there to the designated fire evacuation assembly point. Lifts should not be used. Personal belongings may have to be left behind. All staff must take care to assist others wherever possible.
Only attempt to fight a fire if you have received more specific training, the fire is small, and you have a clear exit route so the fire cannot entrap you. If, at any point, you do not feel confident about extinguishing a fire, then leave the premises immediately.
Don’t take risks: get everyone to evacuate the area immediately – including yourself.
Who Is Responsible for Enforcing Fire Safety Legislation?
Fire Safety Act 2021 summary
The Fire Safety Act 2021 was introduced to UK parliament in 2020 as a result of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire. One of the main aims of the Fire Safety Act 2021 was to close loopholes regarding risk assessments of multi-occupied residential buildings. However, the Fire Safety Act 2021 also provides further clarification of the role of a ‘responsible person’ and requires that fire risk assessments include building structures and external wall systems.
Further fire safety training can be found on the Human Focus website. Human Focus offers a range of fire safety courses designed to provide employers and employees with the skills they need to comply with all fire safety requirements.