Members of the British Fire Consortium (BFC) are well-placed to assist employers and others who need to comply with the new Order as, between them, they offer a broad range of fire and safety consultancy and training services, together with the installation and maintenance of fire safety equipment and systems.
Q: Why is a Regulatory Reform Order necessary?Phil Wright: The purpose of the Order was to simplify, rationalise and consolidate the law with respect to fire safety in buildings and to comply with European Directives on Fire Safety. There were nearly 100 regional and national Acts and statutory instruments relating to fire safety provision, some of which were inconsistent, or out of date and not applicable to today's society.
Legislation which has been repealed or amended under the new Order includes the Fire Precautions Act 1971, the Fire Precautions (Application for Certificate) Regulations 1989, The Fire Precautions (Workplace) (Amended) Regulations 1999, the Housing Act 1985 and the Smoke Detectors Act 1991 plus 73 more pieces of legislation.
Q: What type of buildings will the new Order cover?PW: The Order categories the buildings it is designed to protect into the following 11 categories: Offices and Shops, Factories and Warehouses, Sleeping Accommodation (guest houses, hotels etc.), Residential Care Premises, Educational Premises, Small and Medium Places of Assembly (community halls, places of worship etc.), Large Places of Assembly (such as sports stadiums), Theatres and Cinemas, Health Care Premises and Transport Premises and Facilities.
Q: How will facilities managers know how to comply?PW: The ODPM has produced a series of guides relating to each of the 11 building categories. These are thick volumes, which will be available at a cost of £12.50 from the ODPM from the end of June 2006. They should be seen as a layperson's guide to the Order and will play the same role as the Management Regulations' Codes of Practice or the Construction Law's Schedules.
Q: So once we have bought the right guide, what's next?PW: The starting point for all categories of building is the identification of a responsible person who will be held ultimately responsible for the safety of the employees and relevant persons using the building. This will normally be the person who owns or controls the business or premises (where two or more such persons share a responsibility i.e. landlord and tenant, they are obliged to co-operate.) Unless a landlord/employer has a fire service or other appropriate background, the Order does not expect the responsible person to have the required levels of theoretical and practical knowledge to deliver the appropriate duty of care. Therefore it stipulates that the responsible person must appoint one or more competent persons to assist them.
Q: How do I determine that a person is competent?PW: In a large organisation the appointment of such a competent person would normally fall within the remit of the facilities manager who would source a specialist fire and safety consultant or company. There are fire industry standards that define competence and which facilities managers can adhere to ensure they are appointing suitably qualified professionals. For example BS 5306 defines a competent technician who installs and maintains portable fire extinguishers, as one who has passed a British Association of Fire Equipment (BAFE) approved examination. Facilities managers should therefore demand proof that technicians meet this requirement when sourcing a professional fire safety company. BFC member examinations are BAFE certified and assessed to stringent quality and performance standards by the Consortium.
For facilities managers working in low-risk work facilities and who want to go it alone, the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) has just developed a new Fire Safety and Risk Management Certificate, which is designed to equip holders to carry out fire risk assessments themselves and identify the range of fire protective and preventative measures required (visit www.nebosh.org.uk for details of course providers). The Order makes it clear that failure to carry out these responsibilities may result in enforcement by the enforcing authority through the actions of an inspector. Conviction for failing to comply with the Order may lead to a fine or up to two year's imprisonment.
Q: What does the responsible person and his or her team need to do exactly?PW: The order states that this person is responsible for the safety of the employees and relevant persons (the Order defines a relevant person as anyone other than an employee who may be on the premises or may be affected by an incident arising in the premises) by properly managing the following:
- Fire risk assessments;
- Fire safety policy;
- Fire procedures;
- Fire drills;
- Means of escape;
- Signs and notices;
- Emergency lighting;
- Fire alarm/s;
- Fire extinguishers;
- Fire doors and compartments;
- Fire evacuations.
Q: That's a fairly long list - where do we start?PW: It's really not as alarming as it seems. Most organisations and facilities managers will have already addressed these issues through their compliance with current legislation such as the Fire Precautions Regulations 1997 (amended in 1999) which states that every premise has to have a fire risk assessment and, if you employ five or more persons, that risk assessment has to be in writing.
Q: Do we still have to prepare a Fire Risk Assessment then?PW: Absolutely, the Fire Risk Assessment forms the main ethos of the new Order and must be formally recorded if the responsible person employs five or more people, or if the type of premises or the inspector requires it (this will be indicated in the appropriate guide). For example a factory producing highly flammable materials would require a written risk assessment even if only three people were employed.
The Order states that the risk assessment must be reviewed regularly to make sure it's working and when significant changes to the building or work activity occur. Any actions required have to be commensurate with the specific risks likely to occur at the type of premises, and these are laid out in the individual guides. For example, it's easy to understand why there would be significant differences in risks and the actions required to minimise them at a boarding school, a laboratory where animal testing took place, a theatre and a factory where highly flammable materials were stored.
Q: Does the risk assessment have to include persons other than employees using the building?PW: Yes the Order says the assessment has to focus on the safety in case of fire of all relevant persons and these would include employees, visitors, members of the public - even trespassers! It must also take into account those persons at special risk such as the disabled and those with special needs of any type. People with special needs form a non-exhaustive list - someone with a broken leg for example should be made the subject of a risk assessment review to cover the time they are less able to evacuate the building.
Q: How do I actually implement the rules set out in the guide?PW: By producing a set of policies and procedures, which as any facilities manager will know is already required under the Health and Safety at Work Act, section 2.(3) and The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, Regulations 8 & 9. The relevant guide will help set out policies that are appropriate to your type of premises in order to reduce the risk of fire starting in the first place. Under the terms of the new order, there must be a policy in place that aims to minimise the risk of fire, reduce its spread and provide clear means of escape. The simplest policy to implement and which drastically reduces the risk of fire in any building is a no smoking policy. Another policy, which will be applicable to all buildings, is to have all electrical portable appliances tested. The guides also advise on the most sensible procedures according to the building type and they must be set up and recorded. They must identify circumstances that trigger the procedure and give details of the evacuation and readmission drill. Typical procedures to reduce the spread of fire could be simply shutting all internal doors at night.
Q: What records have to be kept?PW: The Order demands that records are kept of the fire risk assessment, the fire safety policy, the fire safety procedures, training and drills as well as the installation and maintenance of equipment such as alarms, emergency lighting and portable fire extinguishers. Most fire safety consultancy companies will provide logbooks for this purpose.
Q: Give me some examples of the work that may be required in my premises?PW: Basic fire prevention measures will include means of escape that are kept clear at all times with the evacuation route clearly marked with appropriate signs. Emergency lighting must be provided in escape routes if appropriate. You will also need to install fire detection and alarm systems that are appropriate to the risk. Appropriate fire fighting equipment must also be provided - normally portable fire extinguishers. Fire doors and other measures taken to reduce the risk of fire must be kept in good order and equipped with appropriate seals and self-closing devices. You should also consider the spread of a fire beyond your premises - for example, think how road users may be affected if your premises were situated next to a motorway.
Q: What about staff training?PW: The Order says that all employees must be given adequate fire safety training (during normal working hours) when they commence employment as well as receiving refreshers as appropriate. This must include training in the use of fire extinguishers.
Q: How will the Order be enforced?PW: By inspectors working for the enforcing authority (usually the local Fire and Rescue Service, but HSE, MOD and the Local Authority (Environmental Health) will also be responsible for special establishments under their control). The inspector will usually be a local fire officer. The Order permits the inspector to enter premises, inspect, ask questions and identify who is the responsible person. They may also copy fire safety records and take samples as deemed necessary.
Q: How long will we have to comply after the RRO comes into effect?PW: The RRO was approved by Parliament on 7 June 2005 and will be enforced from 1 October 2006. At the time of writing (April 2006) the ODPM stated that at least nine of the 11 guides will be available by the end of June 2006, giving employers a three-month period in which to become compliant.
Q: And if I'm still confused?PW: Call me or any other member of the British Fire Consortium specialising in the preparation of fire risk assessments - we've made it our business to fully understand the implications of the new Order. There are members all over the UK and we can be contacted through the BFC, who will help you locate a member best suited to your needs.
British Fire Consortium
Tel: 01273 297 274
Building & Maintenance
Fire, Health & Safety
Latest News from Facilities Manager
- Preserving documents, preserving business
- DDA legislation - are you affected by these new changes?
- The case for facilities management
- Filling the information gap
- Service solutions - a multitude of options
- Developing FM on an international stage
- Standards in facilities management
- The future of the services sector in Europe
- Service delivery - the 'real' asset
- Believers and cynics