New fire safety legislation

What is the new legislation?

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO) comes into force on 1 October 2006 and represents the biggest overhaul of fire safety legislation in decades. Although the legislation was approved by parliament on 7 June 2005, the government has been working with stakeholders to allow time to prepare. The order applies to England and Wales. The RRFSO is framed in concise terms and omits as much superfluous jargon as is reasonably practicable for a piece of major legislation. It has been subject to wide-ranging consultation, which should result in good and effective new laws.

What are the main changes from current legislation?

Currently, fire legislation encompasses a plethora of regulations. The RRFSO consolidates the law and will make compliance easier. Generally, the new laws will cover any workplace. The main changes are:n Fire certificates will no longer have legal status.

  • Responsibility for compliance rests with the ‘responsible person’, normally the employer or any other person(s) who may have control ofthe premises.
  • Safety assistance is required by way of a competent person (as defined below).
  • Emphasis is on fire prevention through a fire risk assessment.

Does it place greater responsibility on the employer for fire safety in the workplace?

The new legislation is risk-based and places responsibility on the ‘responsible person’ in the workplace – this is the employer to the extent that the workplace is under its control. The legislation specifically requires that safety assistance is required and one or more competent persons must be appointed to assist. A person is regarded as competent where they have sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities to enable them properly to assist in undertaking the preventive and protective measures.

Can I assume that I comply with the new legislation if I already have a fire risk assessment?

You will need to review your fire risk assessment to ensure it complies with the relevant aspects of the RRFSO. However, this should not be too onerous, as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (amended by the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations) required fire risk assessments to be included under general risks to health and safety. Any action taken to comply with current regulations should have the effect of making the transition to the new legislation easier. All risk assessments should be reviewed periodically or when changes have taken place.

What determines a ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessment?

‘Suitable and sufficient’ in the concept of risk assessments means that the assessment has identified all the significant hazards and, as a result, reasonable precautions have been taken. Eliminating the hazard should be your main priority, but it is recognised that this is not always practicable. To identify such hazards, look at those who may be harmed and implement control measures to mitigate those risks. Assess the extent of any precautions you need to take to protect people against those remaining risks.

What specifically should I consider in a fire risk assessment that differs from other assessments?

The principles of a risk assessment rarely change. The following are examples of the issues that will need to be considered, irrespective of the scope of your business:n Identify the hazards likely to cause a fire.n Identify who could be harmed (including emergency services).

  • Identify control measures to reduce the risk of fire.
  • Identify what measures are needed to prevent the risk of the fire spreading.
  • Ensure fire detection systems are maintained.
  • Examine emergency procedures and arrangements for action in the event of a fire.
  • Identify means of escape from the premises which must be secured at all times.
  • Ensure firefighting measures are satisfactory.
  • Monitor and review your assessment.
  • Record your findings.

It is essential to consider any hazards that the emergency service might encounter, particularly if hazardous substances or the nature of the building poses unusual risks. Liaison with your fire safety officer is strongly recommended. Most organisations will have liaison visits and some encourage their premises to be used for training exercises.

This is invaluable for the Fire Service and can help with your own risk assessment.

By Ed Hodson, senior health and safety adviser, Andrew M Jackson

Click here for further information from the Department for Communities and Local Government

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