What is Fire Safety?
The term ‘fire safety’ encompasses a range of issues, which are clearly identified
under current government legislation by The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order
2005 (RRFSO). Under the terms of the RRFSO, the responsible person in non-domestic
premises has to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of all
who are employed there and also that the premises are safe for any other people
who may be on-site or in the immediate vicinity and are therefore at risk from
fire: e.g. visitors to a public building. By ‘responsible person’, the RRFSO means
anyone who has any degree of control over the premises, which can include, inter
alia, the employer, owner, occupier or managing agent. By definition, therefore,
there can be more than one responsible person in terms of fire safety for a particular
building and there must be discussion and collaboration between them in this regard.
The duties of the responsible person(s) include:
- Taking general fire precautions
- Undertaking a fire risk assessment
- Implementing any necessary preventive and protective measures
- Monitoring and reviewing the preventive and protective measures on an ongoing
What are general fire precautions?
Under Article 4 of the RRFSO, general fire precautions are defined as follows:
- Measures to reduce the risk of fire on the premises and the risk of the spread
of fire on the premises
- Measures in relation to the means of escape from the premises
- Measures for securing that the means of escape can be safely and effectively
- Measures in relation to the means of fighting fire on the premises
- Measures in relation to the means for detecting fire on the premises and giving
warning in case of fire
- Measures in relation to the arrangement for action to be taken in the event of
fire, including the instruction and training of employees and means of mitigating
the effects of the fire.
This is a wide ranging remit and, although prescriptive in the sense that it
is a list of duties to be undertaken, it is not specific as to the actual means
that should be employed as these will vary according to each individual case.
It can be useful therefore to consult the HM Government entry level publication
“A short guide to making your premises safe from fire” (June 2006), which puts
some meat on the bones of the RRFSO, as it were: for example, it details the minimum
requirement in respect of fire-detection and warning systems and the main types
of portable fire extinguishers and their suitability for use on a range of different
What is a fire risk assessment?
A fire risk assessment is the means by which the various potential threats by
fire to life and property can be exposed, with the aim of identifying the general
fire precautions to be taken. As noted above, it is one of the duties with which
the responsible person is charged by the RRFSO.
The step-by-step Fire Safety Risk Assessment schedule, included in the HM Government
publication “A short guide to making your premises safe from fire”, enables the
assessment to be undertaken efficiently and thoroughly.
There are five key steps:
- Identify the fire hazards, to include the three elements of the fire triangle:
heat/sources of ignition; sources of fuel; and sources of oxygen. A fire cannot
start, or be sustained, if any one of these elements is missing or removed
- Identify the people at risk: this includes people in and around the premises
and those who are especially vulnerable in a fire situation, such as the disabled
- Evaluate, remove or reduce, and protect from risk: this includes an evaluation
of the risk of a fire starting and the risk to people from a fire; the removal
and/or reduction of fire hazards; the removal and/or reduction of risks to people
from a fire; and the protection of people through the provision of fire precautions
- Record, plan, inform, instruct, and train: this includes recording any major
findings and appropriate action taken; discussion and collaboration with other
responsible people; the preparation of an emergency plan; informing and instructing
relevant people, e.g. designated fire wardens; and the provision of training,
e.g. in the use of fire fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers
- Review: the fire risk assessment must be regularly reviewed and changes to the
plan of execution made as necessary
What is fire prevention?
The prevention of fire, as indicated by steps one and three of the risk assessment,
is accomplished by identifying potential sources of heat and fuel and removing
or reducing these fire hazards as far as is possible.
The sources of heat that serve to ignite a fire include such things as naked
flames, glowing cigarette ends and electrical sparks. Examples of fuel range from
combustible solids (e.g. paper, wood, textiles and rubber) through flammable liquids
(e.g. petrol, paints and solvents) to flammable gases (e.g. natural gas, methane
and propane). Flammable metals (e.g. aluminium, potassium and sodium) and combustible
cooking oils and fats pose unique hazards and require specialist fire fighting
equipment. For example, deep fat fryers constitute a risk factor in catering facilities;
a fire blanket as well as the appropriate type of fire extinguisher should always
be to hand.
As the requirement to protect people arises from their presence in a building,
it is not of course practicable to reduce or remove the third element of the fire
triangle, oxygen, as this is in the air that we breathe. Generally speaking, the
removal of oxygen occurs when a fire extinguisher is used to fight a small fire
by smothering it with a blanket of powder or foam.
What is fire protection?
Step three of the Fire Safety Risk Assessment charges the responsible person
with the protection of people and property from the risk of fire. This does not
simply involve the removal or reduction of fire hazards but also the introduction
of measures to enable the swift and efficient evacuation of people from the premises
in a fire situation and to limit the damage to property caused by the smoke and
flames of a conflagration.
Examples of such measures include the identification/provision of an escape route
through the premises, with the installation of fire doors as necessary to protect
the escape route and compartmentalise a fire, i.e. to contain it within a section
of the building. A final exit door, with appropriate signage, will also be required,
which ideally opens outwards and easily with a thumb turn lock or panic bar. Smoke/fire
detectors and an early warning fire alarm are also necessary: the alarm can range
from a shouted alert in a small building to a state-of-the-art electronic system
that interfaces with the fire doors in larger premises.
This is not an exhaustive list but it does serve to indicate the type of issues
that the fire risk assessment is designed to flag.