When you own or operate a business in the 21st century you are faced with many, many different laws, some of which you may never have even heard of. Others you may know about, but do not fully understand them, and that is not your fault. The laws can be so complex that it is very easy to fall foul of them. Many of them have only come into being in recent years, such as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which came into force on October 1st 2006.
Up until then, you could start a business – open a store, open an office, employ staff – and that was that. Today the law requires you to carry out a fire risk assessment of your premises in order to identify and eliminate, or at least reduce the risk, of a fire occurring. For example, you may run a manufacturing plant that uses combustible materials as a matter of course. You cannot eliminate them, but must do everything possible to reduce any risk, such as keeping them under lock and key, for example, when they are not required for your processes.
Certainly, the Fire Safety Order was brought into being in order to keep staff and any visitors or customers safe, and you cannot argue with that. However, unless you have been trained in what to look for when undertaking a fire risk assessment, it can be a huge problem. You might think that certain things are obvious – and, indeed, they may be – but then again you might, and probably will, easily miss something that would be obvious to someone with the appropriate training.
The law requires not only that you undertake a fire risk assessment but, if you have more than five employees, you must also keep a written record of your assessment, any problems found, and the steps that you took to eliminate or reduce any risk. One thing that the law does allow you to do is to appoint someone else to carry out the fire risk assessment for you, as long as that person is “competent”. So you might choose to delegate the job to a manager. However, in the eyes of the law you are still regarded as the “responsible person” and if anything goes wrong, the buck stops with you!
Part of the problem is that if serious errors occur you can finish up in court and get fined thousands of pounds. It is also quite possible to finish up in jail if the problem was severe enough. Only a couple of years ago, the proprietor of a wedding venue was fined about £24,000 and sent to jail for 20 months. His crime? He had made alterations to his premises that did not comply with the law. Now it may not have been deliberate or wilful neglect. He may just not have known. But that isn’t the point. You are required to comply with the law and ignorance is not an excuse.
The responsible or competent person is required to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of any risks. The assessment must be reviewed regularly, although there is no definitions of “regularly” in the Order. Most people take this to mean annually, and this would be deemed to be sufficient.
However, this is not sufficient if any changes have taken place. So you might add an extension to your factory, undertake a different working process, change fixtures and fittings or machinery around, and so on. If anything like this happens, you MUST review the assessment, even if it was only completed last month. If it turns out that everything is still safe, there is no need to make any changes, but if it has led to making something unsafe, you need to take action.
Ultimately, the best way to deal with your fire risk assessment, unless you are trained in the requirements of the Order and know what to look for, is to appoint us at UK-Fire Risk Assessments as your fire risk assessor. Our team is highly trained: undertaking fire risk assessments is what we do all day and every day.
The result is that you get a fire risk assessment which is accurate and abides by the law. It will also give you peace of mind, which is priceless.