When you are an employer, the law places many responsibilities on you as regards the potential for fire on your premises and evacuation plans for your employees should a fire break out.
You have to carry out a fire risk assessment of your building or buildings, and if you employ more than five people you have to keep a written record of your assessment and the steps you have taken to improve fire safety. You should also keep a copy of it elsewhere in case the original is lost.
There are many things to take into consideration when carrying out a fire risk assessment. Not the least of these is combustible materials that you may have on the premises. For instance, if you run a retail store you may have a lot of paper used for wrapping, and you probably store a lot of plastic bags also. If you run an engineering workshop, you may have machine oil. Possibly you could be a manufacturer of candles. A wool shop is obviously going to have a lot of wool. The list goes on.
You need to think about heaters, lighting, naked flames, welding or grinding processes, electrical equipment, matches, cigarettes, or anything else that could cause sparks.
Then you need to consider people. Certainly, everybody is at risk if there is a fire, but some may be more at risk than others because of where they work, or when they work, or the equipment that they use. Then there may be people on your premises who are not familiar with them, such as customers or visiting salesmen or a plumber or electrical contractor. Children, the elderly, and the disabled may be especially at risk.
Next you have to remove or reduce the risk. For instance, keeping sources of ignition and flammable materials apart. Could a source of heat or sparks fall or be pushed into something that could catch fire? Or the other way around? Can you secure any fuel that an arsonist might use? Are your premises protected against possible arson?
Then you have to consider how you will know there is a fire. You need to have fire detection equipment and fire warning equipment that everyone on the premises can hear. However, if you have someone who is deaf, they will not be able to hear, so you may need alarm signals such as flashing red lights. If a fire starts, who is going to call the fire brigade?
Of course, you need to consider firefighting equipment. You may have enough of it, but have you enough staff trained to use it? It's always possible that you had five people trained to use the extinguishers, but three of them have left your employment, so you don't have enough people now. Your firefighting equipment also has to be in good order and working properly, so it needs checking over by a professional on a regular basis.
You also need to plan your escape routes. They need to be free of clutter and your fire escape doors need to be in good working order too. Could something such as a lorry be blocking the fire exit from the outside? Does everyone know what to do if a fire breaks out, and have you had a regular fire drill? You should run a fire drill at least once a year. Have you got a meeting point arranged so that everyone can be counted?
If you share a building with other businesses, have you consulted with them, and do THEY have proper fire procedures in place? You may have done everything that you can, but if the business next door hasn't, it could be a serious problem.
There is so much to take into consideration, and we have not covered all of it here. There is a simple answer, though, and that is to have a specialist company undertake your fire risk assessment for you. Certainly, that means there is a fire risk assessment cost, but since you have to do it as the law requires, you will most certainly save yourself the cost and frustration of a DIY job. When you look at the time you would have to spend doing it yourself at your hourly rate, the fire risk assessment cost will actually save you money. Better still, you know it is going to be right.