If you are an employer of five people or more, the law requires you to carry out a fire safety assessment of your premises with the object of keeping any risk to a minimum and keeping your employees safe. So this applies to most businesses: even a small shop will often have five or more employees.
The law concerned is The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and it doesn’t just apply to employers by any manner of means. It also applies to educational premises; small and medium places of assembly holding 300 people or less; large places of assembly (over300); theatres, cinemas, and similar places; healthcare premises; residential care premises; sleeping accommodation; private rented accommodation including a house converted into two or more flats; transport premises; animal premises and stables; and even open-air events and venues. In other words, pretty much everywhere! The HSE also has a separate guide for those who work in construction.
The responsible person could be you, the employer, or you may delegate the responsibility to someone else. It could be a landlord. It could be the owner of a stables. And so on.
The duty of the responsible person is to undertake a fire risk assessment and to keep a written record of it. The assessment must be reviewed on a regular basis. It also needs to be reviewed if anything changes. This could be something as simple as taking on an additional employee or changing the layout of your shop storeroom. For example, you might change your storeroom around and the effect is that a fire escape route is altered or becomes unusable.
When carrying out the fire risk assessment you must identify the hazards, identify people at risk, evaluate and remove or reduce the risks, and record your findings. You also need to prepare an emergency plan and provide training for your staff during their working hours.
You also need to prepare an evacuation plan showing fire escape routes that are as short as possible and enough exits for all people to escape – including those with mobility needs. The latter item can immediately cause a problem because if you have an office block you may have someone in a wheelchair on the fourth floor and the lift cannot be used, so you need to have people allocated to help them down the stairs. You also need to have emergency lighting where required, and emergency doors that open easily. You need to have a staff meeting point and have regular emergency drills - at least one per year.
You may need a fire detection and warning system and it needs to be checked regularly to ensure everything is working. You need to carry out checks on a regular basis to ensure that fire doors close correctly, escape routes are clear, fire escapes can be opened easily, and fire exit signs are in the right place and easily visible. You should also check fire extinguishers and have them regularly maintained. You should keep a record of any faults in systems and equipment and note any remedial action taken.
In addition, you need to ensure that any dangerous and flammable substances on your premises are stored safely, and away from anything that could set light to them.
If all of this seems like a lot of work, that is because it is. Furthermore, unless you have received specific training it may well be that you won’t spot something that could be a hazard. Some things may be obvious, but others not.
This is why many businesses today now use the services of specialist fire risk assessment companies that can come in and undertake the assessment for you. They have people who have been trained and know what to look for. Certainly, there is a cost of a fire risk assessment, but it is much easier than trying to do it yourself. Using such a company means that nothing will get missed, and they should provide you with the written report you are required to keep, along with their recommendations, if any. This way you will know that you are complying with the law, and the cost of a fire risk assessment is probably less than it would cost you to do it yourself, because your time is valuable and is better spent on running your business.