A business owner's guide to fire safety management

29 July 2016 by Graham Simons, FIA Technical Manager

As we all know, fire drill practise in any business is an absolute must.  Employers must become familiar with the procedures, and employees must understand when to evacuate the building to the agreed place of safety.  This is also an opportunity for staff to ensure that life safety equipment is working properly. Generally, on the whole, most employers are good at training everyone evacuation protocol during a fire drill and things progress without a hitch so that everyone can file slowly back inside.

However, fire safety is not a matter to be dismissed.  Serious breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (or RFO, for short) can have huge implications for businesses, with one restaurant fined £13,000 this month for a breach of fire safety regulations.  Another small business was fined £24,000 for a breach of 8 fire safety regulations.  These might be extreme cases, and thankfully, it seems that cases where businesses do breach the regulations are becoming increasingly rare, but that does not mean that the vigilance upheld can now be relaxed.

 

What the law says

Current legislation states that the ‘responsible person’ must take all steps to demonstrate that they have followed all regulations in order to prevent a fire.  A ‘responsible person’, according to the RFO, means:

(a)in relation to a workplace, the employer, if the workplace is to any extent under his control; 
(b)in relation to any premises not falling within paragraph (a)— 
(i)the person who has control of the premises (as occupier or otherwise) in connection with the carrying on by him of a trade, business or other undertaking (for profit or not); or 
(ii)the owner, where the person in control of the premises does not have control in connection with the carrying on by that person of a trade, business or other undertaking.

In the instance of a business, the issue of the ‘responsible person’ can get a little complex.  Essentially, the ‘responsible person’ may not be a person as such, but the corporate body as a whole that could be penalised by any potential breaches of fire safety regulations.  


Another issue for a small business in a premise with multiple occupancy, is defining who is responsible for what; there may be several different businesses in different parts of the building and there may be a common area shared with all businesses. The terms of the lease will determine what the business is responsible for and what the landlord is responsible for.

students waiting outside university halls after fire drill
Fire drill practice should be part of the fire safety strategy

However, according to Article 13 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, the ‘responsible person’ (i.e. the employer) must nominate a competent individual on-site for the general day-to-day management of fire safety.  This could be a facilities manager, site manager, caretaker, or general manager who might oversee the general running of fire safety, or a combination of these people.  British Standards (which aren’t laws but are general best practice guides written by industry experts, such as members of the Fire Industry Association) refers to this role as the ‘Premises Management’ to distinguish from Responsible Person defined in the RFO. Again Premises Management may be a single person or a team of people. 

Most employers nominate someone within Premises Management to oversee all of the management in relation to fire in order to ensure compliance with the law.  The nominated individual would also be responsible for training other staff the procedure in the event of an alarm sounding.

 

The Importance of Regular Maintainance 

Whilst many businesses have a robust fire safety policy in place to train staff and to manage the fire drills, it is important to consider the proper maintenance of the fire alarm system, and all equipment such as fire extinguishers and emergency lighting.  Routine and regular maintenance is an essential part of ensuring that the system continues to be fully operational in its life safety role.  It’s vital that these do not get overlooked.  In a business setting where potentially hundreds of employees and members of the public are around, it really isn’t acceptable to allow any part of the fire detection and alarm system go unmaintained for any great length of time.

The log book is the most essential document required to record fire safety events, and it is the job of the Premises Management to keep this up-to-date.  

 

But what is a log book, and what should it contain?

old documents
A logbook is not the sort of thing you can write on scraps of paper

Quite simply: a record (or log) of everything related to fire safety in the building, kept up-to-date by the Premises Management.  It should contain the date, time, and the reason for the alarm sounding.  Was it a false alarm?  Was it a weekly test or fire drill?  Was it a real fire and did somebody get hurt?  What device caused the alarm?  All of these aspects should be recorded.

A log book is not the sort of document that can just be written the back of notebook, as there are certain requirements in the types of information that should be recorded.  At the Fire Industry Association, we always recommend that when a fire alarm system is commissioned, that the employer asks for the log book to be included in the package.  Any decent, reputable, certified company should be able to do this (if you aren’t sure, just use our ‘Find a Member’ section to find reputable companies), and they should be able to give the best advice on how to use the document when they hand over all other documentation relating to the fire alarm system.

The important thing to consider is where to keep the log book, as it is a vitally important document that needs to be kept to hand to record any fire drills, fire alarm tests, or false alarms.  Keeping the log book locked up so that is doesn’t get accidentally moved is sensible, as is keeping the log book close to the fire alarm panel. The panel will normally show that everything normal and only a single green LED is lit. Otherwise LED indicators will show if there is a fault, disablement, test, or even if there is a fire.  Any faults should be recorded in the log book.

It's vital to remain disciplined when it comes to fire safety.  Organise weekly fire alarm tests, activating the alarm from a different manual call point (the red button that activates the alarm) every time.  All of this should be recorded into the log book of the specific call point used, the date, time of activation, and if all the alarms sound successfully. For larger systems it may take considerable time to test every manual call point, perhaps several years. However, remember that this in-house weekly testing is supplemented by the professional maintenance regimes that will ensure that every component of the fire detection and alarm system is tested over a period of 12 months.

As businesses can vary massively in size and spread of buildings, it is important to ensure that all staff are kept vigilant.  At the Fire Industry Association, we recommend that when Premises Management conduct the weekly test, all employees should pay attention and notice any changes.  If a fire alarm does not sound, or sounds different to normal, perhaps at a different volume level, then this should be reported to the Premises Management as soon as possible.  This of course will be recorded into the log book.

 

If you are starting to spot a pattern here, then you’d be right: every time anything at all happens to the fire alarm system (including a false alarm), this should be recorded into the log book.

 

If you are starting to spot a pattern here, then you’d be right: every time anything at all happens to the fire alarm system (including a false alarm), this should be recorded into the log book.  This includes the periodic inspection by the alarm maintenance company who should come in every 6 months unless risk assessment recommends a more frequent attendance. Within the year every part of the fire alarm system should be tested to ensure the system is fully operational. 

It is easy to overlook, but the fire alarm panel should be checked every day to ensure that everything is normal and that no faults or abnormal conditions are being reported. Any anomalies should be recorded in the logbook and the maintenance company contacted to rectify the situation as soon as possible.

Fire Alarm Faults

In the instance of a fault the fire alarm maintenance company will best be able to advise of the consequences of a fault condition and the level of urgency required to resolve the problem. The agreement should be such that, on a 24 h basis, a technician of the maintenance organization can normally attend the premises within eight hours of a call from the user. In the meantime, it may be necessary to implement some form of fire watch to maintain sufficient fire safety or even be necessary to evacuate a part of the building that no longer has adequate fire monitoring.

As ever, using common sense about likely best practice and following your fire risk assessment stringently will keep things running smoothly. For further advice on your responsibilities for fire safety, use of log books, or how to cut false alarms, please visit have a look at our resource library