Fire safety and fire risk assessment
How businesses can identify fire risks, minimise the potential of fire on their premises and understand their duties to fire safety legislation
Each year people die or are seriously injured as a result of fires at work or on commercial property. Besides loss of life, fire costs UK business millions of pounds, from damage to property, loss of business, fines, compensation claims and increased insurance premiums.
Many fires can be avoided by taking steps to minimise the risk of fire in the workplace. If a fire does break out, the effects can be minimised by having effective controls and procedures in place.
Fire safety legislation applies to all commercial property and other buildings to which the public have access. It does not apply to private residential premises. Fire safety legislation allows businesses the flexibility to remove, reduce and manage their fire risks on the basis of the findings of a fire risk assessment.
This guide provides an overview of fire safety legislation and duties for businesses to comply. There is guidance on fire safety responsibility and the duties of the appropriate person for fire safety. This guide also explains how to carry out a fire risk assessment, fire safety equipment and evacuation plans, fire drills and training and how to minimise the risks of fire in the workplace.
Fire safety responsibility
All businesses and premises must have a designated person responsible for fire safety arrangements
Typically the employer, owner or occupier of the business premises is responsible for fire safety. In legal terms, they are known as the 'appropriate person'.
Fire safety: role of the appropriate person
All workplaces, commercial premises and other buildings the public have access to must have a fire risk assessment carried out. The appropriate person must carry out or arrange for a fire risk assessment of the commercial property. They must also implement and maintain appropriate and adequate fire safety measures to minimise the risk to life from fire. See duties of the appropriate person for fire safety.
If you haven't done so already, you should establish who the appropriate person for fire safety is within your business or business property.
Fire safety in domestic rental properties
In the case of blocks of flats and houses in multiple occupation, the fire safety legislation applies to common or shared parts. In these cases the responsibility for fire safety usually rests with the landlord, freeholder or managing agent. See rental properties.
Fire safety in shared premises
In shared premises, there are likely to be a number of people, including the owner and the employers within the building, with responsibilities under the fire safety legislation. Where this is the case, they are expected to:
- co-operate with each other
- co-ordinate with fire safety measures
- share information with each other to ensure the safety of those in or around the premises
Duties of the appropriate person for fire safety
How the appropriate person must have a fire risk assessment in place and minimise risk using a fire management plan
The appropriate person is someone who has the duty of carrying out or arranging a fire risk assessment of their business premises. They must also implement and maintain appropriate and adequate fire safety measures to minimise the risk to life from fire. See fire safety responsibility.
If you are the appropriate person for fire safety you must make sure that:
- fire risks are removed, reduced or managed to an acceptable level to protect lives
- everyone who may be in, or around, your business property can escape if a fire breaks out
Fire risk assessment and actions to take
As part of the fire risk assessment you need to think about all the people who might be on your commercial property at a given time, including employees, visitors or members of the public. You need to pay particular attention to those who may need special help, such as elderly or disabled people or children.
- carry out a fire risk assessment and identify possible dangers and risks that could lead to a fire or endanger life if a fire were to break out
- think about who might be particularly at risk - for example disabled employees, or people who work with hazardous chemicals
- remove or reduce the risk from fire, as far as reasonably possible
- put in place fire precautions to deal with any risks that remain
- make sure there is protection if you use or store flammable or explosive materials
- have a fire management plan in place to deal with emergency situations including evacuation procedures, and appoint a suitable number of competent persons to help implement it
- record your fire risk assessment findings and any actions you have taken to remove or reduce fire risk if you employee five or more people
- review your fire risk assessment on a regular basis or after significant workplace changes
Who should carry out the fire risk assessment?
Those with the responsibility for the business premises are likely to be best placed to maintain fire safety precautions and understand and address the risk to lives and property that a fire could present.
The duty to carry out and implement a fire risk assessment lies with the appropriate person for fire safety. Achieving fire safety is often a matter of common sense, and in many cases there may be no need for specialist or formal knowledge or training, providing the appropriate person makes enough time available to go through all the necessary steps to carry out an effective fire risk assessment.
In carrying out a fire risk assessment, however, the appropriate person may choose to appoint one or more people with sufficient training, experience or knowledge, know as a competent person, to assist them with fire safety measures. The level of necessary competence is not prescribed in the Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 or Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010, which recognises that the extent of competency will vary according to the nature and complexity of the business property involved.
Fire safety law enforcement
The main enforcers of fire safety law are the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS), who must be satisfied with your fire safety measures. If they are not satisfied, they will offer you advice on what you need to do to improve fire safety on your business premises.
The NIFRS will visit business premises to ensure compliance with fire safety legislation. If the NIFRS finds major fire safety failings, they can serve an enforcement notice requiring you to make improvements to ensure your premises complies with the fire safety law. NIFRS will take a supportive and balanced approach by helping you to understand and meet regulatory requirements. NIFRS enforcement policy.
Fire risk assessment
Carrying out a fire risk assessment and putting in place appropriate measures to ensure the risks are minimised
You must manage any fire risk on your commercial property by carrying out and maintaining an up-to-date fire risk assessment.
Fire risk assessment: step-by-step process
The recommended way to carry out a fire risk assessment is to follow a step-by-step process as outlined below.
Step 1: Identify potential fire hazards
Look out for and identify potential fire hazards on your business premises. Fire hazards can include:
- anything that has the potential to start a fire, such as naked flames, heaters or commercial processes or equipment such as cookers or hot-air dryers
- anything that can burn in a fire, including piles of waste, display materials, textiles or other flammable products
- oxygen sources such as air conditioning, medical products or commercial oxygen supplies which might intensify a fire
Step 2: Identify people at risk from fire
Take a look at your staff, customers, suppliers and anyone else who comes onto your business property and assess their fire risk. People at risk from fire include:
- people who work close to or with fire hazards
- people who work alone, or in isolated areas such as storerooms
- children or parents with babies
- elderly people
- disabled people
Step 3: Evaluate, remove or reduce the fire risk
To comply with fire safety legislation, you will need to:
- where possible, get rid of the fire hazards you identified - eg remove build-ups of waste - and reduce any hazards you can't remove entirely
- replace highly flammable materials with less flammable ones
- keep anything that can start a fire away from flammable materials
- have a safe-smoking policy for employees or customers who want to smoke in a designated area near your premises (smoking in enclosed spaces is banned) - see workplace smoking policy.
Once you have reduced the fire risk as far as is practical, you should assess any remaining risks that can't be removed and manage these with appropriate fire safety measures.
Step 4: Record, plan and train for fire
- record significant findings from your fire risk assessment and the action or actions you have taken - this is a legal requirement if you have more than five employees
- prepare an emergency plan in the event of a fire breaking out on your property
- inform and instruct the appropriate persons, and co-operate and co-ordinate with others to ensure fire safety
- provide fire safety training to all your staff
Step 5: Review the fire assessment
You should keep the fire risk assessment under regular review and revise it where necessary, especially if any significant changes have been made to your business premises. See fire safety: record, review and revise.
Fire risk assessment templates and guidance
You can download and adapt the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service's fire risk assessment templates to help you carry out a fire risk assessment on your business property. The fire risk assessment guidance notes (PDF, 79K) may also help you get started with completing and recording your fire risk assessment.
Fire safety equipment and evacuation plans
You must be able to detect a fire quickly, and have means of escape and equipment to fight the fire as appropriate
A fire on your business property must be detected quickly and a fire warning given so that people can escape safely.
Fire detection and warning system
You must have an appropriate fire-detection and warning system in place. Ensure it is in full working order by having it serviced regularly. Whatever fire system you have, it must be able to warn all people in the building in all circumstances. There are different types of fire alarm systems available.
You should consider which type of fire detector is suitable for your commercial property as part of your fire risk assessment. One type of detector could be suitable for one part of your business premises and another for the rest. Before installing a fire-detection system, you may wish to discuss your proposals with your local fire authority or a fire safety expert.
Fire evacuation: means of escape
The arrangements to evacuate your business premises form an important part of your fire emergency plan. You should:
- Make sure the fire escape route is as short as possible.
- Consider how many people are going to be using the fire escape route.
- Consider the impact if one of the means of fire escape has been blocked.
- Ensure there is a clear passageway to all fire escape routes - passageways should be one metre wide. Passageways that are more than 30 metres long, or 45 metres in offices and factories, should be subdivided into equal parts by fire doors.
- Ensure fire escape routes are kept free of any obstructions, eg they are not used for storing stock.
- Make arrangements for the evacuation of elderly or disabled people eg you may need to install evacuation chairs especially if the fire escape route includes stairs. You must also consider other less able-bodied people who may have access to the building, taking into account both physical and mental impairment. Fire safety law: the evacuation of disabled people from buildings (PDF, 2.8MB).
- Inform and train all employees in how to escape the building. You should run regular fire drills so staff are familiar with what exactly to do if a fire breaks out. See fire drills and training.
- Install an emergency lighting system to help guide people out of the building in the event of the usual lighting system failing.
- Identify all fire escape routes with appropriate signage.
- Ensure the place to which you are evacuating, known as the muster point, is safe and accessible to all.
Your fire risk assessment may highlight that you should provide portable multi-purpose fire extinguishers so that people on your business premises can tackle a fire in its early stages. These fire extinguishers should be installed, tested and maintained in accordance with manufacturers' instructions. They will require someone who is appropriately trained or has the knowledge or experience, known as a 'competent person', to instruct staff how to use them. Get an idea of the types of fire extinguishers you may need for your business.
In smaller business property, you may only need one or two portable fire extinguishers. However, larger, more complex premises may require a number of portable extinguishers situated in suitable locations. It may be necessary to show the location of fire extinguishers with suitable signs.
Depending on your type of business, the size and complexity of your premises, and the outcome of your fire risk assessment, you may need other fire safety equipment.
Fire drills and training
What fire safety training you should give employees
You should carry out a fire drill at least once a year. It is good practice not to announce fire drills in advance so you get a realistic idea of how effective your fire evacuation plans are.
Everyone must take part in the fire drill. You should record the result of each fire drill in your fire safety log book (PDF, 90K).
You must nominate and train a sufficient number of staff to assist fire drills and emergency evacuation procedures. This includes training on how to operate any fire-fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers.
Fire safety induction training
As the appropriate person, you must provide all employees with fire instruction and training so that they know what to do in the event of a fire.
Every employee, including those on temporary or short term contracts, and others likely to be on the business premises must know:
- how to raise the alarm if they discover a fire
- how to contact the fire brigade
- how to use the fire-fighting equipment and in what circumstances
- how to evacuate the building
- where to assemble and who to report to
See more on staff fire safety training.
Fire safety and building work
Taking into account building regulations requirements for fire safety when building, extending or materially altering your business premises
If your commercial property is subject to significant alterations you will need to ensure any alterations comply with the building regulations. This includes when your business premises are being built, extended, materially altered or subject to a relevant change of use.
Building regulations and fire safety
The building regulations affect how fire safety is designed into the building, as well as other aspects of building design, such as structural stability, access, ventilation, energy efficiency, etc.
To comply with the building regulations, you must provide:
- appropriate early warning of fire and appropriate means of escape
- measures to resist the spread of fire within the building and from one building to another
- reasonable access and facilities for the fire and rescue service
The final decision rests with the relevant building control body at your local council. Contact your local council's building control office.
You should pass information on what fire safety measures have been provided as part of the building work, eg fire doors, smoke detection, sprinklers, to the appropriate person for fire safety to help inform their fire risk assessment. See duties of the appropriate person for fire safety.
Contractors are required to pass the details of fire safety measures implemented as part of building construction work to help the appropriate person for fire safety with their risk assessment under building regulations. Where this does not happen, the appropriate person should actively seek it.
Access a technical booklet on fire safety to help you meet the requirements of building regulations.
Changes to commercial property and fire safety
If you make any alterations to your business property, you will be responsible for managing the risk you create. You will still have to comply with the planning process and building regulations. You will need to:
- revisit your fire risk assessment
- assess how the changes will affect the fire risk in your premises
- decide whether your risk management measures are adequate and adopt further measures if necessary
Alterations notices for high-risk buildings
In some high-risk buildings the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service may issue an 'alterations notice'. This means that if the appropriate person intends to make changes to the property which would significantly increase the risk, they must inform the fire authority. High risk buildings include those that need complex fire safety arrangements or have a higher than normal risk to life.
Fire safety: record, review and revise
Keeping and maintaining records of fire safety procedures and testing fire safety equipment
If you employ more than five people, you must keep a written record of the significant findings of your fire risk assessment. You should keep the following:
- a record of the fire hazards you have identified, the people at risk, and any action you have taken to address these fire hazards
- an emergency plan designed for your premises, including the action you need to take if there is a fire on your commercial property or nearby
- records of fire-fighting arrangements in place to control the fire risk
Even if you have fewer than five employees, it is good practice to make a written record of your fire risk assessment.
Maintenance records for fire training
These include details of fire training and instruction provided, including details of fire drills carried out, stating the date, evacuation time and any problems encountered. You should give staff and visitors to your business premises instructions on what to do in the event of fire.
Maintenance and testing of fire equipment
All equipment, eg fire doors or fire-fighting equipment, must be regularly checked and maintained. This includes checking that:
- the control panel shows that all electrical fire detection and alarm systems are working - if not, that all faults are recorded and dealt with immediately
- all emergency lighting is working - if not, that all faults are recorded and dealt with immediately
- all escape routes and fire exits are clear of obstacles and the floor is in good repair
- all fire escapes can be opened without any delays
- all automatic fire doors close correctly when activated
- all fire exit signs are in the correct position
Review your fire risk assessment
You must make sure that your fire risk assessment is reviewed regularly, is up to date and takes into account any changes to your commercial property or business that may affect fire safety. You should, for example, look again at your fire risk assessment if:
- there was a fire which was caught in time
- you are storing more flammable materials
- you start a new night shift
- you have more people using your business premises
- you make a significant change to your business property, eg adding an extension or subdividing offices
Revise your fire risk assessment
If your review shows that there have been significant changes that might affect the fire risk in your building, you may need to do another fire risk assessment. If you are in any doubt at all, it is best to conduct the fire risk assessment, even if it turns out that your risk management measures are adequate and there is no need for any further action.