Business Law & Compliance

A guide to fire safety regulations for SME owners

4 min read

28 March 2018

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in London last year, fire safety in tower blocks has been brought to the forefront of UK workplace health and safety, writes Peninsula law health and safety director, Russell Corlett.

Investigations and assessments of fire risks in tower blocks across the country are reporting that in most cases, action to improve the fire safety provision is necessary.

In fact, it has been revealed this week that three-quarters of tower blocks in Greater Manchester have failed to meet fire safety standards in inspections carried out after the Grenfell Tower fire.

Grenfell was a stark reminder of why employers have strict fire safety requirements for their workplace. The requirements can be extensive, but it is imperative that employers know what they are.

Employers, landlords or occupiers of a business, commercial premises, residential building or premises to which the public have access will be the “responsible person” for fire safety.

It may not be obvious, but this definition makes them responsible if they have paying guests, for example if they have a one room bed and breakfast, a small guesthouse or let a single self-catering property.

As a responsible person, employers are required to:

  • Complete a fire risk assessment of the premises and review it regularly
  • Let staff or their representatives know about any risks they identify
  • Provide and maintain appropriate fire safety measures, including protected escape routes, fire alarms, emergency lighting and extinguishers
  • Develop a plan for an emergency
  • Provide employees with information, fire safety instruction and training and people using the premises with fire safety information.

Where premises are used by more than one business there will be more than one responsible person. They will need to coordinate their fire safety with the landlord so that no one on or around the premises are at risk. The landlord has responsibility for fire safety in common and shared areas.

Employers starting point will be to consider the fire hazards and risks and create a fire risk assessment. They should:

  • Identify the fire hazards, potential sources of ignition and the measures in place for control
  • Identify people at risk
  • Evaluate risks and consider how to eliminate or reduce them
  • Identify how a fire might be identified and the alarm raised
  • Prepare an emergency fire and evacuation plan
  • Ensure that employees are trained and fully aware of these arrangements

After carrying out a fire risk assessment it is important to keep a record of it. Employers don’t need have to keep a written record if they employ less than five people however it is best practice.

Official guidance says that a small, low risk business should be able to complete and record a fire risk assessment unaided. This guidance can be found at the Gov.uk website. Where the risks are high the assistance of a qualified competent fire risk assessor will be necessary. Below are some examples of high-risk scenarios.

  • Vulnerable people – Elderly or young people or people with disabilities
  • People who are likely to be asleep
  • Quantities of dangerous substances (flammable, highly flammable, oxidising or explosive)
  • The premises is over several floors of a building