Fire safety law due in October

A significant change to fire safety rules in non-domestic property that was due to come into effect in April has been postponed to October to allow small and medium-sized businesses adequate time to prepare.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 was approved by Parliament on 7 June 2005, and is due to become law on 1 October 2006, announced the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM).

It is intended to put greater emphasis on fire prevention in all non-domestic premises, including self-employed people working away from home and organisations in the voluntary sector. The move has not been welcomed by all, as reported in our article Fire law set to burn small business.

‘The Government’s over-riding aim is to save more people from death and injury by reducing risk and preventing fires,’ explains Jim Fitzpatrick, the ODPM Minister responsible for fire safety. ‘Over the coming months, we will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that all those affected by the new rules have the support that they need.’

The basic changes are outlined below:

  • Fire certificates will be abolished and will cease to have legal status.
  • The Fire Safety Order will apply in England and Wales. (Northern Ireland and Scotland will have their own laws.) It covers ‘general fire precautions’ and other fire safety duties which are needed to protect ‘relevant persons’ in case of fire in and around most ‘premises’. The Order requires fire precautions to be put in place “where necessary” and to the extent that it is reasonable and practicable in the circumstances of the case.
  • Responsibility for complying with the Fire Safety Order will rest with the ‘responsible person’. In a workplace, this is the employer and any other person who may have control of any part of the premises, eg the occupier or owner. In all other premises the person or people in control of the premises will be responsible. If there is more than one responsible person in any type of premises, all must take all reasonable steps to work with each other.
  • The responsible person will have to carry out a fire risk assessment which must focus on the safety in case of fire of all ‘relevant persons’. It should pay particular attention to those at special risk, such as the disabled and those with special needs, and must include consideration of any dangerous substance likely to be on the premises. A fire risk assessment will help identify risks that can be removed or reduced and to decide the nature and extent of the general fire precautions needed to take to protect people against the fire risks that remain.
  • If you employ five or more people you must record the significant findings of the assessment.

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