The wrong responsible person could cost you dearly...

The government says you must keep a written record of your Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) if your business has 5 or more people. It is important to understand that the number of people employed in a business includes staff across all parts of a company as well as part-time staff. If you have for example two offices with three staff in each, then you must complete a Fire Risk Assessment for both.

The responsible person must carry out and regularly review a Fire Risk Assessment for the premises or they can employ a professional company such as Safety Management (UK) at reasonable cost to do the work for them. The interpretation of who is a responsible person is where difficulty can arise and can cost a business, a £15,000 fine and 8 months in prison, in the case of one hotel owner – see below.

The FRA will identify what needs to be done to prevent fire and keep people safe:

  1. Identify the fire hazards
  2. Identify people at risk
  3. Evaluate, remove or reduce the risks
  4. Record findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training
  5. Review and update the Fire Risk Assessment regularly

The key point for a business owner is to demonstrate they have tried to make their business safe for both staff and others. If you have no record of an FRA being carried out and a fire occurs you could get in serious trouble. You could get in trouble, even if there isn’t a fire, as Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) are increasingly taking business owners to court. It is also highly unlikely your insurer will pay out in the event of a fire, if you haven’t complied with the law. It is usually one of the clauses in your insurance policy.

In the recently published Fire Statistics: Great Britain April 2013 to March 2014 the FRS in Great Britain attended 212,500 fires. Although this figure is up 10% on the previous year, the general trend over the last ten years has been downward. Does that mean there is less need to worry about fire or the need to complete an FRA? Of course not! It could be argued that the reasons there are less fires in business premises is due to companies carrying out regular FRAs and then acting upon the findings.

Of course there are other factors, such as the ban on smoking and improvements in design methods for buildings. However, many buildings were constructed a long time ago and are unable to benefit from more recent advances. They can and do however benefit from assessing any potential hazards and looking at those who may be at risk.

Cutting Corners Proves Expensive

It may be tempting to cut corners and get a pal to carry out the fire risk assessment for you, as one hotel owner in Mansfield did. David Liu, owner of the Market Inn and The Dial Hotel paid John O’Rourke, a regular at his pub, £150 to carry out the Fire Risk Assessments at both establishments.

In court it transpired that O’Rourke, who modelled himself as an independent fire risk assessor, had woefully inadequate knowledge of fire safety requirements and admitted, after being asked if he had read the government guide to fire safety, “I’ve read a bit, but it’s a big, thick book. I’m not fully clued up I admit.”

The fire service found exit doors blocked, or locked, no alarms, no alternative escape routes and fire extinguishers which had not been tested for three years. Liu was ordered to pay court costs of £15,000 and sentenced to 8 months in jail for putting people’s lives at risk. O’Rourke was also jailed for 8 months and had to pay court costs of £5,862.

If you have questions about fire risk assessment, or for help on any aspect of fire safety, call us on 01524 784356 today.

Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a 'suitable and sufficient' fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.

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