In 2017/18, across the UK, there was 19,033 recorded fires in business premises.

This week (9th – 15th September 2019) marks Business Safety Week! The aim of this campaign is to increase the awareness of fire safety in businesses, ensuring business owners are fully aware of their statutory requirements and the risks associated with a fire in the workplace. The campaign will also provide advice on preventing arson attacks and reducing false alarms.

This week Loughview Timber will aim to cover some key statutory requirements surrounding fire safety for businesses in NI. The main pieces of legislation NI businesses must be aware of are the Fire and Rescue Service (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010. Nearly all premises used for non-domestic purposes (with a few exceptions) fall under these regulations.

Firstly, it is important that every business delegates a ‘responsible person’ to ensure certain duties are carried out. This includes taking action to prevent fires occurring and preventing injury or death in the event of a fire. This individual should use the above regulations as guidance, in addition to British Standards documents to support best practice. The video at the bottom of this page from the FIA summarises some of these concepts further.

Fire Risk Assessments

The cornerstone of a business’s fire protection is a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) and these are required by all businesses. Along with the Fire Safety Log Book, this is the first thing an inspecting officer from a local authority will ask to see if they inspect your premises. In some circumstances, if you have less than 5 employees, you are not required to write your FRA down, however, we recommend you document it for easy reference.

Your FRA must:

  • Be reviewed regularly
  • Be documented if there are 5 or more employees in the business (or)
  • The premises require a license (or)
  • The fire brigade has issued a notice saying you must do so
  • The fire risk assessment document must record the main findings and any action to be taken

You are not required to use a professional risk assessor, however, anyone who carries out an FRA is required to be ‘competent’ and confident they can:

  • Correctly identify the potential causes of fire in the business
  • Identify the people at risk
  • Assess the suitability of fire safety measures in place, like fire alarm systems and escape routes
  • Assess the ongoing management of fire safety in the business, such as fire drills and staff training
  • Develop a fire safety action plan if changes are needed
  • Record all the significant findings
  • Implement the action plan if one is needed
  • Keep the fire risk assessment updated on an ongoing basis

Fire Extinguishers

In NI legislation states that businesses must provide ‘appropriate fire-fighting equipment’. In most cases this means portable fire extinguishers, however, in some higher-risk businesses hose reels, sprinkler systems and/or automatic fire suppression systems may be required. For example, some restaurants may require specific kitchen fire suppression systems.

Your fire extinguishers should:

  • be the right type for the business you have and the location they are in
  • be maintained on a regular basis (recommended annual service)
  • be maintained by a ‘competent’ person
  • they may need to be tested and certified to industry standards
  • You should visually check the extinguishers regularly and record this in the Fire Log Book

Fire Safety Signage

Often overlooked by many business, fire safety signage plays an extremely important part in your businesses fire safety strategy, from providing directions for emergency escape to highlighting and providing equipment on fire-fighting equipment. Some signage your business may require includes:

  • Fire Action Notice (explains what to do in case of fire and is mandatory for all premises)
  • High Level Location Sign (locates portable firefighting equipment and is mandatory)
  • Fire Extinguisher Identification Sign (explains each type of extinguisher)
  • Fire Exit Sign (how to exit in case of fire. Needed for all but the smallest & simplest of properties)
  • Fire Alarm Call Point Signs (identifies where to activate the fire alarm. Mandatory if you have an alarm)
  • Other Fire Equipment Signs (if you have a hose reel or a dry riser, you must signpost where they are)
  • Warning & Prohibition Signs (Highlights danger. Needed if there’s extra risk of fire on your premises)

Fire Alarms and Emergency Lighting

In some instances, a fire alarm may not be required. For example, an alarm would not be required in a small shop where you could see a fire developing and subsequently shout ‘FIRE’ as a warning and be heard by all in the store. However, a risk assessment should be completed to determine this.

In all other businesses a fire alarm system will be required. NI fire safety legislation notes that businesses must have an appropriate system of detection and providing warning in the means of a fire.

  • You will need either a manual or an automatic fire alarm system
  • You need an automatic fire alarm system if it’s highly likely that a fire could go undetected or block exit routes
  • Everyone in the building must be able to hear the fire alarm clearly
  • There must be a fire alarm call point by every exit on every floor
  • There must be an adequate system of maintenance in place (6 monthly service recommended)
  • The person who services the system must be ‘competent’
  • You should test the alarm system weekly and record this in your Fire Log Book

Emergency lighting is required in buildings to provide light if normal lighting fails in the event of a fire. These systems serve three main purposes:

  • Escape Route Lighting – Illuminates exit routes & helps occupants find firefighting equipment in a fire
  • Open Area Lighting: also called ‘Panic Lighting’ – Keeps communal areas lit to reduce panic in the event of a fire
  • High Risk Task Area Lighting – Provides light to shut down potentially dangerous processes in the event of fire

These systems are required if your building doesn’t have enough ‘borrowed light’ to safely exit the building in the event of a power cut. These are also required in ‘danger areas’ such as kitchens and plant rooms, and in rooms larger than 60 square meetings. It is recommended that emergency lighting should be ‘flick tested’ monthly, with a full service occurring once a year.

Fire Training

In NI, employers ‘with duties under Article 25 shall ensure that his or her employees are provided with adequate fire safety training’ and this should be given ‘at a time when they are first employed’. This training should also ‘be repeated periodically when appropriate’ (annual training is recommended) and when staff are ‘exposed to new or increased work’.

Most fire training should cover the basics, including:

  • The prevention of fires in the workplace
  • The location of escape routes and the evacuation procedure
  • The location of fire alarm call points, their operation and meaning
  • The location, type and usage of fire extinguishers.

Fire Doors

The Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 notes that all fire safety equipment should be ‘subject to a suitable system of maintenance and are maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair’. This includes ensuring that fire doors are tested and maintained on a regular basis.

For professional maintenance, it is recommended that your fire doors are tested by a ‘competent’ person. BS999:2017 states that all fire doors should be inspected at a minimum of six-montly intervals. During this test it should be ensured that:

a) heat-activated seals and smoke seals are undamaged;
b) door leaves are not structurally damaged or excessively bowed or deformed;
c) gaps between the door leaf and the frame are not so small as to be likely to
bind, or so large as to prevent effective fire and smoke-sealing;
d) hanging devices, securing devices, self-closing devices and automatic release
mechanisms are operating correctly.

Additionally, we would recommend regular inspections by a responsible person based on the usage of doors. For example, cross corridor doors, which are likely to be opened and closed multiple times per day, could be inspected weekly, whilst riser doors, which may only be opened a few times a year, can be inspected alongside the bi-annual maintenance programme. This information should be recorded and kept within your fire log book.

With 60% of firms experiencing a fire unable to recover, fire poses a substantial risk for business. More importantly, a fire without adequate protection measures can put the life and safety of people in the business at risk. Don’t cut corners when it comes to fire safety, it could cost you more than you think.