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New fire safety responsibilities explained

Businesses previously needed to ask their local fire authorities for a fire certificate showing their premises and procedures were up to standard.

April 2006 will saw this system phased out and a simpler system introduced. Businesses now have to take responsibility for their own fire safety inspections, choose which guidelines apply to them, and then put them into effect. The rules apply in England and Wales, and should cover Scotland and Northern Ireland as well.

The Fire Protection Association says 30,000 small businesses go up in smoke every year. Two pieces of existing legislation on fire protection are particularly important:
  • The 1971 Fire Precautions Act imposes different standards on businesses dependant on how many employees are on the premises. Premises fitting the criteria must hold a valid fire certificate.
  • Small businesses do not need a fire certificate unless 20 or more people work on the premises, or 10 work in a place other than the ground floor.
    Some exceptions to the rule are:
    • Hotels and guesthouses sleeping more than six people, including staff, must apply for a fire certificate.
    • Those with beds above the first floor
    • Businesses dealing with certain highly flammable substances or explosives must have a certificate regardless of the number of employees.
  • The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 gave greater responsibility to employers for employee welfare in the event of fire.
Very few exemptions exist in the Regulations - they apply to any business with two or more staff. The Regulations place certain responsibilities on you. These include:
  • Adequate risk assessment of possible fire hazards, and steps taken to reduce risk.
  • Ensuring fires are detected quickly, for example installing smoke alarms.
  • Provision of fire-fighting equipment, be sure it's properly maintained.
  • Staff training in steps to take in the event of a fire.
  • Having and practicing a suitable fire safety drill to ensure the premises can be evacuated quickly. Keep escape routes and exits clear, signposting them clearly, and provide emergency lighting.
Local fire authorities are usually in charge of enforcing fire safety legislation and carrying out inspections for certificates.

For more advice and guidance on fire safety obligations:
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