Important fire safety regulations apply to office buildings to safeguard all Relevant Persons. As a commercial landlord, or a responsible business in charge of a commercial property, you need to be aware of the relevant regulations and have a strategy in place to demonstrate compliance.
This includes clear procedures for how you will identify fire hazards at your premises, identify and safeguard Relevant Persons who are people at risk from fire, determine how fire risk will be minimised, and explain how you will respond if a fire breaks out. These are all your statutory responsibilities as the Responsible Person for a particular building.
This term Responsible Person has a specific meaning in law that we will examine in this article, as this lies at the heart of ensuring you are compliant with fire regulations.
Let’s be clear, office fire safety is the responsibility of everyone who works in and uses the building, regardless of their job title. Each person has a role to play and a stake in preventing fires. A robust fire safety policy should encourage the broadest involvement and the widest possible education on risk prevention and detection. However, legislative responsibility devolves on two individuals or roles, known as duty holders or Responsible Person/s.
The Responsible Person should also nominate Competent Persons to implement any procedures in so far as they relate to evacuation of the premises.
The Responsible Person is a named individual who exercises effective control over a premises and has the means to implement fire safety precautions. Under the Fire Safety Order, every commercial office building must have a Responsible Person.
Depending on the circumstances, this could be:
a) An employer occupying a commercial premise IF they exercise control over a building. Control is the important variable, and applies whether a building is leased or owned by the employer. An employer will normally delegate this responsibility to a Senior Fire Safety Officer, a Facilities Manager, or Health & Safety Manager – or one of the directors might assume this responsibility in a small business.
If the contract or tenancy agreement states the tenant has a duty to maintain or repair the premises, or the safety of the premises, then the tenant shall be treated as the responsible person that for the extent of his tenancy.
b) A commercial landlord in the case of an empty building, or where the occupiers have no active control over the premises. This may be the case with flexible workspaces or offices with tenants on short-term leases. As the tenants exercise only limited control over the workspace, primary fire safety responsibility devolves on the landlord. Usually a Facilities Manager exercises this responsibility on behalf of the landlord business.
So, the first step to ensuring compliance is to find out who is responsible for your building and what job position carries that responsibility within the organisation concerned.
Relevant Persons aren’t just people who are lawfully on the premises, such as students, staff or visitors. These are also members of the public in immediate vicinity of the building, such as on an adjacent street, that could be at risk from harm should a fire occur on your premises.
The other cornerstones of compliance are the Competent Person(s), whose responsibility it is to implement the organisation’s fire safety strategy. Competent Person(s) are appointed by The Responsible Person, and may in turn designate one or more teams of fire safety officers and marshals. Examples of competent persons include Fire Safety Officers, Fire Marshals, HSE Managers and so on. It is up to The Responsible Person to ensure that the competent persons have all the correct training and equipment to carry out their role.
The Fire Safety Order requires that a written fire safety strategy be devised for each office building, incorporating an Emergency Fire Action Plan. The Responsible Person takes charge of writing this, with input from the team of competent persons.
How to write an Emergency Fire Action Plan? The place to start is to determine the fire risks associated with your office. As every building is different, you will need to carry out an individual risk assessment, which identifies fire hazards, evaluates the level of risk and sets about eliminating or minimising these risks. Your risk assessment findings will form the blueprint for your Emergency Fire Action Plan, which will cover the actions people should take if they discover or suspect a fire, how occupants will be informed of a fire (e.g. an alarm system), and how the building will be evacuated.
To comply with the Fire Safety Order, the Responsible Person must ensure that all employees have the appropriate level of education and fire safety training, that best practices are followed and the emergency plan is regularly reviewed whenever circumstances change.
Where there are five or more people employed the finding of the Fire Risk Assessment must be recorded and made available to all Relevant Persons.
The safety regulations that apply to commercial and public buildings in the UK are explained in further detail in our free Quick Guide To UK Fire Safety Regulations. If you are unsure how the law applies to you or would like some professional guidance on risk assessments or Emergency plans, please get in touch for a free fire safety audit. To book your audit or chat with one of our team, please call us on 0333 800 0300.