As stressed in the Introduction, the Fire Safety Order is effectively the only legislation under which general fire precautions are now imposed on virtually all non-domestic premises. The duty to take general fire precautions is contained in Article 8 of the Fire Safety Order.
It is, however, with Article 9 of the Fire Safety Order that we must begin. For it is within this Article that the requirement to carry out what is generally known as a ‘fire risk assessment’ may be found. Article 9 imposes a requirement for the ‘Responsible Person’ (‘RP’) to carry out a risk assessment to ensure the safety of relevant persons from fire. Article 5 imposes a requirement for persons having control of premises to also carry out such a fire risk assessment.
What do we glean from Article 9 in respect of the fire risk assessment that the RP and person having control of premises is required to carry out?
A reading of Article 9 reveals that:
(i) The risk assessment must be ‘suitable and sufficient’.
(ii) The risk assessment must assess the risks to which relevant persons are exposed, for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions needed for compliance with the Fire Safety Order.
(iii) The general fire precautions that are to be adopted are to be such of the measures that are specified in Article 4 of the Fire Safety Order as are necessary for the above purpose.
(iv) Where dangerous substances are, or are liable to be, present, the risk assessment must include consideration of various matters set out in Part 1 of
Schedule 1. However, this is still only for the purpose of identifying the appropriate general fire precautions.
(v) The risk assessment must be reviewed regularly to make sure it is kept up to date. More specifically, it must be reviewed if:
(a) There is reason to suspect that it is no longer valid; or
(b) there has been a significant change in the matters to which it relates; this includes situations in which the premises, special, technical and organisational measures or organisation of the work, undergo significant changes or extensions. The employer must change the assessment if required.
The effect of this requirement is that fire risk assessment should be reviewed periodically and when material alterations take place. It is probably fair to assert that the periodicity of the review should be related to the nature of the activities on the premises and should, therefore, be part of the initial assessment.
(vi) Where the employer employs five or more employees, or a licence is required, or where an alterations notice requiring this is in force, the employer must record:
(a) The significant findings of the assessment, including the measures that have been taken to comply with Fire Safety Order and the measures that will be taken (the ‘action plan’).
(b) Any group of persons identified by it as being especially at risk. It should be noted that the five or more employees relates to the total number of persons employed, regardless of where these employees are located. Thus, for example, if an employer operated four shops, each with only one employee, there would be a requirement to conduct a fire risk assessment at each of the four locations, but, strictly, there would be no need to document the findings of the fire risk assessment. However, if the employer opened a fifth shop, with a further single employee, a documented fire risk assessment would be necessary for every one of the five locations and there would be a need to record any group especially at risk. Groups especially at the risk clearly include disabled people, young persons, persons who sleep on the premises, persons working alone in certain remote locations, etc.
For what premises are fire risk assessments required?
To address this question, we must firstly consider what is meant by premises.
The answer to this can be found in Article 2 of the order. ‘Premises’ includes any place and, in particular:
• any workplace
• any installation on land
• any vehicle, vessel, aircraft or hovercraft
• tents and moveable structures.
However, the Fire Safety Order does not apply to:
• domestic premises (but the Order does apply to the common parts of blocks of flats and HMOs)
• offshore installations
• ships in respect of normal ship-based activities
• mines and borehole sites
• agricultural or forestry sites not in buildings, and situated away from the undertaking’s building
• various vehicles used for transport, or for which a licence is in force, or that are exempted from licensing.
It should be noted that, for persons having control of premises who are not an RP, the requirements in relation to a fire risk assessment are the same as those imposed on a fire risk assessment required of an RP.
Who is the RP?
The meaning of RP is given in Article 3. In a workplace (where someone is employed by an employer), the RP is, quite simply, the employer if the workplace is to any extent under his control. A workplace includes any place within premises to which an employee has access while at work; it also includes facilities provided for use in connection with place of work.
The definition is very broad and even includes the means of access to, or egress from, a place of work (excluding public roads).
If the premises are not a workplace, the RP is the person who has control (as occupier or otherwise) in connection with carrying on a trade, business or other undertaking. This might be the case if, for example, the premises are occupied for the business of a self-employed person or a group of volunteers.
If the premises are not a workplace, and the person in control does not have control in connection with carrying on a trade, business or other undertaking, the RP is the owner.
However, this situation will be very rare.
Who are the ‘relevant persons’, who need to be protected from fire?
Relevant persons, as defined in Article 2 are:
• any person (including the RP) who is, or maybe, lawfully on the premises;
• any person who is, or maybe, in the immediate vicinity of the premises, who would be at risk from fire in the premises.
(This does not include operational fire-fighters at the time of a fire.)
Who would be a person who has control of premises (other than an RP)?
The answer to this can be found in Article 5(4), which provides a very strong ‘clue’ in this respect. According to Article 5(4), if a person has, under a contract or tenancy, an obligation of any extent in relation to maintenance or repair of any premises, or of anything in or on the premises, or in relation to safety of any premises, they must also carry out a fire risk assessment. Typically, this could be the landlord and /or managing agents in commercial premises in multiple occupation. However, maintenance contractors and even fire risk assessors may also fall within the scope of Article 5(3).