Many people perceive fire to be a rare incident, thus the general slack attitude to safety regulations. However, fire accidents cause thousands of companies to suffer immense devastation each year. In England alone, the Fire and Rescue Services (FRSs) attended 153,957 fires in 2019/20. It also recorded 243 fire-related fatalities and 6,910 non-fatal casualties.
The majority of fires occurred in non-residential buildings. The common causes are faulty electrical appliances, a build-up of combustible waste like paper, smoking, human error, negligence, and arson.
Many of these accidents are avoidable. For this reason, the Fire Safety Order sets provisions that protect employees in their workplace and the general public. What are these regulations, and who is responsible? How do these apply to your business? We will answer these questions in this brief guide.
The Fire Safety Regulations
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 sets guidelines for fire safety in non-domestic premises. These include workplaces, commercial spaces, and public places, like hospitals, restaurants, and schools. The people responsible for implementing the regulations are the owner, the employer, the landlord, an occupier, or someone in charge of the property, such as a building manager. Non-compliance with the Fire Safety Order can lead to prosecution that results in a fine or imprisonment.
Under the legislation, the persons responsible must do everything in their capacity to prevent fire-related accidents from happening. They must perform risk assessments, which should be reviewed and evaluated regularly. The findings will help them remove or reduce potential fire hazards on the premises.
Fire safety precautions include replacing highly flammable materials with less combustible ones, creating a safe-smoking policy, and regular housekeeping to avoid waste build-up that could burn. They also should supply training for employees about fire safety measures, which could come in the form of an online fire safety course, and afterwards, discuss and log suitable emergency plans.
In some cases, the risks are impossible to eliminate. Organisations should have the appropriate fire protection equipment, such as fire-detection and warning systems and multi-purpose fire extinguishers. The challenge lies in determining what type of fire-fighting tools a business needs. With that said, let us explore the various kinds of protective equipment and prevention systems.
Active Fire Protection Systems
Active fire protection (AFP) systems consist of equipment and components that require some action, whether manual or automatic, to function. For instance, a fire extinguisher needs someone to manually operate it, while water sprinklers and spray systems automatically activate if they detect heat. Smoke detectors, fire alarm systems, hoses, steam rings around flanges, foams, water, inert gases, and even firefighters are considered active fire protection. The primary purpose of active fire protection is to stop an ongoing fire.
Active fire protection has three fundamental levels or categories: detection, suppression, and ventilation. Detection occurs when sensors get triggered by heat, smoke, or flames, alerting the entire premises. Suppression is the process of putting off the fire, while ventilation keeps escape routes free of smoke using fire-resistant fans.
Passive Fire Protection Systems
Passive fire protection (PFP) systems do not require activation to function. They are part of the structure itself, such as fire-resistant walls, ceilings, doors, floors, and staircases. Dampers, emergency exit lights, flame shields, mortar coating, intumescent paint, and mineral fibre matting are also considered PFPs.
While active fire protection is about extinguishing a fire, passive protection focuses on containing it. For example, fire-resistant walls isolate the flames in one place to prevent the spread of fire, smoke, and deadly fumes. It does not only allow occupants to evacuate safely but also helps preserve the rest of the building.
Fire Escapes and Ladders
Fire exits have two parts: the escape route and the exit door. The escape route is the passage going to safety, while the exit door leads to open air or space. The ideal minimum width for an escape route or exit is 1050mm. But if this is not feasible, it should not be less than 750mm. In places where mobility-impaired persons or wheelchair users might utilize the exit, the width should be at least 900mm.
The Fire Safety Regulation requires that fire escape routes should remain clear and unobstructed at all times. They should lead the evacuees directly and quickly to a place of safety, such as outside or a stairwell. The route should be well-lighted and labeled with the appropriate signage. The exit door should open in the direction of the escape via push bars or pads (sliding and revolving doors are a no-no) and never be locked or closed in a way that delays an evacuation.
Fire escape ladders can be an alternative means of evacuation if the original exit is blocked by fire or serve as a secondary getaway if the building lacks enough escape routes. Some are portable; others are either fitted or anchored into an outside wall. Take note that the Building Regulations do not permit these ladders as substitute emergency routes in new buildings. However, in older commercial structures, particularly historical ones, the regulations do allow these. The most acceptable type is the fold-out escape ladder.
Fire Alarms and Lighting
The regulations mandate that businesses should have a method for detecting fire promptly to provide employees, visitors, and other occupants sufficient time to evacuate the premises in the event of a fire. Therefore, all companies, commercial buildings, and venues frequented by the public should install smoke detectors and fire alarms.
The alarm should have a distinct sound that is audible throughout the premises. Some fire warning systems are connected to the fire department and may activate sprinklers and other automatic AFPs if triggered. Additionally, businesses should maintain the alarm system and test it regularly to make sure it is working.
In general terms, emergency lighting refers to equipment that gives illumination in the event of power failure. The two main types are standby lighting and escape route lighting. The Fire Safety Regulations make emergency lighting compulsory in all non-domestic buildings.
Emergency lighting provides sufficient light in escape routes, such as corridors and stairways, to enable the evacuees to leave safely and swiftly. It also illuminates the location of fire extinguishers and safety boxes that hold keys to emergency exit doors. Emergency lighting should also cover escape signs, changes in floor levels, lifts, windowless rooms, toilets more than 8 square meters, and fire alarm call points.