The LWF Blog

Fire Safety | Managing the variables

February 12, 2014 1:16 pm

Your facility may have had a fire risk assessment and undertaken the various fire safety tasks which arose from it, for example; a fire alarm system, fire doors, warning signs, but this does not always mean that fire safety has been achieved.

Fire safety is a term that encompasses a wide range of variables, and it is the effective management of those variables which can make or break your fire safety provision. Of course, the most ‘variable’ of those variables is people.

Responsible Person

The starting point of any successful fire safety regime must be the appointment of a ‘Responsible Person’. It is a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, that a person is appointed to oversee the fire safety provision. Within a larger business, which perhaps has more than one site to manage, it is expected that this person will have delegatory responsibilities and that the person or persons charged with fire safety duties should be sufficiently experienced and trained members of the team.

Where no ‘responsible person’ has been appointed, in the eyes of the law, the business owner becomes that person and all fire safety precautions are their sole responsibility. Where a fire has occurred and insufficient provision had been made for fire safety, business owners have received hefty fines and, in some cases, custodial sentences in prison.

Effective evacuation – Occupancy

The effective control of occupancy of a building should be based on the ability to evacuate those persons safely from the building within a reasonable time. It is essential to include disabled evacuations into this equation, in addition to the allowance of an estimated amount for guests within the building at any one time.

Training of personnel

It is a part of the role of a ‘Responsible Person’ to establish what roles will be required for a safe and prompt evacuation of the building.  Each person who is expected to fulfil a role in the evacuation should be trained and have undergone fire drill training to fully understand their role within the overall plan.

Equally, persons living in a residential building will need to be made aware of fire safety processes and shown fire escape routes to prepare them for evacuation in case of fire.

Fire Alarms – testing and maintenance

Fire Alarm systems come with manufacturer’s requirements or guidelines and it is important that the Responsible Person is aware of them, and keeps their memory refreshed of the particular requirements of that system for testing as per those guidelines and also legislative directions. This allows for thorough and correct testing of the fire alarm system in a facility.

Often, infrequent or ineffective testing is undertaken which does not highlight issues which may arise under real fire conditions.  The detailed documentation of all testing must be completed by the Responsible Person to a regular schedule.   While fire alarm testing and fire drills are sometimes seen as a nuisance or interruption, they are essential to the continued safety of building residents. 


Other variables

The storage of combustible materials on the premises on a rare or ad-hoc basis should not be ignored. It is those variables which are not accounted for and prepared for which often cause fire. It is possible to mitigate the risk of the storage of combustibles within a building using fire prevention and fire safety systems which have been designed specifically for that purpose. However, the occasional storage of combustible materials cannot be mitigated and the obvious way to reduce that risk is to provide storage off site.

Risks can come in different shapes and sizes. The planning of a BBQ can lead to the storage of lighter fuel, helium for balloons and bunting, for example. One off risks are often left to chance or not considered at all, and the Responsible Person should be ever alert for changes which may impact the fire safety of the facility.

Changes can come from outside of the premises too. Changes to legislation and guidance can mean that what was previously acceptable has now been flagged as an area for concern. It is important, therefore, to remain alert to legislative changes in fire safety.  In cases where fire has occurred and it is found that the business did not mitigate effectively, ignorance of changes to legislation is not a valid defence in court.

In summary, while it is important to have a fixed and stable system in place, for example physical fire protection equipment, it is equally important that changes to the risk level are highlighted and anticipated.

If you would like to know more – or would like to arrange an appointment with one of our senior fire safety advisers – simply call Peter Gyere on 020 8668 8663.

Lawrence Webster Forrest Limited is a fire engineering and fire risk management consultancy, with over twenty years experience in the development of fire engineered technology and the application of fire safety standards including fire engineered techniques.

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