Fire prevention

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Related tags: Risk assessment, Law, Health and safety executive

Protecting your business from the risk of fire and having an emergency plan in place should the worst happen are essential aspects of safely running...

Protecting your business from the risk of fire and having an emergency plan in place should the worst happen are essential aspects of safely running a pub.

The regulations governing fire prevention and safety in the workplace are strictly enforced, which is understandable given the potential consequences of fire breaking out.

However, a licensee trying to steer his way through the regulations can find it quite daunting. This feature is intended to give a basic introduction to the regulations and the steps you need to take to comply.

Most of a licensee's legal obligations are imposed under the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997, and the Health and Safety at Work Regulations which basically relates to the responsibilities of an employer.

Since, by its very nature, a pub will also be used by members of the public, there is also a legal responsibility to ensure customer safety. However, by ensuring that you meet your responsibilities as an employer, by extension you are also ensuring that customers are protected from the dangers of fire.

These areas you need to address include:

  • means of detection and giving warning in case of fire
  • provision of means of escape
  • means of fighting fire
  • training staff in fire safety.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 covers fire precautions intended to prevent the outbreak of fire or minimise its consequences. Safety procedures in pub cellars and kitchen, as well as the bar area, are particularly likely to fall under this act, which covers:

  • storage of flammable materials
  • the control of flammable vapours
  • standards of housekeeping
  • safe systems of work
  • the control of sources of ignition
  • the provision of appropriate training.

Enforcement

Depending on the legislation, fire safety compliance is enforced by inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the local fire authority, and the local authority.

If the relevant authority considers that any provision of the regulations has not been complied with, it can serve an enforcement notice requiring you to improve your fire precautions. Failure to comply is a criminal offence.

You must be given a reasonable amount of time to comply and can appeal within 21 days against the notice to a magistrates' court. If an appeal is lodged the notice will be suspended until the courts have heard the appeal and either upheld the notice, cancelled it or amended it.

In cases where there is a serious threat to life, the fire authority can serve a notice under Section 10 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971. This can prohibit or restrict the use of a workplace until the risk to your employees or other people has been reduced. Again, failure to comply is a crime, but you have the same right of appeal.

An employer found guilty of failing to comply with the terms of an enforcement notice, or of placing employees at serious risk by failing to comply with the Fire Regulations, may be sentenced to a fine, up to two years' imprisonment, or both.

Risk assessment

It is a defence for an employer charged under the regulations to prove that they took all reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence to avoid breaching regulations. Carrying out a risk assessment of the fire risk within your pub is a legal requirement, and showing that an assessment had been properly carried out would be a key part of any defence.

A risk assessment is an organised look at what, in your procedures and workplace, could cause harm to people. It will enable you to decide whether you have taken enough precautions or should do more to avoid harm. The important things you need to decide are whether a hazard is significant, and whether you have covered it by taking satisfactory precautions so that the risk is acceptably low.

  • A hazard is something that has the potential to cause harm.
  • A risk is the chance, high or low, of that harm occurring.

Regardless of any previous approval, you still legally need to carry out a fire risk assessment. However, if the approval covered all the matters covered by the fire regulations, and conditions have remained unchanged, then your fire risk assessment may well show that few, if any, additional precautions are needed.

Carrying out the risk assessment

Some of the work can be done on paper from the knowledge you have of the workplace. A tour of the workplace will be also be needed to confirm, amend or add detail to your initial views.

Nobody knows as much about your business as you and the people who work with you. Try to use your own knowledge and experience and that of your colleagues and staff.

Risk assessment is essentially a matter of applying informed common sense. You need to identify what could be expected to cause danger. Ignore the trivial and concentrate on significant hazards.

It is important that you carry out a fire risk assessment in a practical and systematic way. It must take the whole of the workplace into account, including outdoor locations and any rooms and areas which are rarely used. If your workplace is small you may be able to assess the workplace as a whole.

Before you make any major changes you propose as a result of your risk assessment you should consult the fire authority. They will consider your proposals and advise you if they are acceptable. They will also advise whether any other legal approval, such as planning permission, is required.

Other legal duties

  • Where it is necessary to safeguard the safety of your employees, you must nominate people to undertake any special roles, such as fire marshall to ensure customers are evacuated, which are required under your emergency plan. You can nominate yourself for this purpose.
  • You must consult your employees, or their elected representatives or trade union safety representatives, about the nomination of people to carry out particular roles in connection with fire safety and about proposals for improving the fire precautions.
  • You must establish a suitable means of contacting the emergency services, and ensure that they can be called easily.
  • The law requires your employees to co-operate with you to ensure the workplace is safe from fire and its effects, and not to do anything which will place themselves or other people at risk.

Fire Certificate

If you pub provides sleeping accommodation for more than staff or guests, you may need a fire certificate. The local fire authority will be able to advise you.

Fire Risk Assesment (Source: Home Office)

Step one

Identify fire hazards. These may be:

  • sources of ignition
  • sources of fuel
  • work processes

Step two

Identify the location of people at significant risk in case of fire

Step three

Evaluate the risks

Are your existing fire safety measures adequate?

Consider the following:

  • control of ignition sources/sources of fuel
  • fire detection/warning
  • means of escape
  • means of fighting fire
  • maintenance/testing of fire precautions
  • fire safety training of employees

Carry out any improvements needed

Step four

Record your findings and the action taken

Prepare your emergency plan. Inform, instruct employees in fire precautions

Step five

Keep the assessment under review. Revise it if the situation changes.

Further information

This feature is intended as a basic guide to fire safety in pubs, and is not a definitive guide to the fire regulations.

For more detailed information consult your local fire authority.

Guidance on employers' legal responsibilities and fire prevention is availa

Related topics: Property law

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