The Fire Problem: Why We Are Still Not Safe

Fire safety has been an issue since long before last year's devastating Grenfell Tower disaster in London. In fact, recent accidents are only showing us the consequences of decades of neglecting safety.

There still are many unanswered questions about fire safety and recent research showing how seriously behind workplaces are on health and safety has only shown that now is the time to rethink building safety.

Regulations and responsibilities can be hard to grasp, especially when many different people are involved in the process. A five-step health and safety plan can help with assessing where to start.

1) Finding a responsible person
Anyone who has some control over premises is legally required to take reasonable steps to reduce the likelihood of fire and make sure people can escape safely. Such a person can be the employer, the owner, or a facility manager, but the responsibility is not necessarily limited to just one person. If there is more than one responsible person, co-operation and coordination are necessary to comply.

Often overlooked, the law applies to self-employed, voluntary organizations or contractors as well. It can be difficult to identify clearly who is responsible for what, as the extent of responsibility also depends on the extent of control, so contacting a professional fire expert is the safest way to making sure every area is covered.

2) Assigning duties
Once the responsible person is appointed, they will need to make sure the building is compliant with health and safety standards. This will usually include the general fire precautions, fire safety arrangements, such as a fire safety policy and an emergency plan, and the maintenance of all systems and equipment. The first step toward fulfilling these duties is to ensure a fire risk assessment is carried out to identify all possible hazards and risks. The assessment can either be done by a professional auditor or by a competent person.

UK fire authorities no longer issue fire certificates and those previously in force have no legal status any more, so carrying out assessments on a regular basis is important to keep legal liability up to date.

3) The fire risk assessment
Organizations with more than five employees are required to record their findings, but it might be useful to record any significant findings in any case. The assessment will help identify every potential hazard and usually includes issues such as:

  • Firefighting equipment and facilities: These include portable fire extinguishers, fire blankets and buckets, sprinkler systems, water mist, spray and foam or powder systems, and kitchen fire suppression systems.
  • Signs and notices: To help people, especially those who are unfamiliar with the building, escape safely and on time, it is very important to provide fire exit signs that incorporate the appropriate pictogram. Other safety signs are necessary if doors need to be locked or kept shut, fire exits need to be kept clear, or to point to fire equipment.
  • Emergency lighting: Self-contained lights with the battery and charger built into the fitting are practical but might not be as helpful in large buildings where central systems are more commonly used. The method of testing the emergency lights shouldn't interfere with the normal lighting from the consumer unit.
  • Means of escape: An assessor needs to consider how quickly the fire could be detected and how fast it might grow and how it could affect the escape routes. Everyone in the building must be able to escape immediately along smoke-free escape routes. Other critical factors include dead ends, stairways, the number and distribution of exits, and special arrangements for people with disabilities.
  • Fire alarm and detection systems: An automatic fire detection and alarm system is considered necessary for residential buildings, covered complexes, buildings with phased evacuation, and a few other situations. In the best case, the fire FD&A system is connected to other systems for automatic control of fire protection measures, such as fire dampers or fixed extinguishing systems.
  • Structural and passive fire protection: Those can limit and control the spread of flame, heat, and smoke by having structural steel protection, fire walls and partitioning, smoke curtains, fire doors, etc. in place.

4) Implementing the findings
After the assessment has successfully identified all potential hazards, it is time to ensure precautions are in place. If the responsible person feels overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done or simply doesn't know how to install these changes, a professional fire safety officer can help make sure that everything is set up correctly.

It is very important that the person carrying out the safety plan and setting up systems is competent to do it. Otherwise, in case of a fire, legal liability might arise on the part of both the responsible person and the assessor if the assessment wasn't done correctly and people are placed at risk of injury or death.

5) Maintaining a fire safety plan
Premises and any protective measure need to be maintained as part of a suitable system. Any equipment, but especially fire safety equipment, needs to be checked, tested, and eventually replaced regularly. This should cover all equipment, systems and facilities such as fire detection and alarm systems, means of escape, emergency lighting, signs, notices, and firefighting equipment.

Very importantly, everyone in the building should be trained on how to behave in the event of a fire. That includes explaining emergency procedures, responsibilities and duties of staff, and reflecting the findings of the fire risk assessment together. Fire drills should take place during normal working hours and have to be repeated periodically. Everyone in the building needs to be sure on what to do on discovering a fire, how to raise the alarm, whom to alert, where emergency exists are, and how to use firefighting equipment. These training and briefing sessions can make a huge difference in the end.

There have been enough incidents where sloppy health and safety plans have cost lives, time, and money. Setting up the right system now will pay off further down the line and help create a safe, productive, and happy environment.

Katharina Busch, content executive at Arinite, is a freelance writer currently based in London. She regularly writes about health and safety, with a focus on workplace safety and fire safety. For more information, visit

Posted on Feb 22, 2018

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