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Last updated: 03.09.18

Fire safety considerations for small businesses

Fire is a very serious matter - it causes significant damage to thousands of properties, and kills several hundred people each year. For this reason, it’s essential as a business owner or the manager of business premises that you understand what your responsibilities are, and take the necessary precautions. In this article, we’re going to look at what your obligations are under the law, how you can assess your needs, and some of the main things you’ll need for the building.

What does the law say?

The law designates a ‘responsible person’ for any property, which will be the owner, employer or most senior person that operates the premises. This person is responsible for fire safety in the building, which means that if you’re a small business owner, it’s likely to be you that maintains responsibility. If you have a facilities manager, or other senior person working with you, then you must all work together.

By law, the responsible person must do the following:

● Undertake a thorough fire risk assessment, which should also be regularly reviewed and updated where necessary

● Inform all members of staff of the content of the risk assessment so that they are aware

● Look to mitigate the identified risks by putting appropriate fire safety measures into place, which should again be reviewed and maintained regularly

● Make sure that emergencies are planned for and that there’s a procedure in place should one occur

● Provide all necessary instruction and training to employees

Much of this will be self-explanatory or indeed common sense, and there are plenty of resources available through the government’s website to help small businesses. However, if you’re looking for a more comprehensive focus on fire safety to make sure that you’ve done and are doing everything you need to do, then consider taking the Virtual College Fire Safety Course. You can find out more about this here.

What is a Fire Safety Risk Assessment?

The fire safety risk assessment is arguably the most important part of your fire safety policy. It will enable you to work out why a fire might start, help prevent such an occurrence, and decide what to do in the event a fire does take place.

In short, the aim of the assessment is to go round the premises and identify anything that could cause a fire. You then need to decide the likelihood of such an event occurring, and the severity of the issue, should a fire start as a result. For example, if you run a retail unit, someone smoking and dropping a cigarette inside the shop is of a very low likelihood, but the impact could be severe. On the other hand, you may work in a kitchen where certain items are fairly likely to catch fire as part of the cooking process - such as when working with hot frying pans - but this is generally very brief, and isn’t likely to cause anything else to catch fire.

Once these risks have been established, you need to work out how you can prevent them from occurring, and how you can mitigate their impact. If we go back to the kitchen example, you might reduce the likelihood of pans catching fire in the first place by changing the cooking process, and you can mitigate potential damage by having the right fire safety equipment in place. This leads us onto the next point.

What might you need in practice?

There are a few things that you’ll almost certainly need in practice, as a result of carrying out the risk assessment.

The most obvious is of course fire safety equipment, with the correct number of and correctly located smoke alarms being the priority. Different types of fire have different needs, so ensure you’ve done the research to work out what you need. Electrical fires for instance have different requirements to chemical fires. Only by doing a risk assessment can you work out which you may need.

And finally, the other thing that you should have is appropriate signage. Fire hazards should be clearly marked to employees; fire escape routes must be clearly signed and a map to the assembly point should be readily available.