Your fire safety obligations as a business owner need to be taken seriously. Any business with more than 5 employees must keep a written record of their fire safety risk assessments, the steps they need to take, proof that fire safety equipment has been inspected and maintained regularly and an evacuation plan for the building (although an evacuation plan is not required to be kept, it is best practice to document all Health and Safety related activities and plans).
Nominating a Fire Safety Officer is a great first step – all business have what is known as a “responsible person” and this position doesn’t need to be formalised or nominated for – as a business owner, employer or operations managed you are automatically considered to be the “responsible person”. By naming someone as your Fire Officer you are officially designating them as the “responsible person”, however, you still have obligations as the business owner or employer.
All staff need to know about your fire safety, most crucially, they need to know what to do if they discover a fire on the premises, how to raise the alarm and how to safely exit the building. In the event of a fire, every adult is expected to make their own way out of the building and are not generally expected to evacuate others (unless in a residential care home or hospital setting, which have their own procedures for moving patients). If you have employees with mobility problems, or sensory impairments that mean they may not hear an alarm then you should document and address these risks in your fire safety plan.
Employees who would require assistance to leave the building in a fire situation should not be left working alone for extended periods of time and should be provided with alternative means of escape, or another member of staff should be nominated to be responsible for helping these employees in the event of a fire.
Fire training drills should be held at least once a year and twice, or more, if you have a high turnover of staff. Every new employee should be instructed in your fire safety procedures on their first day, and it should be recorded that a fire safety induction has been done. It is also worth running fire safety training sessions throughout the year to keep everyone on top of the procedures, to ensure that everyone knows what they need to do if they discover a fire.
Training in the use of fire extinguishers is not mandatory, but in high risk environments it is advisable to ensure all your staff feels confident to tackle the early stages of a fire, if it is safe to do so. Employees should not feel obligated to tackle a fire themselves and should only proceed with the use of a fire extinguisher if it is safe and they are confident in their abilities to contain the fire and raise the alarm. It is worth noting that there is only a short window of time where the use of a fire extinguisher is helpful, and this is around 30 seconds. Hesitating any longer means that the fire extinguisher won’t make enough of an impact to be worth deploying, and in these cases the priority is raising the alarm, calling the fire brigade, and evacuating the building.
Your Fire Officer may be responsible for organising and running this training, or you may work with your Fire Officer to ensure this training is provided; this will depend on how you divide up the responsibilities. As a business owner and employer, we would recommend that you are involved in the fire safety of your business in some way, although delegating to a Fire Officer may be the best option in some particular circumstances.