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Fire Safety in Commercial Premises – What do I have to do?

The Facts

In England during 2015/2016 there were nearly 16,000 fires attended in commercial premises. Over a quarter of these were deliberate. The main cause of accidental fires remains faulty appliances and leads (see blog post on electrical appliances).

The effects of a fire in the workplace can be devastating and potentially lead to fatality, injury and uninsurable losses. Although some costs can be insured against, effects such as void insurance or insufficient cover (for example not following legal requirements), down time, loss of customers, payment of non-working staff and rebuilding time will not be covered. A significant proportion of businesses never recover after a fire. Prosecution may also be brought if negligence has been found to be a contributing factor.

Legal Requirements

If you are the ‘responsible person’ in a business as an employer, owner, landlord or occupier, then the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to you. This places defined responsibilities to ensure the safety of all persons that have the potential to be affected by a fire on your premises.

These defined responsibilities include:

  • A Fire Risk Assessment being performed on the premises by a competent person. If there are 5 or more employees then this must be in written format.

  • Information must be provided to staff, visitors or others who may be affected by a fire. This may include notices, training, information leaflets or documents, signs and instruction.

  • Appropriate fire safety measures, equipment and procedures dependent on the scale and type of risks identified in the Fire Risk Assessment.

If work is being to alter, extend or create new premises or areas then building regulations Approved Document Part B 2010 (as amended) volume 2 will apply in most cases. This document outlines the specifications required to ensure compliance with fire safety features in a building (or part thereof).

Fire Risk Assessment

At the top of the list, a Fire Risk Assessment must be performed on the premises by a competent person. This is the primary document that can assist with informing all other requirements relating to fire safety. If there are 5 or more employees this must be in written format. With less than 5 employees it is still good practice to have a written document for reference.

The process for completing a fire risk assessment is covered by a 5-step process, which is noted as follows:

  • Identify the fire hazards (such as ignition sources, fuel and oxygen).

  • Identify people at risk (staff, visitors, contractors, the public and others).

  • Evaluate and remove or reduce the risks ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’.

  • Record the findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training.

  • Review and update the fire risk assessment regularly.

All factors relating to fire safety should be accounted for including fire safety provision, equipment, training, building condition (including travel and exits), signs, training, procedures. This document should be reviewed ‘regularly’. This could be annually or triggered by a number of other factors.

Fire Safety Provision

Current levels of fire safety provision should be checked against requirements and recorded in the fire risk assessment. This should include fire extinguishers, alarm systems, detectors, manual call points, signs, exit pathways and fire exits, emergency lighting and other provision (where required). Generally, these fire safety features should be adequate for the premises and have a checking and maintenance cycle.

Records should also be kept for both fire safety checks and maintenance performed on systems. Although not a legal requirement, a ‘fire safety log book’ or equivalent can be set up to ensure this information is at hand and in once place. Faults identified should be rectified at the earliest opportunity.

Training, Instruction and Information

Adequate training, instruction, information and supervision should be provided to ensure that all staff, visitors and others who may be at risk of fire harm by the premises are suitably informed.

  • Fire warden training is recommended for sufficient numbers of staff to enable rapid and appropriate action in the event of a fire.

  • Information should be given to new staff on emergency procedures, among other requirements.

  • Visible notices such as ‘Fire Action Notices’ in prominent positions may be acceptable as a way of informing visitors to the premises, combined with appropriate fire safety of the premises (e.g. signs, alarms, emergency lighting etc.).

A competent person should take the lead in organising fire safety in the premises, through this can be in assistance with others to enable them to perform the duties.

Other requirements are that a fire drill must be performed at least once a year (recorded). False alarms or actual fires should also be recorded. An actual fire would trigger a review of the policies and procedures in place relating to fire safety.


Fire risk assessments are a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. With 5 or more employees in the business, this must be in written format. As the primary document, it will inform and assist in management of fire safety in your premises. It must be written by a competent person and the actions arising from this should be implemented within the suggested timescales.

A short guide can be found at on how to apply and improve fire safety at your premises.

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