Business and building owners may be feeling the impact of the rising cost of living, and may try to cut costs by changing how their premises is used to make savings in the face of the increasing price of energy and goods.
Any cost cutting measures have the potential to exaggerate and/or introduce new fire risks, as well as bringing new people and businesses into the at-risk groups. Even during these challenging times, people responsible for buildings must meet their legal requirements for fire safety.
You can find out more about business safety and the support and advice, we can provide by looking through our webpages in Business safety
Below is useful information for business and building owners from the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).
What can I do to reduce the risk of fire at my business/workplace?
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (as amended by the Fire Safety Act 2021) (FSO) and the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 (which come into force on 23 January 2023) place a legal requirement upon employers and persons with responsibility for premises. These responsibilities and safety measures are designed to protect life regardless of fire service intervention. It is, therefore, essential to ensure that all existing fire safety provisions are in place and effective.
To help small businesses understand your legal duties for fire safety, NFCC has developed a free, interactive Business Fire Safety Awareness Tool.
Directors, Senior Managers and Health & Safety Managers will want to ensure the following are maintained and considered:
- Check business continuity plans
- Review their existing fire risk assessment
- Ensure any measures they take are in place, working and effective
- Check staff are fully aware of fire and evacuation procedures
- Take appropriate steps to enhance staff vigilance
- Review arrangements for calling the emergency services
- The need for additional staffing or patrols.
I’m making changes to my premises – what actions am I required to take?
Any changes made to your premises (such as closing off areas, using areas for storage, or altering the layout) require your fire risk assessment to be reviewed. The fire risk assessment should determine the level of risk resulting from the changes and any mitigation measures e.g. more frequent deliveries/collections, or the use of other sites to provide storage.
The rise in living costs means I need to reduce the number of staff. What fire protection considerations do I need to factor in?
Responsible persons should ensure that the premises’ fire risk assessment reflects the added risk a reduction in staff poses. Where businesses are operating with fewer staff, this could mean that current processes may no longer be able to be carried out safely, increasing the risk of fire. Similarly, a reduction in staff may result in employees not being able to successfully carry out evacuations and emergency procedures, such as in-house fire response or fire warden duties.
Employers should continue to undertake and review their Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) and Generic Emergency Evacuation Plans (GEEPs) for relevant persons. Procedures should be reviewed so that they accurately reflect the staff available. Such reviews must carefully weigh the risks from fire and the ability of such businesses to operate safely.
I’m considering changing how I heat my premises to save money due to rising energy bills – what do I need to be aware of to protect my premises?
Businesses, especially small to medium sized ones, may avoid using central heating and look to use portable heaters and small open fires in the spaces they use. Portable heaters are not restricted to electric heaters and can present additional risks so must be considered.
- People may use devices that have not been used for several years, or have had stored away for emergencies, such as when central heating has needed repair. Check that your heater is not subject to a product recall or repair.
- Heaters must not be placed where they will block an escape route or have the potential risk to cause a fire, e.g. under desks, or congested spaces.
- Plug electric heaters into a wall socket not an extension lead, as they can easily be overloaded and cause fires. They must only be moved when they have been switched off and have cooled down.
- Only use a heater in rooms they are designed to be used in. Standard portable heaters (gas and electric) must not be used in shower or bathrooms. Portable gas heaters must not be used in rooms used for sleeping and should only be used in well ventilated rooms.
- Never install, repair, or service appliances yourself. Make sure anyone who does so is registered with the Gas Safe Register (for gas appliances), the Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme (HETAS) (for solid fuel appliances), or the Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) (for oil appliances), or a qualified electrician for electric heaters.
- Make sure gas, paraffin, and LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) cylinders are stored safely outside in a secure location and out of direct sunlight. Make sure you change cylinders for portable heaters in a well-ventilated place and away from sources of heat and ignition.
- Second-hand heaters should be avoided. If you need to buy one, however, check it closely for damage an if in any doubt avoid it. Make sure it is made by a manufacturer you recognise and if the seller cannot provide the instruction manual look online and download a copy. This will ensure you know how to use the heater correctly and can reduce the risk of fire.
- Outdoor heaters must not be used indoors. They can produce a lot of heat which would be a fire risk in the confined space of a premises, but they also produce carbon monoxide which can be fatal.
I’m considering reducing or limiting energy use on my premises to save money due to rising energy bills – what do I need to be aware of?
Introducing a policy to reduce or limit energy usage may have an impact on your fire safety measures operating effectively. For example, the operation of automatic fire detection systems, emergency lighting, automatic door hold-open devices, smoke control devices and automatic ventilation systems, and sprinklers systems could be affected.
Ensure that suitable back-up systems, such as battery backup systems, are in safely place to support the reduction of energy usage. Ensure checks are in place so that fire safety systems have restarted correctly and are operating as they should.
In addition to checking fire safety systems, you ensure that other equipment that stops during power cuts restarts safely and does not pose a fire risk when doing so, especially if restarting whilst unsupervised. This may also affect the use of medical equipment and storage of some medicines (e.g. in care homes, GP surgeries, hospitals, or day care facilities).
I’ve made changes to my storage/stock handling – how can I reduce the risk of fire?
Following any changes to how and where stock is stored, businesses should ensure that entrances and exits are clear at all times. Increased stock levels may result in a higher fire loading, which fire safety systems (such as sprinkler systems) may not be designed for. Any change to your premises, including how and where stock is handled and stored will require the fire risk assessment to be reviewed.
What could power cuts or reduced any supply mean for my fire safety systems?
In case of any power cuts locally and nationally, back-up measures must be put in place, as well as checks to ensure fire safety systems have restarted correctly and are operating as they should. In addition to checking fire safety systems, businesses are encouraged to ensure that other equipment that stops during power cuts restarts safely and does not pose a fire risk when doing so, especially if restarting whilst unsupervised.
This may also affect the use of medical equipment and storage of some medicines (e.g. in care homes, GP surgeries, hospitals, or day care facilities).
What can responsible persons do to reduce the risk of fire in their residential buildings?
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (as amended by the Fire Safety Act 2021) and the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 (which come into force on 23 January 2023) place a legal requirement upon employers and persons with responsibility for premises, including residential buildings. These responsibilities and safety measures are designed to protect life regardless of fire service intervention. It is, therefore, essential to ensure that all existing fire safety provisions are in place and effective.
Responsible persons for premises may wish to consider reviewing their fire risk assessment and should check their existing fire precautions are in place and working effectively. Following a review of the assessment of risk, they should make any necessary adjustments and ensure that through their resident engagement strategy that residents are aware of the risk reduction measures for the premises and the actions they should take in the event of fire.
What can residents do to reduce the risk of fire in their residential building?
Following a review of the assessment of risk, responsible persons should make any necessary adjustments and ensure that residents are aware of the risk reduction measures for the premises and the actions they should take in the event of fire.
Residents should consider the risk of using alternative heating sources and discuss any concerns regarding staying warm etc with their landlord to ensure safe practices are in place.
Residents should contact their responsible person to seek advice on the actions they should take to reduce risk and what to do in the event of a fire in their building. Residents may wish to read our Prevention cost of living toolkit leaflet.
What steps can I take to prevent energy theft/meter tampering on my premises?
Business and building owners should be aware of the potential for hotwiring or bypassing electrical and gas supplies undertaken by others. You can find information and resources on the dedicated Stay Energy Safe campaign website.
Why should I be cautious of using second-life batteries for vehicles and energy storage applications?
Although second-life batteries, particularly those used in vehicles and energy-storage applications, can be relatively easy to obtain there are concerns that they may not be appropriate for use, particularly where not installed by a competent electrician.
What are the requirements for servicing, testing, and maintenance in areas of my premises which are currently out of use?
It is the responsibility of the responsible person and/or the duty holder to ensure they are testing and maintaining all fire safety measures to maintain a safe premises. If there is no one on, or in the immediate vicinity, of the premises who may be reliant on your fire safety measures (e.g. in accommodation above a premises), the FSO allows a risk-based approach to testing and maintenance. If doubt exists advice must be sought from a competent person.
What are the requirements for servicing, testing, and maintenance in areas of my premises which are only partly being used?
If your premises is in part use, the responsible person must ensure any fire safety systems for the protection of life are fully checked by a competent person as soon as possible when vacant areas are planned to be brought back into use, and ensure they are tested before occupation.
The routine testing and maintenance of all fire safety measures, to ensure they operate and perform as required in event of fire, is essential in keeping people safe. This includes in any areas that may temporarily be out of use as a cost saving measure.
You should review you premises fire risk assessment prior to the cessation of testing and maintenance of fire safety systems to ensure this does not cause additional risks. If any doubt exists as to the purpose of any fire safety system that may not be maintained advice should be sought from a competent person and/or your local fire and rescue service.
Can I permit staff to sleep on my business premises?
We strongly discourage business owners from introducing a sleeping risk to a premises by permitting anyone to sleep in a premises that is not designed to provide sleeping accommodation. Business owners should be mindful to prevent unauthorised sleeping on the premises, such as employees who have not requested permission, or contract cleaning staff.
I want to support staff by providing cooking and food warming facilities – what should I put in place to ensure this can be done safely?
Make sure that only appliances designed for this purpose are used. Camping equipment and BBQs (including disposable ones) should only be used in outdoor spaces appropriate for their use (i.e. not roofs and balconies) and should not be used to heat premises. Ensure that any changes to the provision of cooking facilities are reflected in the premises’ fire risk assessment.