Answers to some of your most frequently asked questions

FAQs

Here are some of your most frequently asked questions and their answers.

QWhat is a place of safety, for fire safety purposes?
A

in relation to premises, means a safe area beyond the premises where relevant persons are no longer at risk from the fire or its effects. The place of safety should ideally be split into two categories. The place of relative safety and the place of ultimate safety. By splitting it into two categories allows the use of refuges and places within buildings (such as fire control rooms and progressive evacuations in hospitals) to be designated places of safety and also define the ultimate place of safety.

QWhat is considered a domestic premises?
A

A domestic premises is considered to be a dwelling which is occupied as a single private dwelling and will be continued to be governed by housing law.

The Order does not apply to individual houses whether detached or terraced, which are in traditional format (individual bedrooms, kitchen, lounge etc.) occupied by a single household as domestic dwellings.

Most cases of doubt arise where the premises potentially consist of more than one dwelling or where one dwelling is occupied by people who appear to have no family connection. Each case must be considered on its merits and according to the risk they present.

Matters for consideration include: (a)Whether the extent of the individual units of domestic accommodation is sufficient to consider each unit to be a “dwelling” in its own right. A lack of toilets, washing facilities or cooking facilities in each unit may be generally disregarded for this purpose. A situation in which occupiers rely on the use of common facilities, such as common cooking facilities, lounges or “living rooms” and they regard the premises (i.e. their unit and the common facilities) as their dwelling tends to suggest the individual unit is not a dwelling in its own right. (b) Whether the accommodation that comprises the “dwelling” can be regarded as “private”.

Although ships are excluded from the legislation there may be instances where water going vessel may be included. It is considered that permanently moored vessels (i.e. those which cannot travel) which are rented out on inland waterways and boat yards will be covered by the Order. The Communities and Local Government Fire Safety Risk Assessment guidance for Sleeping Accommodation currently states that the Order applies to boats.

QWhat are reasonable fire precautions?
A

The responsible person must take general fire precautions to ensure the premises is safe and the safety of his employees and anyone else who is likely to be lawfully on the premises. i.e. visitors, contractors, patients, delivery persons etc. it also means any person in the near vicinity, for example, if an oil refinery caught fire it is likely people in the local area will also be affected, therefore these people could be considered ‘relevant persons’.

The meaning of general fire precautions are discussed elsewhere in this document (Article 4 Meaning of “general fire precautions”) the key to complying with this Article is to understand what is meant by ‘reasonably practicable’ to ensure the general fire precautions taken are appropriate.

So, what is meant by ‘reasonably practicable’?

The definition set out by the Court of Appeal (in its judgment in Edwards v. National Coal Board, [1949] 1 All ER 743) is:

“‘Reasonably practicable’ is a narrower term than ‘physically possible’ … a computation must be made by the owner in which the quantum of risk is placed on one scale and the sacrifice involved in the measures necessary for averting the risk (whether in money, time or trouble) is placed in the other, and that, if it be shown that there is a gross disproportion between them – the risk being insignificant in relation to the sacrifice – the defendants discharge the onus on them.”

Put simply, making sure something is ‘reasonably practicable’ is about weighing the risk against the sacrifice needed to further reduce it. Decisions are weighted in favour of health and safety because the presumption is that the responsible person should implement the risk reduction measures. To avoid having to make this sacrifice, the responsible person must be able to show that it would be grossly disproportionate to the benefits of risk reduction that would be achieved. Thus, the process is not one of balancing the costs and benefits of measures but, rather, of adopting measures except where they are ruled out because they involve grossly disproportionate sacrifices. Extreme examples might be:

To spend £1m to prevent five staff suffering bruised knees is obviously grossly disproportionate; but To spend £1m to prevent a major explosion capable of killing 150 people is obviously proportionate.

In reality decisions about risk and the controls that are ‘reasonably practicable’ are not so obvious, there is no simple formulas for computing what is ‘reasonably practicable’ and it can get very complicated.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has provided a view of what is considered ‘reasonably practicable’ or more precisely what is considered ‘grossly disproportionate’ as this is the key to being ‘reasonably practicable’ if it is not considered to be grossly disproportionate than it is considered to be reasonably practicable. The HSE view is:

Something is reasonably practicable unless its costs are grossly disproportionate to the benefits. Put simply if;

Cost/Benefits>1×DF

Where DF is the ‘disproportion factor’ then the measure can be considered not worth doing for the risk reduction achieved. DFs that may be considered gross vary from upwards of 1 depending on a number of factors including the magnitude of the consequences and the frequency of realising those consequences, i.e. the greater the risk, the greater the DF. More information on this can be found on the HSE’s website.

This cost benefit analysis is the view of the HSE and no case law has substantiated this formula, however it does provide a good benchmark to determine what could be considered ‘reasonably practicable’.

QDo I need to nominate competent persons?
A

Depending on the size of the organisation it may be necessary for the responsible person (RP) to nominate others to carry out duties under this order and ensure the premises meets fire safety requirements. The responsible person does not relinquish overall responsibility for fire safety by nominating competent persons but it does allow the RP to reduce their involvement in day to day fire safety management.

The HSE defines a competent person as:

‘A competent person is someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly. The level of competence required will depend on the complexity of the situation and the particular help you need.’

The term ‘competent person’ can be difficult to quantify. For instance, who is competent to carry out a fire risk assessment? In a small simple office building a competent person could be the office manager. They may not have had a vast deal of training or experience but with assistance from the government fire safety guides could be capable of carrying out an assessment and managing the fire safety of the building.

However, it would be difficult to justify the same office manager could complete a fire risk assessment of a shopping centre or oil refinery. In these examples someone with some formal training, qualifications and experience would be needed, preferably with a proven record of assessing and managing this type of environment.

Competent persons may also be needed to implement fire emergency plans, fire marshals nominated with a role in an emergency will require training, the extent of which will entirely depend on the size and complexity of the building and emergency procedures.

NOTE: When appointing a ‘competent person’, you should give preference to those in your own organisation who have the appropriate level of competence (which can include the employer themselves) before looking for help from outside your organisation.

The RP must arrange contact with the emergency services, they must ensure that the emergency services are readily contactable in case a fire occurs; e.g. having a telephone available for calling the fire and rescue service and nominating a person or persons to make the call to summon the fire and rescue service.

The amount of contact necessary will be relevant to the size and complexity of the premises. In a small office all that will likely be required is to ensure arrangements are made to call 999 on confirmation of a fire, however, in a hospital for example, some pre-planning may be required and the fire service may need to visit site and receive detailed information prior to an emergency. This will need greater planning and more contact arrangements in place.