Reducing fire risk in commercial properties
Following the recent, tragic events at London’s Grenfell Tower – which garnered international media attention – fire safety has been brought to the forefront of everyone’s minds, from homeowners and business owners, to landlords of commercial and domestic properties.
According to government fire statistics, there were 15,815 primary fires in non-dwelling buildings in 2016/17, resulting in 892 non-fatal casualties and 17 fatalities. In terms of commercial buildings, the most fires occurred in:
- Industrial premises – 2,112 fires, 1 fatality and 129 non-fatal casualties
- Retail premises – 1,725 fires, 52 non-fatal casualties
- Food and drink premises – 1,621 fires, 111 non-fatal casualties
- Office and call centres – 601 fires, 1 fatality and 15 non-fatal casualties
Fire safety must be taken seriously whether you’re a resident, landlord or business owner. However, there are differences in the way fire safety must be handled and managed depending on whether the property is domestic or commercial.
As a commercial property owner, you have a legal obligation to ensure an adequate level of fire protection for the people occupying the building. While the responsibility for evacuation procedures will usually fall with your tenant, you should always include fire safety in any risk assessment you complete. As the property owner, you may be responsible for supplying fire safety equipment but this should be defined in your lease.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 outlines responsibilities in relation to all kinds of businesses premises, from factories and warehouses to offices and retail spaces. It is worth noting that the business owner also has a responsibility to enforce sufficient fire safety practices within the premises; you must work together to cover duties.
As the government outlines, the responsible person or persons must:
- Conduct a fire risk assessment and review it regularly
- Make staff aware of fire risks
- Put in place, and maintain, sufficient fire safety measures
- Plan for an emergency
- Provide staff with information, fire safety instruction and training
As the owner of the premises, failure to comply with the laws set out in the Order could lead to prosecution.
Fire risk assessment
Conducting a thorough fire risk assessment is a crucial step to limiting to likelihood of a fire occurring within a premises. Its aim is to identify who would be put at risk in the event of a fire, as well as set out measures that can be put in place in order to safeguard them.
While there is no official, legal procedure for conducting a fire risk assessment, government guidance outlines a five-step process for the property and business owner to adhere to:
- Identify fire hazards – i.e. air conditioning units, waste piles, overstocked products and heaters.
- Identify those at risk – such as people with limited mobility, the elderly, or people working in rooms with no fire escape.
- Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect – for example, by replacing flammable items with less or non-flammable items, or by enforcing a safe-smoking policy.
- Record, plan and train – use the risk assessment document to provide adequate training to staff, making them aware of risks and preventative measures, and to devise an emergency plan.
- Review – evaluate the risk assessment regularly and train new staff members on the business’ fire safety procedures.
If the businesses employs more than five people, then the fire risk assessment must be written down.
The exact precautions you should take to minimise the risk of fire will largely depend on the type of premises you own. However, as the government states, the minimum which should be considered are as follows:
- You must install a fire detection and warning system within the property and ensure that its range reaches everyone inside the building.
- As a general rule, there should be a minimum of one fire extinguisher per 200m² of floor space. If the building has multiple floors, there must be at least one extinguisher on each floor.
- Fire safety doors should be operable without a key. If the building is often accessed by the public you should consider doors with push pads.
- All fire safety exits within the building should have an illuminated sign above them.
- For large premises, additional fire safety measures such as emergency lighting should be considered.
- Every person occupying the building should be made aware of dedicated escape routes. These routes should be kept clear and travel distance should be as short as possible. Preferably, there should be two or more escapes per section of the building, just in case one route is blocked in the event of a fire.
Ensuring the safety of those occupying your commercial premises should be a top priority. Taking the steps above will ensure that you’re on the right side of the law when it comes to fire safety, limiting the risk of fire as much as possible.
In any case, taking out quality commercial insurance is an absolute must. Stride has over 40 years of industry experience and can arrange cover for business premises, offices, shops and commercial property portfolios. Get in touch today to find out more.