The guide to Fire Safety in the workplace

Fire Safety- A Definitive Guide

Fire Safety is not only important but imperative because fire is a direct and significant threat to life, the built environment and the natural environment which demands a prompt reaction to either escape or mitigate the outcome.

The management of fire risk is about eliminating or reducing the likelihood of fire and to restrict, as far as practicable, the consequences should a fire occur. The protection of both life and property.

Building safety has come under close scrutiny post Grenfell and the Fire Safety Act 2021 provides the foundation for new legislation to act on the recommendations of the Grenfell Enquiry.

The Building Safety Bill will provide a clear framework on how buildings should be constructed and maintained. The Building Regulator will directly oversea high-risk buildings.

Fire and Rescue services still attended over half a million incidents between March 2020 and March 2021 in England, over 700 in high-rise dwellings. There were 240 fatalities and 6,347 non-fatal injuries resulting from those fires. Over half of all fires are caused by arson.

Current Legal Position

In England and Wales, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO) is the current and only general legal requirement for fire safety in England and Wales. The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 applies to Scotland and the Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 apply to Northern Ireland. These all have a similar approach although Scotland does not have the concept of a Responsible Person.

An employer who has control of the workplace has fire safety obligations for those premises. It is their duty to ensure a risk assessment is carried out for the premises for the protection of life.

Supporting Legislation

Other related fire safety duties can be found in:

  • The Fire Safety (Employees Capabilities) (England) Regulations 2010. The Regulations include a single requirement that every employer must, in entrusting tasks to employees, take into account their capabilities with regards to health and safety, so far as those capabilities relate to fire.
  • The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 specify escape route signs, safety signs prohibiting activities causing a fire hazard; warning signs of flammable, explosive materials, electricity; and fire-fighting information.
  • The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) contain a duty to eliminate or reduce risks to safety from fire, explosion or other events arising from the hazardous properties of dangerous substances in connection with work.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 contain a duty to make and coordinate arrangements in case of emergency with employers in neighbouring premises (as well as carry out risk assessments on work activities).
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 sets a general duty of care for safety placed on all employers, the self-employed and those in control of non-domestic premises throughout Great Britain. The Act and any regulations made under it are disapplied in relation to general fire safety measures covered by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, other than in special circumstances, such as major hazard sites. The Act does, however, apply to process-related fire safety hazards and precautions, including the storage of dangerous substances.
  • The Fire Safety Act 2021 was published in April 2021 and provides a foundation for follow-up legislation to take forward recommendations from the Grenfell inquiry.
    The Fire Safety Act 2021 will be of particular interest to building owners, leaseholders, those responsible for social housing or managers of multi-occupied residential buildings who are likely to be the responsible persons and who need to ensure that they have assessed the fire safety risks of the premises for which they are responsible, and have taken the necessary fire precautions as a result of that assessment. It also confirms that Fire and Rescue Authorities have the relevant enforcement powers to hold owners or managers to account.
  • Building Safety Bill was introduced in draft form to Parliament on 5 of July 2021. The Building Safety Bill will overhaul regulations, while providing a clear pathway on how residential buildings should be constructed, maintained and made safe. The Bill proposed the establishment of a Building Safety Regulator, the establishment of which falls to the HSE. The regulator will oversee the safe design, construction and occupation of high-risk buildings while also providing expert advice to local regulators, landlords and building owners. The Government has also published:

Legal Requirements for Employers

Under the RRFSO, the primary responsibility for fire safety in non-domestic premises rests with the designated ‘responsible person’. The ‘responsible person’ is:

  • In a workplace, the employer, where the workplace is to any extent under his control.
  • In other non-domestic premises, the person who has control of the premises (as occupier or otherwise) in connection with the carrying on of a trade, business or other undertaking (for profit or not).
  • The premises’ owner, where the person in control of the premises does not have control in connection with the carrying on of a trade, business or other undertaking.

In most circumstances the owner, employer or occupier of the premises is responsible for ensuring and maintaining correct fire safety and procedures – known as the “responsible person”.

The responsible person is not in fact appointed, as their identity is defined by statute as above, and is rarely an individual; the responsible person will normally be a company or corporate organisation. The responsible person then has to ensure that the relevant fire risk assessment is undertaken and there exists an appropriate management structure to discharge the obligations under the Order.

There is also a requirement for the responsible person to appoint one or more ‘competent persons’ to assist in implementing the requirements for fire-fighting and for evacuation. The responsible person must also appoint persons to provide safety assistance in applying the preventive and protective measures required. Interestingly, the Scottish legislation is more general and requires such assistance to be obtained to assist the duty holder in complying with the general duties imposed, including the assessment of fire risk. This omission from the RRFSO is partially filled by the Fire Safety (Employees Capabilities) (England) Regulations 2010, which effectively require that any employee delegated to undertake a task, including fire risk assessment, must be competent.

The local Fire and Rescue Authority is responsible for monitoring and enforcing the legislation in most premises. Although they are not responsible for informing employers how to comply, they continue to hold an advisory role. In some special premises, such as nuclear premises, ships under construction and repair, and construction sites, the enforcement authority is the Health and Safety Executive.


Key Actions for the Responsible Person

The Responsible Person must:

  • Appoint suitable and sufficiently competent people to assist them in complying with the requirements – this could be a Fire Marshal and/or Fire Wardens, depending on the size, and complexity of the premises, and a professional adviser where necessary.
  • Cooperate with other people where a premises is shared between different organisations.
  • Ensure that all fire safety procedures are suitable and sufficient, regularly reviewed and practised on a regular (usually annual) basis.
  • Ensure that all staff are appropriately trained in the fire procedure and their responsibilities in respect of fire safety.
  • Ensure that the fire risk assessment has been carried out and is reviewed regularly by a competent person, and also if there is any reason to believe that the situation has changed – e.g. building modifications or office moves that alter numbers or escape routes.
  • Ensure by explicit checks that all fire safety provisions are in place, correctly operational, properly maintained and not compromised in any way.
  • Ensure that all relevant records relating to fire safety are up to date and available for an Enforcement Office to inspect.
  • Liaise with the local Fire and Rescue Authority, particularly with respect to specific hazards that are contained within the premises.


Commencing a Fire Risk Assessment

Before starting out, it is particularly beneficial to refer to the information given in the relevant Communities and Local Government (CLG) Fire Safety Risk Assessment guide, as this gives all the necessary guidance to assist in a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment, including much of the fire safety information likely to be needed to comply with the RRFSO (see ‘Related Documents’ later in this guide). These guides apply to England and Wales. There is equivalent guidance to the Scottish legislation. Those in Northern Ireland are directed by the fire and rescue service to refer to the England and Wales guides.

If the workplace is small, then a simple format for the risk assessment, such as the one given in the CLG guide, may be sufficient. For more complex premises, this format is unlikely to be suitable. It is essential to ensure that whoever conducts the risk assessment has sufficient competency to do so.

In addition to receiving advice from in-house specialists or fire safety consultants, it will be important to talk to employees and safety representatives and receive the benefits of their knowledge and experience. It is recommended that they should always be encouraged to suggest improvements that could improve workplace safety and actions that ought to be taken in an emergency.

In a shared building, all the employers, occupiers, or anyone who has control of part of the premises, must coordinate their fire safety arrangements. A simple first step to achieving this is to share the findings of fire safety risk assessments. This fulfils the legal requirement to share information on the risks and allows employers sharing the building to take account of any serious risks elsewhere in the building when designing their own emergency arrangements and escape procedures.

It is important that the risk assessor possess the necessary knowledge and appreciation of fire safety, particularly on the following subjects:

  • Causes of fire.
  • Basic principles of fire safety.
  • An understanding of fire development.
  • Fire prevention issues.
  • Passive and active fire protection systems.
  • Human behaviour in emergency conditions.
  • Factors associated with people at special risk – the young, the elderly, or disabled.
  • Fire safety legislation.
  • The process of fire risk assessment.
  • Management arrangements appropriate to the type of premises.
  • Relevant British Standards and relevant guidance.
  • The significance of combustible external cladding systems and internal insulated core partitions.
  • Approved Document B to the Building Regulations.

For the risk assessment to be completed adequately, the assessor will need to systematically review all parts of the premises, including areas not normally seen or easily accessible. Information must be gathered from people who have knowledge of processes, equipment and building facilities.

Particularly for larger premises, a team approach to generating the risk assessment is recommended, so that all knowledge and expertise can be brought together. The trained fire wardens and/or fire marshals, with experience in the areas in which they have their role, will be able to provide useful assistance in achieving an adequate fire risk assessment.


The ‘5 Steps’ Fire Risk Assessment

Step 1. Identifying Hazards Three components are required for a fire to start – an ignition source, fuel and oxygen. Preventing these three coming together, therefore, will normally ensure that a fire cannot start. It is helpful to compile a list of possible fire hazards before undertaking the risk assessment.
  • Correct storage, handling and use of flammable liquids and gases, and of highly combustible materials.
  • Adequate storage of combustible materials away from sources of ignition.
  • Process controls to control hazards from sparks and static.

·        Security arrangements and the correct storage of waste to minimise risk of arson

Step 2 Persons at Risk The assessment should identify those persons especially at risk if a fire did break out somewhere in the building. This is a vital action, but is not overly straightforward, for it involves identifying the number of people, their dependency requirements, and their location. These people include both staff and other persons who may be visitors who are invited onto the premises, or patients in a hospital, children in a school, or those detained in a prison or mental health facility.


·        Children

·        Restricted mobility

·        Restricted vision

·        Don’t understand English

·        Visitors

·        Elderly

Step 3 Evaluate the risk The fire risk assessment involves identification of fire hazards and an analysis of whether the related fire safety control measures are effective in reducing the risk to an acceptable level. A fire risk is a combination of the likelihood of fire occurring and the potential for harm that could result through fire spread and the risk to life.


The risk to employees should be reduced to as low as is reasonably practicable and, for others, to what can reasonably be required in the circumstances. The nature of fire safety measures provided in premises should be proportional to the risk posed to the safety of the people in the building. The higher the risk of fire and risk to life, the higher the standards of fire safety measures required. An action plan should be set in place with agreed completion dates for any improvements that are identified as being necessary.


Step 4 Recording and Monitoring Record-keeping is part of the risk assessment process, and the responsible person should ensure that all relevant information, findings and records as necessary are kept in a secure area, so as to provide evidence of compliance with the fire safety legislation.

It is also important to have them readily available for inspection purposes.

  • Location of the assessed area.
  • Fire hazards.
  • Personnel who are ‘at risk’ including those who are especially at risk.
  • Existing fire precautions.
  • Fire safety management arrangements covering organisation, control, monitoring and the review of the fire safety measures.
  • Actions to be taken.
  • Details of the assessor, the responsible person, competent persons and the person with overall responsibility for fire safety.
  • Date of assessment and review


Step 5 Review A review of the fire risk assessment should be carried out regularly. The risk assessment should also be reviewed if there is reason to suspect that the findings of the fire safety risk assessment are no longer valid or there has been a significant change to the matters to which it relates
  • A change in the number of people present or the nature of the occupants.
  • Construction and refurbishment work being undertaken in the building.
  • Changes to the dependency or number of disabled persons.
  • Changes to work procedures, including the introduction of new equipment.
  • Alterations to the building, including the internal layout or the addition of cladding systems.
  • Changes to the fire safety systems or equipment.
  • Significant changes to furniture, fittings and fixings.
  • The introduction or increase in the storage of hazardous substances.
  • After a fire or incident



Duties of an Evacuation Controller or Lead Fire Warden.

Where the premises has an Evacuation Controller or a system of Fire Marshalls, then their function during an evacuation should be clear. The function of the evacuation controller is to take control of the situation during an emergency, particularly one involving an evacuation. To undertake this correctly, they must be completely familiar with the emergency procedures and the roles of all people, such as maintenance engineers shutting off services or similar, that have roles or responsibilities in an emergency. In particular, they must be fully aware of the functions of the fire wardens/marshals reporting to them.

In general, the functions of the evacuation controller or lead fire marshal may include:

  • Ensuring that there are suitable fire safety arrangements for the premises.
  • Summoning the emergency services.
  • Ensuring that emergency vehicles are met and suitably directed on arrival.
  • Receiving reports from fire wardens/marshals as to areas of the building which are clear, or not.
  • Taking control of the movement, or restriction of movement, of people and vehicles to ensure their safety, and to avoid impeding the emergency services and persons returning into the building before it is declared safe.
  • Ensuring the coordination of the business continuity plan as applicable.
  • Liaising appropriately with the emergency services.


Function of Fire Wardens/Marshals

The functions of individual Fire Wardens and Marshals where they are provided may include:

  • Undertaking regular checks of their area to ensure that fire safety is not compromised, for example, by blocked exits, broken or wedged doors, missing equipment.
  • Checking that fire safety equipment in their area has been tested as required and is present and not obscured or otherwise compromised.
  • Ensuring that people in their area are aware of the fire and evacuation procedures, in particular the means of raising the alarm.
  • Undertaking inductions of people new to the area.
  • Ensuring that the area is clear in the event of an evacuation by ‘sweeping’ it and then reporting to the assembly point.
  • In the event of an alarm, making safe processes and isolating equipment as required and closing windows and doors if it is safe to do so.
  • In the event of a fire, fighting the fire if it is safe to do so.
  • Checking the adequacy of means of evacuation if a disabled person is in their area.
  • Checking that contractors working are not compromising fire safety.
  • Feeding back any problems or defects in the fire safety precautions or procedures in their area to the evacuation controller/lead fire marshal.

In general, they need to ensure that they are aware of both the organisational fire safety policy and their particular part in it. This is likely to include:

  • Principles of fire safety.
  • What fire is and how it spreads.
  • Preventing fires occurring.
  • Controlling the effects if they start.
  • Means of extinguishing fires (including practical hands-on training in the use of portable extinguishers).
  • Role of a fire warden and fire marshal.
  • Emergency procedures and means of escape.
  • Evacuation of people with disabilities.


Basic Fire and Emergency Procedures

The basic fire procedure for most buildings for the majority of staff is: Raise the alarm, get out, stay out.

The specifics of the fire and emergency procedure will be different, depending on the premises. It is essential to ensure that everyone knows the procedures, and in particular, the nearest fire exit to their normal work area. It is also important to make sure that people do not compromise the fire precautions in their work area. Wherever people are working, no one should:

  • Block or obstruct fire escape routes or fire exits.
  • Introduce combustible material into a protected corridor or staircase.
  • Prop open or obstruct fire doors.
  • Smoke, other than in designated external places.

In the event of a fire, the alarm should be raised by using the method in that area, usually by operating a fire alarm call point. A fire evacuation will be communicated, usually by the use of the fire alarm system. It is essential to ensure that everyone knows what the alarm sounds like in their area. In the event that the emergency is such that the normal evacuation is not appropriate (such as a bomb threat) then the alarm system should not be used but an announcement made.

In the event that a person discovers a fire, they should:

  • Raise the alarm using a fire alarm call point.
  • Fight the fire if trained to do so and it is safe.
  • Evacuate by the nearest available exit (not using the lift, unless designed as a fire lift).
  • Not delay to collect personal belongings.
  • Go straight to the assembly point.
  • Not return to the building until told it is safe to do so.

The general fire emergency procedure is as follows:

  • At the alarm signal, all personnel on site must leave the building by the nearest emergency exit – they should not run or panic.
  • If they are using powered equipment fed from an easily accessible isolator, they should make it safe by turning it off if it would not cause inconvenience to do so (NB this is more applicable to factories and workshops and does not normally apply to offices).
  • Close doors and windows if it is safe to do so.
  • Do not delay to collect personal belongings.
  • Leave by the nearest available exit.
  • Go to the assembly point.
  • The Fire Warden should ‘sweep’ the area to ensure it is clear and assist disabled persons and visitors to leave in accordance with evacuation procedures.
  • Personnel should not use any lifts unless these are fire lifts or have been designated as safe to use in a particular fire situation.
  • Personnel should not re-enter the building for any reason until informed that it is safe to do so by the Fire Marshal or senior member of the Fire Brigade.
  • Personnel should report to their Fire Warden and not wander from the assembly area. It is especially important not to leave the premises or go home. The emergency services need to get to the premises as fast as possible and this will be impeded if personnel try to drive away from the site – they should remain at their assembly point until told to leave.

Regular Checks and Inspections

To ensure that all fire safety equipment is in place, available for use, and not obstructed or otherwise compromised, regular checks should be carried out as detailed below:

Daily Checks Escape routes:

  • Can all fire and escape doors be opened immediately and easily?
  • Are all fire and escape doors clear of obstructions?
  • Are all escape routes clear?
  • Are protected corridors and staircases free of combustible material?

Fire warning systems:

  • Is the control and indicator panel showing normal, with no system errors?
  • Are any manual means of raising the alarm in place, such as whistles, gongs or air horns?

Escape lighting:

  • Are luminaires and exit signs in good condition and undamaged, with mains indicator lamp on?
  • Is emergency lighting and sign lighting working correctly?

Fire-fighting equipment:

  • Are all portable fire extinguishers in place?
  • Are all portable fire extinguishers clearly visible?
  • Are any vehicles blocking fire hydrants or access to them?


Weekly Checks Escape routes:

  • Do all emergency fastening devices to fire exits, such as push bars and pads, work correctly?
  • Are external routes clear and safe to use?

Fire warning systems:

  • Does testing a manual call point send a signal to the indicator panel? (It should be remembered to disable the central monitoring service while undertaking this if necessary.)
  • Did the alarm system work correctly when tested?
  • Did staff and others hear the alarm when tested?
  • Did any linked fire protection systems, such as door releases, smoke curtains or similar, operate correctly during the test?
  • Do all visual alarms and or vibrating alarms or other alert systems for hearing-impaired people work correctly?
  • Do the voice alarm systems work correctly providing an understandable message?

Fire-fighting equipment:

  • Is all equipment in good condition?
  • Are any additional checks recommended by the manufacturer satisfactorily completed?
  • The sprinkler alarm/bell test should be undertaken using the test valve.


Monthly Checks Escape routes:

  • Do all electronic release mechanisms on escape doors work correctly and do they ‘fail safe’ to open during a power loss?
  • Do all automatic opening doors on escape routes ‘fail safe’ in the open position on power loss?
  • Are fire doors, fire door seals and self-closing devices in good condition and doors close correctly into frames?
  • Do all roller shutters provided for compartmentalisation work correctly?
  • Are all external escape stairways safe to use?
  • Do all internal self-closing fire doors work correctly?

Escape lighting:

  • Do all luminaires and exit signs function correctly when tested?
  • Have all emergency generators, where present, been tested (normally run for one hour)?

Fire-fighting equipment:

  • Are any additional checks recommended by the manufacturer satisfactorily completed?


3 monthly checks General:

  • Are any emergency water tanks or ponds at their normal capacity?
  • Are any vehicles blocking fire hydrants or access to them?
  • Are any additional checks recommended by the manufacturer satisfactorily completed?


6 Monthly Checks General:

  • Have all fire-fighting or evacuation lifts (where present) been tested by a competent person?
  • Have any sprinkler systems been tested/serviced by a competent person?
  • Have the release mechanisms of any fire-resisting compartment doors and shutters been tested by a competent person?
  • Have fire doors been subject to a detailed inspection?

Fire warning system:

  • Has the system been checked and serviced by a competent person?


Annual Checks Escape routes:

  • Do all self-closing doors fit correctly and open freely?
  • Is protection and compartmentalisation fire compartments and escape routes in good repair?

Escape lighting:

  • Do all luminaires operate when power is removed for test for their full rated duration?
  • Has the system been checked by a competent person?

Fire-fighting equipment:

  • Has all fire-fighting equipment been checked and serviced by a competent person?