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New fire safety legislation: don’t get caught out!

1 September 2006

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Wendy Garcarz
MA DipEd DipTM
E [email protected]

Wendy is Sales Director of Train4Health, a Statutory & Mandatory e-learning and testing system designed specifically for the NHS and social care. She is an organisational development specialist and architect of learning organisations and has authored several books and publications, including:

  • Make Your Healthcare Organisation a Learning Organisation. Oxford: Radcliffe Medical Press; 2003.
  • Statutory & Mandatory Training in Health & Social Care. Oxford: Radcliffe Medical Press; 2005.

For further details visit:

The purpose of the new legislation is:

  • To create one simple fire-safety regime for all workplaces.
  • For this regime to be risk-assessment-based, with responsibility for fire safety taken by a named, responsible person.
  • To remove the separate fire certification system currently in place.
  • To include self-employed people and voluntary sector organisations under the legislation.

The legislation has been developed by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Additional information and sector-specific leaflets can be obtained from the department’s website (see Resources).

These changes will impact on general practice and other independent contractors working within the NHS. Failure to comply could mean heavy fines or, in the most serious cases, imprisonment.

The legislation applies if you are: an employer; self- employed with business premises; a voluntary organisation; or if you have control over any premises.

The requirements are:

  • To keep a hard copy of your fire risk assessment at your premises – this should be available for inspection at any time.
  • To ensure you have selected a named person responsible for fire safety.
  • To ensure training takes place for all employed staff at least once a year (although preferably twice) in matters related to fire safety.
  • To provide written instructions on the protocol for raising the alarm, evacuation and fire prevention.


Implications of the changes
Fire certificates will be phased out and a comprehensive risk assessment will be required instead. This will need to be completed by a competent, trained and responsible person within the organisation, and will cover: detailed instructions for the prevention of fire; raising the alarm; evacuation of staff and members of the public; and the location and usage of firefighting equipment. The risk assessment will need to be recorded and a hard copy made available at all times.

The new legislation will be vigorously enforced at a local level by the UK Fire & Rescue Service.

Risk assessment
The risk assessment process recommended by the government follows five key steps:

  • Identify hazards.
  • Identify people at risk.
  • Evaluate the situation and act.
  • Record, plan and train.
  • Review.

Identifying hazards
The Health & Safety Executive (see Resources) defines a hazard as: “Anything that can cause harm (eg, chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, etc).”

In the case of fire safety, consider anything that may cause a fire to start: naked flames, heaters, electrical equipment, smoking, chemicals and other sources of ignition. It is important to think about general materials found in your environment: paper, wood, soft furnishings, rubber/foam and plastic could all burn, providing sources of fuel for a fire. In general practice, there may also be supplies of flammable liquids, and these must be included in the assessment too.

The risk assessor needs to examine the sources of ignition and any potential fuel these sources could come into contact with. They should also consider sources of oxygen, as fire needs all three elements to exist: ignition, fuel and oxygen. If you are doing the assessment yourself, walk around your practice and take a fresh look at what could reasonably be classified as a fire hazard. Pay particular attention to public areas. Change your perspective: hazards become more apparent when viewed from a two-year-old child’s eye line or a wheelchair user’s position.

Identifying people at risk
Everyone is at risk if there is a fire, but for some the risk may be heightened because of where or when they work. New employees, trainees, pregnant women, children, the elderly and disabled are particularly vulnerable. However, you also need to consider people who do not permanently work for your practice but attend for specific purposes, ie, cleaners, bank/agency staff, members of the public, patients, etc. Anyone attending your premises should be able to do so safely and free from fire hazards.

Evaluate and act
When you have completed the risk assessment and have gathered the information you need to consider the implications, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How can I reduce the risks?
  • What can I do to prevent fire in these premises?

Systematically work through the hazards and risks you have identified, and consider the action that you (and others) can take to protect the premises and people using them from fire.

When considering options for reducing risks, the following questions may help:

  • Is there a less risky way of doing this?
  • Can access to the hazard be restricted?
  • Should the job or immediate environment be redesigned/adapted to restrict access to the hazard?
  • Is there specialist equipment or clothing available to reduce the risk?

The aim should be to make all risks small by putting in appropriate measures to ensure that the practice:

  • Complies with legislation.
  • Complies with NHS/organisational standards.
  • Passes the common sense test of “have we done everything we can to minimise the risk?”

Record, plan and train
The records you keep must show any hazards identified, and what you have done to control/remove them. A plan of how the practice will prevent fire and how to keep people safe in case of fire should also be produced and be available for inspection at any time. It should include your evacuation procedure, evidence of fire drills and tests (and their outcomes), and training for staff to ensure they are familiar with the procedures.

The process should be able to show that regular and thorough checks are made, that key people were involved, and that action has been taken to deal with obvious hazards and risks. Records may be requested as part of an inspection.

The risk assessment should be under regular review. Remember that any change to the premises, procedures or personnel may carry risk implications, and a review may not require a complete repetition of the assessment, just the areas and issues affected by the change. It is good practice to regularly review the assessment and make sure existing measures are still operating effectively. It is important to include any changes in the training you give, to ensure staff are fully aware of current requirements and practice.

Good practice will cover the requirements of the legislation, but consistent application will ensure your practice is a safe environment to work and visit.

Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)

Health & Safety Executive