A comprehensive guide to fire safety in the UK. How to work out the best protection for your home, how to identify fire hazards and assess risk, and who is responsible for fire safety.
Everyone is familiar with the term. But it is far from just a simple set of principles and sense of awareness. It is a set of rigorous practices that ensure your home, workplace, and outdoor and leisure facilities are resolutely prepared to prevent the unexpected occurring – but equipped to keep you safe in the event of a fire.
Fire safety is essential in every building – from the regulations in place during planning and construction, to the placement and maintenance of a fully-functioning fire alarm in any finished residential, commercial or industry build. Fire safety is already a priority for business owners, landlords and qualified fire safety staff in the workplace – but should be an equally essential trait for us all.
In an ongoing process of understanding and adapting to changes in home, work and leisure lifestyles, the regulations of fire safety are regularly reviewed and updated. Understandably, this means that many people may not feel they have the time to keep up. However, compliance here is not a choice. Not adhering to regulations can result in invalidated insurance claims, legal action, large fines and even prison sentences.
Not that you should be concerned about reading detailed legal jargon, or performing fire safety risk assessments every time you move a chair or hang a new picture. Keeping yourself and your home or workplace safe from fire can be a simple process – when the right things are done regularly and effectively.
Through carrying out relevant equipment checks and using technology, apparatus, tools and utensils safely, everyone can easily ensure that they adhere to these simple, life-saving regulations. From sharing knowledge amongst colleagues and others in the home, to using a thoughtful, considered approach to cooking and installing equipment, there are steps we can all take to keep ourselves and our families and friends safe from fire.
However, prevention is just one aspect of fire safety. While we all have a responsibility to ensure our homes and workplaces are properly maintained to reduce the chance of a fire, we must also know what to do in the event of an incident. This involves recognising the quickest and safest way out of a building and determining if a fire can be safely extinguished – and by what means. Acquiring this knowledge and being able to put it into action is fundamental to reducing the spread of the fire and the damage it can cause.
In the last 10 years, the number of fires attended by UK Fire & Rescue Services has dropped by a substantial 43 per cent. However, there are still, on average, over 450 such incidents every single day. We all witnessed the tragic events at Grenfell Tower, on 14 June 2017, which led to 72 people losing their lives. According to Home Office statistics, between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 3018, there were a further 262 fire-related deaths, and 7290 non-fatal casualties in total, all caused by fire.
Following the Grenfell fire, which police and fire services believe was started by a malfunctioning fridge freezer, fires ignited by ‘other electrical appliances’ were the cause of the most fatalities in 2017/18. However, it is usually far more common for smoking materials – such as lighters, matches and cigarettes or household cooking appliances – to be the initial cause of a fire both at home and in the workplace.
Fires where a smoke alarm was not present accounted for 25 per cent of all fires in the home during 2017/18, as well as 21 per cent of fire-related residential fatalities. It goes without saying that ensuring your home or workplace has fully-functioning smoke or fire alarms installed is fundamental – but evidently, and unfortunately, this life-saving device is still often overlooked.
These statistics show how important it is to ensure that fire safety regulations are understood by everyone, everywhere. Many of the 167,150 fires that Fire & Rescue Services attended during 2017/18 could have been prevented – nearly 8,000 simply by having a smoke alarm fitted. The emotional and financial damage caused by such incidents is simply immeasurable.
Also an unfathomable commodity, peace of mind is something we each have control over when it comes to fire safety. By knowing that the right equipment is in place, that potential hazards have been recognised and removed and that we are ready to respond to an incident appropriately, we all immediately benefit from thoroughly addressing fire safety regulations.
Below, we have listed a number of essential fire safety elements that you will find useful, both at home and in the workplace. We don’t want anybody to suffer from the harmful and potentially horrific consequences of fire damage. However, with the statistics we’ve covered above, it’s certain that it will continue to affect lives both in the UK and all over the world.
With this information, you will be able to not only recognise potential hazards but also implement relevant fire safety regulations in your home. While there should also always be an existing fire safety policy in your workplace, and staff designated to regularly monitor this policy’s effectiveness, enhancing your own knowledge in this area is still a practical, positive practice.
Smoke detectors and fire alarms – what’s the difference?
While both are essential, in the right environments, smoke detectors and fire alarms serve different functions. Every home should have a fully-functioning and regularly tested smoke detector, while a fire alarm would be more suited to a non-residential business or a large space such as an office suite or school.
As we’ve already covered above, nearly a quarter of fires in the home during 2017/18 occurred where there was no smoke detector fitted. Make sure your home has one on every floor, then test them monthly and replace batteries annually – or the whole device as advised by the manufacturer’s instructions. A smoke detector picks up on smoke particles proliferating in the air and usually responds with a high-pitched audio alarm that alerts household members.
In larger homes, smoke alarms can be fitted as a connected system, whereby when one alarm is triggered, every other alarm responds. With older people more prone to being injured – or worse – during a fire, smoke detectors that respond with flashing lights are also available to purchase for people with hearing impairments.
Fire alarms, on the other hand, can also sense heat – as well as do everything a smoke detector can. Available with a range of additional features, including sprinkler systems, a fire alarm is more often part of a wider, linked system, and can be linked directly to local authorities for faster response times. Fire alarms do have a longer lifespan than standard smoke detectors, but only if they are regularly maintained.
Do I need any other fire safety equipment?
This will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your premises and what it is used for. There are a number of fire extinguishers available to buy for both businesses and homes, but knowing which extinguisher is best for you depends on your needs. You first need to identify what types of hazard exist in your premises and establish the level of risk involved – but we will come to that shortly.
Most workplaces need at least one suitable fire extinguisher, and any kitchen area would benefit from a fire blanket. Fire curtains, emergency lighting and fire exit signs may also be required. This all depends on the size of the business, the level of risk identified and emergency evacuation plans designed by fire safety personnel.
Designated staff would be required to learn how to safely and appropriately use all of these types of equipment, and the maintenance of any fire safety equipment needs recording in a fire safety logbook. This also applies to replacing expired or used products in a first aid kit and regularly reviewing its contents in line with fire safety reviews.
In the home, of course, a smoke alarm and first aid kit – in case of accidents –
should suffice. Both, however, should be used and maintained in line with a fire safety strategy suitable for your premises and the people in it.
Hazard and risk: understanding how to identify both
Hazard and risk refer to different things when it comes to fire safety, but it’s important to be able to identify both. Doing so will help you keep your home safe and assist with adhering to workplace fire safety regulations. Firstly, a fire hazard itself can be broken down into two distinct properties:
- The possibility of a fire occurring in any given environment
- The likelihood of the fire spreading and what damage this could cause
Once these two elements of a fire hazard have been established, we can identify the level of risk involved. For instance, a home or business office could contain a large volume of paper, cardboard and other combustible materials. Allowing such materials to pile up or not properly maintaining local electrical equipment could increase the possibility of a fire and make it more likely to spread.
This would mean that the risk of a fire starting – and spreading – would be high. Regularly disposing of or properly storing combustible materials, and ensuring that electrical appliances and systems are installed safely, will reduce this risk. While fire safety training in the workplace is fundamental, also showing people in the home how to establish a level of risk – and identify hazards – is equally as important.
As we’ve mentioned, the majority of fires that start in the home are linked to cooking appliances. Good housekeeping, proper storage of cleaning products, cooking oils and combustible food packaging, and the correct placement of a fully-functioning smoke alarm can all reduce the risk of a fire starting, and spreading, from the kitchen.
Who is responsible for fire safety?
In a word, you. In another, me. In yet another, all-encompassing term, everyone. While a child may not apply to any of these categories, most schools teach and reapply basic fire safety training in the classroom, and it’s certainly worthwhile to reaffirm this invaluable life lesson in the home.
Legally, however, an employer, owner or occupier of premises is responsible for fire safety. if any of these three designations means you – you need to implement fire safety regulations now. As the ‘appropriate person’, you will identify hazards, establish risk, communicate your findings to others, adhere to the regulations relevant to the type of property or business, and review them as and when you are required to do so.
An essential part of your fire safety responsibilities is establishing the safest escape route, in the event of a fire. Make sure everyone in the property knows where this route is and how to access it from their room, office or workstation. Larger properties may require that several routes are established for people in different parts of the building. Also ensure that all exits are kept clear, and consider planning a secondary, backup route, in case the first becomes inaccessible.
Make sure you review this plan every time the layout of your home or workplace significantly changes. If any door or window keys will be required for access to your planned escape route, provide copies of these keys for anyone who needs them, or ensure that keys can be easily accessed in the event of an emergency.
The other fundamental point in fire safety is, of course, communication. Between homeowners and residents, employers and staff, government and fire services, people – and those they love and care about. By sharing knowledge and keeping a keen eye on potential hazards and risk, we can all feel safer from the dangers of fire.