Fire safety in the home office

How fire safety regulations apply to self-employed people who work from home. What your business is required to do by law and how you can follow fire safety regulations quickly and easily in the home office.

The number of people in the UK who work from home is growing. Some predictions foresee more than 50% of the entire workforce working remotely, at least once a week, by the end of this decade. This makes the likelihood of home offices becoming the hub of most entrepreneurial activity within the next few years very real.

If you already work from home, or are thinking of taking advantage of this trend and turning part of your home into your office, then make sure you understand how fire safety regulations apply. Even if your business is run on little more than a single workstation and cloud-based software, your home has become a workplace and you are now responsible for fire safety.

Any owner, manager or occupier of a ‘non-domestic premises’ automatically becomes the person responsible for fire safety in any building. While your home office is almost certainly a domestic premises for most of the day if not 24/7, under fire safety law, ‘all workplaces and commercial premises’ are considered non-domestic.

This means that you have many of the same legal responsibilities as somebody who runs a larger office or business and must regularly carry out fire safety risk assessments. If your home office has just four more staff, you must also record your findings in a logbook each time you perform a risk assessment.

Of course, this could seem like an arduous, time-consuming task for a small business, taking up valuable time that could be spent on day-to-day tasks and stimulating growth. In the unlikely event of an incident, though, making sure you’ve followed these procedures and that your staff are prepared ensures your business has the best chance of recovering.

If you’re just starting your home office business, it’s likely that you already have some fire safety measures in place. It is recommended that every floor of your home has at least one regularly-tested smoke alarm – regardless of whether your home is also an office. Test your existing alarms and work out if you need one closer to your office workspace.

You should also already know – without even thinking – the fastest, safest way to get from your office to the outside of the building. During your risk assessment, this will be identified as the escape route for you and your staff. Make sure it’s easily accessible and free from obstacles, and that everyone who may need a door or window key has access to one at all times.

Lighting along this route must be suitable for evacuation at all times of the day – and, if your home office is in a shared building, your evacuation route must work with existing plans. If unsure, talk to your landlord or property owner about the plans they have in place for evacuations and relay this information to your staff.

Within your office, as you would with any other room in your house, look after and regularly check your electrical appliances. Don’t overload your wall sockets, turn off your equipment whenever you have the opportunity, and avoid keeping flammable materials near your wires.

If your business expands and you take on more staff, consider whether you will require additional wall plugs to be installed by a qualified electrician. Electrical fires are still one of the most common causes of fire in the UK, both at home and at work, so ensure that your home office is equipped to reduce the chance of ignition.

The kitchen remains the most likely place a fire will start in any type of building, so be vigilant in how you maintain yours. If you do have other staff working in your home office, make sure they know how to use the equipment, how your smoke or heat alarm systems work and how to use any equipment you have provided in the event of an emergency.

Keeping your kitchen clean and tidy at all times significantly reduces the chance of an emergency occurring. A build-up of fat, grease and poor ventilation can all contribute to the chance of a fire starting and spreading, and reducing these risks will also give you and your staff a more ambient environment in which to enjoy breaks.

Smoking in the home office is something of a grey area, pun intended. If you work alone and smoke in your home, then treat your smoking breaks with the safety you would at any time of day. Remember, though, that if you employ any other staff, smoke breaks must be taken in an outdoor or partially enclosed outdoor area. Ensure that this area is away from any source of fuel, and that disposal of cigarettes is performed safely and efficiently.

Along with the many benefits of working from home, treating your home office with the same fire safety regulations as any other workplace will make your property much safer. While fire safety risk assessments are not legally required in the home, that does not mean they don’t come as highly recommended by the same authorities. Below are some more tips on how to implement fire safety in the home office and respond to any emergencies.

What about others at the property?

If your family or flat-mates are regularly or potentially on the premises during working hours, their presence must be included in your fire safety risk assessment. While they are most likely aware of what to do and where to go in the event of a fire, it’s best practice to remind them of this information and record that you have done so.

If you have children, then despite even the most rigorous housekeeping, it’s likely that they may occasionally leave toys, clothes and other items strewn around the property. Especially if you have other staff working for you, try to ensure that, during business hours, these additional obstacles – and certain hazards – are avoided.

Businesses are likely to receive a number of deliveries during the course of the day. Envelopes, cardboard boxes and polystyrene packaging are potentially sources of fuel for fires, so deal with deliveries responsively and responsibly. Avoid leaving any boxes along the path of a potential escape route and don’t let combustible materials pile up in any area of the home.

When you are visited by clients, customers or professionals installing equipment or making home repairs, make sure they know what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency. If it is required that electrical equipment is turned off during home repairs, this might be a good time to perform an updated fire risk assessment until you can get back to work.

How else can I save time implementing fire safety in the home office?

It’s understandable that time is precious. Running your own business, even without the extra costs of hiring an office, is time-consuming, expensive and comes with a great amount of risk. Legally, though, it’s something you must plan for in the management of your home office.

As well as maintaining positive, regular good housekeeping practices, there are other ways you can cut down on how much time you spend on fire safety. Many e-learning courses are available, which will give you and any other staff access to identifying hazards, allowing them to reducing risk and understanding the difference between hazards and risk.

Making other staff responsible for carrying out risk assessments of any size will reinforce what they’ve learned and free up some time for you to manage the business. Also make sure you keep up to date with any changes in fire safety regulation reform by subscribing to relevant government updates and checking that your level of insurance matches the needs of your business as it grows.

Another useful tip is to plan for your next fire safety risk assessment. If you’ve just completed your latest sweep of the home office and property, choose the date of your next assessment and keep a note of the date in your calendar. Knowing when it’s due will give you the time to schedule it in or move it to a date that better suits your plans.

What sort of fire safety equipment will I need in my home office?

Along with the smoke or heat alarm systems already in your home, your needs depend on the size and work involved in your business. Given that you are likely to have some amount of paperwork in your home office, a water-based extinguisher will cope with these flames, but should never be used on electrical fires.

Another useful piece of kit you will already have is a circuit breaker panel, which you can use to turn off all electricity in your home. You might lose a few documents in the process, but you will also immediately remove the source of ignition in an electrical fire. A CO2 extinguisher is the most effective for dealing with such fires, and should also be considered if you use a large amount of equipment.

If your home office is in an extension, you could protect the rest of the property from harm by installing a fire door between the home and workspace. Placing a fire blanket in the kitchen is always good practice at both home and work, as is a well-stocked and regularly checked first aid kit.

Except a mobile phone with which to call the emergency services, you won’t immediately require any additional equipment to turn your home into a home office. You will identify if these needs change as you perform your regular fire safety risk assessments, particularly if you take on more staff as your business expands.

My office is just me and my laptop, do fire safety regulations affect me?

If your business has fewer than five employees, you don’t have to make a note of your health and safety policy, fire safety included. Everything we’ve covered so far is simply a set of recommended best practices that you can follow to ensure your home-based office is prepared to deal with an incident.

While you might work completely independently now, you may hope that your business will expand. The more work and staff you take on, services you provide or products you sell, the closer you will get to the time when you will be required to demonstrate that you are implementing fire safety procedures in your office.

There may also come a time when you have to move your office outside of the home. It’s essential to understand your fire safety responsibilities and make sure your business is prepared for growth in this area, as it is in any other. Working from home combines all the fire safety hazards and risks of both the home and workplace environment, and puts them all into one single property, yours – so you must keep it safe from fire at all times.

What other fire safety advice is available to me as a self-employed person?

Local fire rescue services are a good place to start. While they will carry out risk assessments upon request, for people who qualify under certain criteria, they will readily give you access to relevant guides for making your home or workplace safe. The more questions they are asked by members of the public, the less likely they are to be called out in the future.

If you’re unsure whether your office is adhering to fire safety regulations, your insurance company will be delighted that you’re checking if your level of cover is suitable – just be careful not to buy anything you don’t need! Your local authority and sites will also be able to provide you with fire safety guidance specific to certain types of housing, including purpose-built flats and converted buildings.

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