‘Fire Safety – Risk Assessment Small and Medium Places of Assembly’

A change in the law affecting Fire Safety

New fire safety rules affecting all non-domestic premises in England and Wales came into force on the 1st of October 2006. These new enforceable regulations cover fire safety and risk assessment requirements for all occupiers and owners of small (up to 60 people) and medium (up to 300 people) places of assembly and these include, ‘churches and other religious centres, including marquees and tents’.

Where the details of the new law can be obtained

All the details are available in the Guide published by the Department for Communities and Local Government called Fire Safety and Risk Assessment: Small and Medium Places of Assembly, ISBN 1851128204, for the price of £12.00. The following précis of its contents will be insufficient to fully aid you in implementing its requirements and so you will need to either purchase the book or read it via the Government internet site opening ‘Fire and Resilience’ followed by ‘Fire and Safety Law’ which should bring you the regulations applying to ‘Places of Assembly’. You can then print off a whole copy of the document or sections of it as you see fit.

The Guide is divided into two parts, the first of which explains what fire risk assessment is and how to go about it. The precautions required are very dependent upon the risk level your particular building is seen to be at and the first part helps you make that assessment. The second part provides further guidance about fire precautions in terms of appliances to be installed and the review/assessment you need to do so as to get the correct insurance cover for your property.

What the new regulations provide and how they are enforced

There are three things that this new legislation provides: 1) An emphasis on preventing and reducing the risk of fire in your premises; 2) A clear-cut description of the responsibility that the occupier/owner has to ensure the safety of everyone who uses the premises or lives in the vicinity of the building; 3) It does away with the need for ‘fire certificates’ and gives the Local Authority the job and the power to conduct inspections, most likely through the Fire Service, with a view to enforcing the implementation of the law in respect to all such buildings in their area.

What the new regulations involve and how they affect us

The following is only a very brief guide and must not be regarded as sufficient to inform you fully so you will need to look at and apply the regulations personally.

  • Those responsible for the physical building or premises you use become responsible to read and implement the guide. Amongst these individuals at least one person should be appointed as the ‘named’ person who will ensure conformity to the requirements. They are also required to inform and make all others aware of the provision and precautions established to prevent fire. This applies if you are renting accommodation or if you want to extend/alter the accommodation you occupy.
  • The first requirement is to have ‘Identified the fire hazards’. This will enable you to evaluate obvious or possible source risks for a fire: fuel that may supply it once started; means of controlling the sources of oxygen supply that will reduce its ability to keep burning, e.g., fire doors, etc.
  • The next step is to 'identify the people at risk’. Special thought will be needed to anticipate the difficulties of escape for those that are young or disabled and then any persons that are living in close proximity to the building and may be endangered by the fire.
  • Now comes the ‘action bit’ to make sure the correct precautions and preventions are in place. You need to ‘Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect from fire risk’. This guides you into listing such items as the means to ‘detect and warn’ and also to ‘fight’ a fire. It helps you to consider ‘escape routes, emergency lighting, signs and notices’ and the way in which these items are maintained in working condition.
  • Once this has been done and work carried out it all needs to be ‘recorded’ and 'fire plans set up’ and ‘displayed’. People will need to be informed as to how to carry out emergency procedures and practices. If training is required then this too should be set up and carried out. All actions need to be recorded. The final requirement is to keep the whole thing under review and certainly revise as things change.

The Guide contains useful charts and diagrams to aid the carrying out of these procedures and the recording of them. There are many local ‘specialist’ firms that will be only too willing to give you their assessment and advice as well installing needful equipment, but it will all come at a price and we are talking about ‘hundreds’ rather than ‘thousands’ of pounds here. The local Fire Brigade inspection officer is the other alternative. He will not charge for advice but it may take months before he gets round to you!

None of us would deny our moral duty before the Lord to protect and care for all those who enter our buildings at our invitation or as being part of the assembly. Although we may feel that the Government has a ‘big brother’ or ‘nanny’ attitude towards us and goes beyond reason in its demands, we do need to be seen to be positively receptive to what is a very needful requirement and honour the Lord in so doing.

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