The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (England and Wales)
Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, supported by the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006
The Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and The Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010
Over the years, there have been a number of different pieces of fire safety legislation, each applying to different types of buildings or relating to different circumstances. The latest legislation - often simply called "the fire regulations" - applies to a large range of premises. In fact, pretty much every non-domestic premises is now included, including many that were not included under previous regimes, such as small shops, village halls and Places of Worship.
The law is in place to protect staff, volunteers and the public from fire and the effects of fire. Fire is one of the most significant risks to any organisation and needs to be properly managed to prevent damage to property. The law is enforced by the Fire and Rescue Services, who can prosecute individuals for failing to comply with the regulations. Cases could see criminal sanctions including fines and even imprisonment.
Central to the legislation is a process known as Fire Risk Assessment. The simplest form of assessment looks at how a fire can start, along with the precautions that are in place to reduce the risk of fire, and mitigate against it should it happen. The main outcome is to prevent fire in the first place, but should there be an outbreak, suitable measures need to be in place to detect it, control it or limit its spread.
The majority of this guidance has been written around the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which applies to England and Wales, but the law that applies to Scotland and Northern Ireland follows similar principles.
The Fire Safety Order applies to the majority of non-domestic premises. Churches and Places of Worship fall into the category of buildings that are must comply with this law. It does not matter how many attend or if there are any paid employees. Historic and listed buildings are included also, and people who manage these premises are often reminded of the need to preserve the heritage as well as protect life, although this is not the direct aim of the legislation.
The Fire Safety Order placed duties on a 'responsible person' not only to protect employees but members of the public - in fact anyone that could be affected by the fire (known as 'relevant persons'). In a Church or Place of Worship, the Responsible Person is likely to be the minister, chairman of the trustee board or a manager. This is the person who is in overall control of the premises and has a say over the precautions that are put into place.
Fire Risk Assessment
In common with most of the new regulations about Health and Safety, the fire safety order requires that Fire Risk Assessment is carried out. The purpose of this assessment is to identify fire hazards in the building and help determine what precautions might be needed (such as fire alarms, fire detectors, fire extinguishers and so on). Additionally, the Fire Risk Assessment should also identify any deficiencies in the testing and maintenance of fire safety equipment, along with training needs and situations when co-ordination is required between different users of the premises.
The first stage is to identify significant fire hazards, which include identifying the three elements of the 'fire triangle':
Things that could start a fire, known as ignition sources;
Things that could catch fire (flammable and combustible materials); and
Sources of air or oxygen, including oxidising substances.
As part of the assessment, it is important to consider how a fire would affect the people in the building, including those people who might need assistance to evacuate the premises. As the fire spreads, you need to consider who else it could possibly affect, such as those who are evacuating the building and people passing by the premises on footpaths and pavements. Nearby property could also be affected by the fire, as the fire could also spread to nearby buildings. This is all considered in your Risk Assessment.
In line with many other regulations, the outcomes of the Risk Assessments must be written down where five or more people are employed. Similarly, the arrangements for fire safety must be recorded if five or more people are employed. It is recommended good practice to always have written fire safety documents.
One of the purposes of Fire Risk Assessment is to reduce the likelihood of fire. Fire Prevention is an important part of the Fire Safety Order, and this might affect some activities in some Places of Worship.
In most Places of Worship, a fire prevention plan should be easy to put together and should be a matter of common sense.
Some measures to consider include:
Making sure that candles are not burnt near flower arrangements and similar combustible materials.
Using heaters carefully, and not using portable heaters in exit areas.
Ensuring that the electrical wiring is tested and inspected frequently.
Having portable electrical equipment checked periodically.
Not storing rubbish outside the premises, preventing fire spread to the roof space if the rubbish is set alight.
Having good security measures to protect against arson attacks.
Reducing the amount of flammable and combustible material that is stored on the premises, especially in those easily forgotten spaces and store areas.
There are a number of general fire precautions required by the regulations. The exact details of what you would need depends on your Fire Risk Assessment so the below is a guide as to what could be done.
It is important to remember that every Church or Place of Worship is different. Every congregation has different needs. What works in one building might not work elsewhere. That is why the precautions that you put in place need to be determined from the Fire Risk Assessment.
The most significant fire precautions for Places of Worship include:
Some kind of appropriate fire warning, for example an whistle or an electrical fire alarm, depending on the size of the premises. This allows anyone to warn others of the fire and is needed irrespective of any fire detection that might be present (although detection systems usually include manual call points and alarm sounders to fulfil both objectives).
Automatic fire detectors might be needed in some buildings, especially if a fire could be a risk to people if it is not detected (such as a two-storey building) or there are large numbers of people in the building. Smoke detectors provide the best response, and heat detectors would be used when there is a risk of a false alarm from a smoke detector.
There must be suitable numbers of fire extinguishers in the building, not only to maintain exits while people evacuate but to control or even extinguish small fires. Extinguishers should be marked with signs, be simple to use and people need to be trained in how to use them.
There must be adequate fire exit provision for the building considering the numbers of people who might be present. Sliding or rotating doors are not suitable as emergency exits, and any door on an exit route must open in the direction of travel (but there might be some flexibility for the smallest of buildings where fewer than 60 people congregate or for doors used by staff only).
Exits must be clearly marked with exit signs and they must be kept clear and readily available. Exit signs must include the 'moving person' symbol. There should be no ambiguity as to which door can be used as an emergency exit in a building used as a place of public assembly such as a Place of Worship.
Fire exit routes might need to be protected so that people evacuating the building won't be affected by the smoke and flames. Typically, self-closing fire doors would be used in some premises where this is identified on the Risk Assessment.
Emergency lighting might be needed in some situations to light exit routes and rooms in the event of a power failure. In smaller buildings, torches might be adequate. Generally, if the premises are used in the hours of darkness, or areas do not have windows, some kind of emergency lighting needs to be available.
Fire precautions must be tested, checked and maintained, so that the precautions will be in working order when needed most. This includes periodic servicing of fire detection and alarm equipment, extinguishers and checks on fire exit doors. A record of tests, maintenance and servicing needs to be kept to show that this has been done, and a log book is the normal way to keep this information.
The must be a fire procedure for the building, outlining people's responsibilities for the safe evacuation in case of fire. It would also be normal to display a 'fire action' poster but larger Churches and Places of Worship need a more comprehensive procedure.
Ensure that training is given to those who carry out specific tasks in an emergency. This might include stewards, fire wardens/marshals, supervisors and personnel in key rolls. Back up training with practice fire drills.
If people need assistance to evacuate the premises, provide suitable equipment and train people how to use it as required. This can include evacuation chairs and devices to aid people with mobility impairment. Likewise, alarm systems might be adapted with 'Visual Alarm Devices' to allow people to see the alarm activation who might not be able to hear a bell or siren easily.
The above list might not outline everything that you might need to do in your Place of Worship. Exactly what you do would follow from your Risk Assessment and depends on your situation, the size of the building and the people in the congregation.
A guide on Fire Risk Assessment and fire precautions has been prepared by the Government. A free download of a useful guide for small and medium places of assembly, such as Churches and Places of Worship, may be found by following the below link:
Further guids may be downloaded from the Gov.uk Website: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/fire-safety-law-and-guidance-documents-for-business
For Northern Ireland, please see the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service pages by following the link: http://www.nifrs.org/firesafe/
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