The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
(2005 No. 1541)
News: Guidance is now available
The Department for Communities and Local Government has now published the long-awaited guidance for the Order. Please see www.firesafetylaw.communities.gov.uk for more information. The guides cost £12 each and can be ordered off the above Website or from good bookstores.
Of interest to most Churches and Places of Worship is "Fire Safety Risk Assessment - Small and medium places of assembly" (ISBN 978 1 85112 820 4 or ISBN 1 85112 820 4) priced at £12.
The deadline was October 1st 2006 but there is still time to make sure that you are compliant.
New fire regulations have recently been passed that would affect all Churches Places of Worship in England and Wales. There are similar regulations planned for Scotland. The regulations were due to come into force in April this year, but this has recently been extended to October.
While many Churches and Places of Worship have the basic precautions in place, there are many that don't. Now is the time to start your Fire Risk Assessment, even if you have a Fire Certificate or Premises Licence.
Fire safety is not a difficult topic once you understand the basics, such as how to assess the risk and what basic precautions are needed.
You might have already received a copy of the "Fire Safety Law Checklist". If so, this is a good starting point, but this is not the only thing you need to do. If not, don't worry and browse through the fire safety pages on this Website, where you will find more information.
The Fire Safety Order will apply to all buildings in use, except domestic premises and some kinds of premises that are a specific risk and where other regulations apply. Churches and Places of Worship fall into the category of buildings that are affected. It does not matter how many attend or if there are any paid employees.
The Fire Safety Order placed duties on a 'responsible person' not only to protect employees but members of the public. In n a Church or Place of Worship, this person is likely to be the Minister or a manager - whoever is in overall control of the premises.
Don't forget that every building is going to be different - different fire hazards in different places affecting different people.
Fire Risk Assessment
In common with most of the new regulations about Health and Safety, the fire safety order requires that Risk Assessment is done. The purpose of this assessment is to identify fire hazards in the building and help determine what precautions might be needed (such as alarms, extinguishers and so on).
In addition to this, it is important to consider how a fire would affect the people in the building, starting with those immediately at risk from the fire. As the fire spreads, you need to consider who else it could possibly affect, such as those who are evacuating the building. Fire can also affect people passing by and nearby property, and this should be 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 ensuring that the electrical wiring is tested and inspected frequently. Similarly, removing items no longer needed from the building would limit the amount of fuel available to a fire and making sure rubbish is not stored near the premises can reduce the risk of arson. There are other measures listed on this Website.
There are a number of general fire precautions required by the regulations. The exact details of what you would need depends on your building (guidance for Places of Worship is available in our Code of Best Practice).
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.
The most important fire precautions for Places of Worship to consider include:
Some kind of fire warning, for example an whistle or an electrical fire alarm. Any person in serious and immediate danger must be informed of the fire by some kind of alarm or warning.
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-story building) or there are large numbers of people in the building.
There must be fire extinguishers in the building, not only to maintain exits while people evacuate but to control 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 enough fire exits in the building for the numbers of people who use it and exits must lead as directly to safety as possible. 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).
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.
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 and these can be connected to a fire alarm system to close the doors if smoke is detected.
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.
Fire precautions must be maintained and looked after, so that they are in working order. A record of tests, maintenance and servicing needs to be kept to show that this has been done.
The must be a fire procedure for the building, outlining people's responsibilities and the evacuation plan in case of fire. It would also be normal to display a "fire action" poster and larger Churches and Places of Worship need a more comprehensive plan.
Some people might have specific duties in an emergency, such as stewards, staff and volunteers. These people must have some kind of training to ensure they know what to do if there is an emergency.
The above list might not outline everything that you might need to do in your Palace 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.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has published guidance for the Order. Please see www.firesafetylaw.communities.gov.uk for more information.
Members can gain additional information and resources including a Forum, a Fire Risk Assessment Worksheet and a customisable fire procedure document and fire action poster.