Fire Safety Webinar: Questions and Answers

This year, Barbour has run a series of Webinars. Presented by an expert, these Webinars have covered such topics as Local Exhaust Ventilation and Getting the Best Value from your Health and Safety Spend.

The Webinars are an excellent way to learn more about a subject and discuss it. It is not only informative; it can also gain you CPD points by attending.

A key part of the Webinar is the chance for the people listening to interact and ask questions to the expert about the topic.

Below we have compiled a selection of questions from our most recent webinar: Fire Safety Strategy: Learning Lessons from Recent Incidents.

If you are interested in our Webinars, the next, free-to-register event is on Thursday 9th September 2010 at 11:00am BST and is covering Training Needs Analysis click her to register.

Please see below for a selection of Questions and Answers from the most recent Webinar:

Question: Can you please give me some further advice re ‘Purpose group’ what is this and where can I find further information to place into my fire strategy

Answer: Buildings are generally classified by purpose group. This summarises the use and hence the anticipated nature of risk, i.e. Hotels, Offices, Factories, etc. If you have access to the Barbour technical index system, or can access some other technical support, have a look in BS9999 and/or the Building Regulations. BS9999 gives you a whole list of uses and then a numerical ‘Risk Profile’ for each use. The risk profile can then be used to assess the required levels of management, occupancy factors and maximum numbers etc when balanced against the risk.

Question: What was the significance of the ‘New Look’ fire and the subsequent legal action and the penalty?

Answer: The New Look fire in November 2009 was significant in that it set a precedent in terms of case law and level of fine £250,000 for failing to provide a ‘suitable and sufficient’ fire risk assessment, and £150,000 for failing to carry out adequate staff training. The fire started in a second floor store room and the alarm was mysteriously turned off ‐ building was evacuated safely but was gutted and had to be demolished. The fine was the largest in UK since the RRO came into effect.

Question: With blocks of domestic/tenanted flats, what duties apply to evacuation drills & training for use of fire fighting equipment.

Answer: Generally speaking if you have a common fire alarm system throughout a building and you have an evacuate policy as opposed to a stay put one then you should be carrying out an evacuation drill at least once per year. You must demonstrate that if anything goes wrong you have done all you reasonably can to ensure that tenants are aware of the procedures etc. However, the RRO does not apply beyond the flat door and if the tenants choose not to take part then there is little you can do, but that is then down to them, and they would not be able to point a finger or accuse you of negligence . Mostly, by prior arrangement we find that tenants do take part and most tend to enjoy the occasional fire drill. Secondly, the RRO and supporting documentation implies that where portable equipment is provided then persons should be trained how to use it. That is almost impossible in blocks of flats etc so for that reason extinguishers are not favoured in sterile common parts of such buildings. They should not be provided for use in the case of a fire in a flat ‐ that is down to each tenant. Where it is a house in multiple occupation or staffed accommodation then you may have to consider some form of ‘familiarisation’ training. That does not need to be a commercial operation ‐ just someone to explain the type, purpose (classification), location and method of use would be appropriate.

Question: Is it safe or in breach of legislation to have fire doors pinned open during normal working hours, relying on the employees to shut in the event of an emergency?

Answer: The short answer is that it is a legal requirement to maintain fire doors in the closed position as part of the protection to the means of escape. You should not have any fire doors pinned open at all, but if it is essential to hold them open for ventilation or ease of working etc, then they may be held on approved magnetic devices that are interfaced into the fire alarm and detection system; or where there is a fire alarm but no detection then a ”Door guard type of’ fitting can be used. These operate off sound and at a specific decibel rating that is emitted by the fire alarm.

Question: How would Tony deal with the inconsistency of ‘opinion’ from fire officers in regards to what is a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment?

Answer: This is very difficult to answer and it does vary from one fire authority to another. However the answer is to talk to each and try to understand what in their opinion is wrong with what you have in place. It is usually a format problem which may not be familiar or easy to read.

However without seeing the actual assessment, I could not offer anything further. If you have got an electronic copy and care to forward it to me, I will have a look and may be able to advise you further.

Question: PAS 79 and HSE both define competence and gives further guidance

Answer: I agree and am aware of both those definitions. However in conversation and live on a webinar they do not really tell people what they want to know ‐ what is an underpinning knowledge, or an acceptable level of experience. Neither of them talks about a defined qualification unlike Health & Safety. Competency is a very emotive and difficult word in terms of the RRO to try to explain. What I suggest people do is to cover themselves in that whoever undertakes their risk assessments knows what he or she is doing. Whatever the subject matter the answer is very much the same i.e. that the person carrying out the assessment has a relevant background, experience of the subject, underpinning knowledge of the subject, willingness to do the task and a genuine understanding of what is right or what can go wrong, plus any supporting teaching or qualifications.

That can only be judged on an individual basis and not as a generalisation. There is a distinct possibility that third party accreditation will come into the frame one day. However, it is as always tinged with commercial gain. So we have to wait for government leads. We ourselves are accredited onto the register of the Institute of Fire Safety Managers. That is based upon a candidates all round ability and presentation of a selection of recent risk assessments.

Would you like to see all the questions and answers? If so click here for the full list. And, if you’re interested in signing up for future webinars, click here.

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