Know your fire safety facts

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Fire safety is often not the first thing on a depot manager’s mind in the day-to-day running of their business, but when fire strikes it can be utterly destructive. Coach firms have suffered.

In March 2017, a fire broke out at Company Coaches in Ferrybridge near Wakefield. Flames in a 30m by 50m commercial coach storage depot were reportedly 40ft high and needed eight fire engines to be put out.

A few weeks later, in April, an Oxford Bus Company coach caught fire at Oxford’s Gloucester Green coach terminal. The “substantial” fire involved the engine bay and rear section of the coach, one of the company’s airline services between Oxford and Heathrow and Gatwick Airports. The fire required firefighters to wear breathing apparatus and high-pressure jets to bring the fire under control and prevent it spreading to the remainder of the vehicle. Police had to establish a cordon to keep members of the public at a safe distance.

And in May 2017, a fire broke out at David Ogden’s coach depot in Sutton, near Northwich. The incident, which destroyed three single-decker buses and two mini buses, required two fire engines to attend. The fire was suspected arson and was the second in a week for the depot.

The problem for the sector is that the very nature of the business and the potential number of people – staff and passengers – involved raises the risk level. Fire safety needs to be a priority.[wlm_nonmember][…]

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Fire safety requirements

Laura Guntrip, a partner at Lester Aldridge LLP, said that the governing legislation for fire safety is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The Order applies throughout England and Wales and it covers general fire precautions and other fire safety duties which are designed to protect relevant persons in the case of a fire. The Order requires fire precautions to be put in place “where necessary” and to the extent that it is reasonable and practicable in the circumstances.

“The responsibility for complying with Order rests with the ‘responsible person’, and in a workplace, this is the employer and any other person who may have control of any part of the premises, for example an occupier or an owner,” said Laura. She noted that the responsible person must carry out a fire risk assessment which must focus on the safety of all relevant people who may be affected by a fire, adding: “it should pay attention to those at particular risk and must include consideration of any dangerous substances which are likely to be on the premises which may act as an accelerant.” Fuel, oil and rubber are good examples. In simple terms, the fire risk assessment is intended to help identify risks that can be removed or reduced and to enable decisions on the fire precautions that need to be taken to reduce risk so far as possible.

It’s clearly important that the responsible person for premises is fully aware of the need to manage the premises to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those onsite at all times. Staff must be trained to prevent or limit the risk of fire, recognise and neutralise potential fire hazards and to know how to respond to an emergency both individually and collectively and what actions and communications must be undertaken.

Laura said that to achieve this “it is not only critical to have good and regularly updated staff training, but also to have robust procedures to avoid fires occurring, to ensure the maintenance of installed fire safety systems, to ensure that emergency escape routes are accessible, and to have clear emergency plans in place so that everyone knows how to respond to a fire if one were to occur.”

Fire risk assessment
The need for a fire risk assessment is clear, but what does it involve? From Laura’s point-of-view it’s “an organised and methodical look at the premises, the activities carried on there, and how a fire may start.” (see panel)

She considers the aim of a fire risk assessment is to identify fire hazards; reduce the risk of those hazards causing harm to as low as reasonable practicable; and decide what physical fire precautions and management arrangements are necessary to ensure the safety of people within the premises, if a fire does start.

Fire safety duties

There’s more to the obligation – in addition to the completion of a robust fire risk assessment and action plan, firms also need to comply with a number of other fire safety duties.

“The first step,” said Laura, “is to appoint one or more ‘competent persons’ to assist in undertaking any of the preventative and protective measures required by the Order.” She defined a competent person as someone with enough training and experience or knowledge or other qualities to be able to properly implement these measures.

As part of this process, employees must be provided with comprehensive information on the risks to them identified by the fire risk assessment, details of the measures taken to prevent fires, and how these measures will protect them if a fire breaks out. They must also be consulted about nominating people to carry out particular roles in connection with fire safety or about proposals for improving fire precautions.

But others are protected too, according to Laura: “Any non-employees, such as agency workers or contractors, need to be told of the relevant risks to them. They too should be told about the fire safety procedures for the premises. The same information ought to be given to any agency employing those individuals.”

In terms of employees, they should be given ongoing information, instruction and training about fire precautions in the workplace during their normal working hours.

Naturally, it’s important to consider the presence of any dangerous substances and the risk this presents to fire. Laura also noted what should be obvious: “That there should be a suitable means of contacting the emergency services and providing them with relevant information about dangerous substances.”

Lastly, the premises and anything connected with firefighting, fire detection and warning or emergency routes and exits must be regularly maintained by a competent person to ensure they are in good working order.

To conclude

From recent examples alone it’s quite clear that fire is a serious risk to the coaching sector. Laura’s parting advice is that action needs to be taken to ensure compliance with the law in this area – “failures can be expensive in a number of ways.”[/wlm_ismember]