How often do we need to carry out a health and safety audit?

Managing workplace Health and Safety is a dynamic process that needs to be regularly monitored and adjusted. In order to ensure that the health and safety policy and arrangements are effective, there needs to be a regular audit, which should ideally be independent. This should be carried out annually. To supplement this, there should be regular internal workplace inspections carried out at a frequency proportionate to the level of risk.

Do offices need health and safety advisors?

Although office environments are generally lower-risk workplaces, accidents do happen; typically falls, back injuries, stress-related ill health and computer-related injuries.

Health and safety compliance creates a happier workforce and reduces the chances of accidents and any ensuing litigation, civil claims from employees, or prosecution of directors. Legal action against directors has increased by 400% over the last five years. A company’s reputation is also at stake: (for example Nestle was recently fined £180K for a fatality, M&S fined £1 million for asbestos breaches, and New Look fined £400K for a serious fire).

The key legal requirements are:

  • Meet the requirements of fire safety legislation by carrying out regular
  • Fire Risk assessments and maintaining fire emergency arrangements.
  • Ensure that workplace risk assessments (including computer workstation assessments) are carried out and reviewed and that appropriate control measure are implemented.

The potential consequences in cost and reputation to the organization after an accident, fire or civil claim, will far outweigh the cost of using a ‘competent health and safety person.’ Contracting with an independent H&S consultant means you don’t have to worry about any of the above.

How often are fire risk assessments needed?

It is a legal, inspectable requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to carry out a workplace Fire Risk Assessment annually, or more frequently if there are high-risk actions outstanding. Failure to carry out or maintain a Fire Risk Assessment could put employees in danger and invalidate insurance in the event of a fire.

Do we need fire wardens/marshals?

There is no strict legal requirement to have fire marshals/fire wardens. However, the provision and training of fire marshals is best practice and if there was a serious fire resulting in harm, the lack of appropriate numbers of trained staff to aid evacuation could be cited as a contributing factor.

Fire marshals may be needed where you have: a lot of people working in a building; the building is large or located on more than one floor, and there are particular fire risks. In other words, the need for fire marshals is based on the fire risk of the building.

The role of a fire marshal(s) is simply to act as a ‘shepherd’ in the event of a fire emergency, ensuring that people leave promptly by the nearest exit and avoid using lifts. They are also required to check allocated areas before leaving the building, providing there is no immediate fire risk.

There are no strict rules on the above. Basic fire awareness information for all staff and regular drills can be just as effective as using fire marshals. However, the use of fire marshals is considered the most practical and effective approach.

Is smoking permitted in fire assembly areas?

There is no legislation that specifically bans smoking in fire assembly areas. However, it is good practice to have a company rule to prohibit smoking in the event of a drill or fire.

The Health Act 2006 legislates for smoke-free premises, places and vehicles. This normally relates to inside enclosed buildings, but many companies extend this to the boundaries of their premises as good practice. The `boundary` could reasonably extend to your fire evacuation area. Even if it is technically outside your premises, employees are there as part of their working time (they are ’at work’).

If the assembly point is near the smoking area, the latter is normally for smokers only, and non-smokers would not usually choose to be in this area. Therefore it would be courteous to non-smokers to ensure smoking is prohibited during evacuations and practice drills.

What regulations apply to Fire Training?

The strict legal requirement is defined by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) 2005 order or RRFS

The responsible person must ensure that employees are provided with adequate safety training:

  • When they are first employed
  • On being exposed to new or increased risks
  • On being transferred or given a change of responsibilities
  • With the introduction of new work equipment, new technology or a new system of work

The training must:

  • Include suitable and sufficient instruction on precautions and actions to be taken by the employee in order to safeguard himself and others (repeated as appropriate);
  • Take account of any new or changed risks to the safety of the employees concerned;
  • Be provided during working hours in a manner appropriate to the risk identified by the risk assessment; (open to interpretation based on the level of risk within an organization).

What are the rules on fire escapes?

For offices with occupancy of less than 60 per floor, the travel distance to the nearest exit should be less than 18 meters for a single exit. A building may be served by a single escape stair where there is no storey with a floor level 11 m above ground level (subject to requirements).

The Building Regulations 2010,

BSI “Code of practice for fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings” (BS 9999: 2008) BSI 9999: 2008 classifies fire risk with respect to escape. It classifies Offices as low risk A2 as described below:

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