Ninety percent of small businesses with fewer than 10 employees are failing to conduct appropriate fire-risk assessments or follow basic fire-safety procedures, a survey has revealed.
FireUK, which provides fire-risk assessments across the UK, found that many businesses with members of the public regularly on their premises also have no named responsible person in charge of fire safety.
According to the telephone survey of 580 restaurateurs, publicans, takeaway owners and owners of office-based businesses:
- 90% of all small-business owners were unaware of their responsibility to conduct a fire-risk assessment on their premises
- 86% of business owners with small offices were unaware of this requirement
- 39% of pub landlords were unaware
“We are shocked to the core by these figures,” said FireUK spokesperson Mark Hall. “We thought we would find a few companies that fell outside the law, not whole sectors of small businesses playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.
“The fact that some pubs don’t know the law is terrifying,” he continued. “They are playing with fire, quite literally. There’s a huge blind spot among business owners who don’t know where their responsibilities lie.”
Ignorance, confusion and neglect
The survey revealed a mixture of ignorance, confusion over the regulations and sheer, wilful neglect. Some business owners admitted they were unaware that fire safety legislation applied to them, particularly those in smaller rented units who often assumed that the building owners were ultimately responsible instead.
Others thought that safety was a secondary consideration when budgets were tight, while some event put their trust in their staff escaping from a fire on their own initiative.
Among the explanations given by business owners were:
- “We’re renting this space. Surely that’s not our problem?”
- “I thought it only applies to big companies”
- “We haven’t got the money for that kind of thing”
- “We’ve only got a couple of staff, they’ll get out alright”
- “I work from an office at the bottom of my garden. I’m not sure what the law is.”
The law requires that:
- All employers, business owners, or landlords take responsibility for fire safety in the workplace
- The so-called ‘responsible person’ must carry out fire reviews, identify risks and put safety measures in place
- Failure to do so can result in fines or even prison sentences
Simon Ince, UK strategic alliance and partnership manager at Exova Warrington Certification, is in the early stages of establishing a trade and professional body working group to target individuals who are difficult to engage with over fire safety.
He told IFSEC Global: “It is really useful to see some figures on how big a problem this is. However, the results are no surprise to those who work in fire safety and indeed could be reflected in many different sectors.
“The apathy, ignorance and denial factor is well known amongst fire safety professionals, who often end up being called in by the owner of a building after a fire incident or post-enforcement visit to pick up the pieces.
“There are many building owners who are not aware of their responsibilities and many who just don’t care about fire safety. Compliance saves lives, saves property and saves business.
The fire sector needs to work much harder to engage with, and inform, this group of owners and operators. Hopefully this project will reduce the apathy, ignorance and denial in several high-risk groups.”
Free download covering legal requirements for responsible persons under the FSO, courtesy of the IOSH, BIFM and USHA approved UK provider of health, safety and environmental information.
Hi Adam, thanks for covering these really interesting survey results. We're based in Toronto, Canada and this came to our attention via Twitter. We thought it was important enough (even across the pond) to cover in our own blog: http://www.rohenfire.ca/blog/bid/392540/4-Reasons-Why-Small-Biz-Property-Owners-Take-Fire-Safety-Risks
We cite both the original FIA study as well as your post, because you brought a lot of new insights and additional information versus the FIA link I had. A really important issue; appreciate the attention to the issue.
I agree with Richard. These figures are ridiculous; if an awareness campaign gets out there, people can no longer put the blame on them being 'unaware'.
I think most fire officers will tell you that many small and medium businesses are ignorant of their fire safety obligations even after 8 years of the Fire Safety Order. Its about time the Government ran a national campaign to raise awareness in this sector thereby reducing risk and increasing public safety.