None of us like to think about the unthinkable. But the reality is that all church buildings can be susceptible to fire. Here is some information to help you think through the precautions your church can take to make sure you are managing the risks.
Every church has a responsibility to do all it can to protect people who are coming into their building week by week.You wouldn’t dream of operating a youth and children’s ministry without an adequate Safeguarding policy to protect young people. In the same way, we need to make sure that our churches are taking fire safety seriously and I am passionate that churches do not fall foul of fire safety legislation.This article is designed to help you think through your own church’s safety provisions and encourage you to make improvements where these are necessary.
An Initial Diagnosis
By answering the following questions, you should be able to determine if the fire safety provisions you have at the moment are adequate or not:
- Is there an up to date Fire Risk Assessment (FRA)?
- Has a Responsible Person/s (RP) been identified?
- Do you have adequate fire safety equipment?
a. Has it been suitably installed by a competent/qualified engineer?
b. Do you have (for example) an automatic fire alarm/detection system? Emergency lighting? Fire extinguishers?
- Is there an evacuation plan at the church?
- Has fire safety training been carried out with regard to Fire Marshals/Wardens?
- Is there a regular maintenance programme for the fire safety equipment that has been installed?
Implementing a Plan
Churches who are not able to answer “yes” to the questions above need to think about implementing better fire safety provision. What follows is some advice to help you get risk assessments in place and to ensure that your plans are up to date.
1. A Fire Risk Assessment (FRA)
a. The Regulatory (Fire Safety) Order 2015 (FSO) which replaced The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 (as amended) states that that the Responsible Person (RP) should provide “general fire precautions” and “must make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons are exposed”. This means that a FRA should be completed for all premises, except single private dwellings. Whether your building is owned, rented or leased, the FSO applies.
b. The FRA should identify the building, it should identify the management procedures that are in place and it should also identify any significant findings. Appropriate action should then be taken to satisfactorily rectify any issues identified within a sensible time frame.
c. The FRA should be reviewed regularly. For churches this should be done annually.
2. Responsible Person (RP)
a. Has the RP(s) for the premises or risk been identified?
i. For example, are you:
- The Employer?
- The Owner?
- The Landlord?
- The Occupier?
- In control of the premises?
ii. There may be one RP or more than one RP.
3. Fire safety provisions
a. Is there a suitable and sufficient system in place to give warning in case of a fire?
b. Are the means of escape suitable and sufficient:
i. Is your occupancy (the number of people who come into your building at any one time) compatible with the floor area and door widths?
ii. Is the travel distance from the furthest point to a point of safety adequate?
iii. Is there satisfactory provision of fire safety signage for exit routes and firefighting equipment?
iv. Is there adequate provision of firefighting equipment?
4. Evacuation plan
a. Has an evacuation plan been put together and has it been tested?
b. Have you considered how to evacuate during your meetings?
c. Has consideration been given to the evacuation of disabled people and have you considered the types of groups that meet? (e.g. elderly or children)
d. Have you detailed how the Fire & Rescue Service will be called and do the Fire & Rescue Service know where you are? Is your postal address correct?
e. Is there a designated assembly point after evacuation?
5. Fire safety training
a. Have staff/church officers/welcomers been identified and nominated with responsibilities for evacuation?
b. Have the nominated people been trained to carry out their responsibilities in a safe manner?
a. Have the fire safety systems/provisions and other risks such as gas appliances and fixed electrical installations been tested and maintained?
b. Are all systems tested/maintained as per the relevant current standard by a competent/qualified engineer?
An Ongoing Assessment
Having answered these questions, how safe do you think your premises are with regard to fire safety?Has the risk of fire been reduced as much as reasonably practical? Would all persons be able to safely make their exit from the building to a place of safety?Each church should have a Fire Safety Policy (FSP) which identifies the standard to which you will work to and a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) which will be the vehicle you use to achieve this.It is important that a FRA is completed (in writing if five or more people are employed at the building), as failure to do so will put the Responsible Person in contravention of the Fire Safety Order and could lead to Court and/or fines. If a fire was to occur, not having a FRA could affect your insurance.I have not been able to address all the aspects of fire safety in this article as every building has a different risk due to design, type of occupancy and its location, and often there are different ways to address a problem in order to achieve a safe premises and comply with the FSO, but I trust I have given you a flavour of what is required and prompted you to think about those areas which may need improvement.You can find more fire safety information on these pages of the gov.uk website:
Alternatively, if you would like specific advice or help, please contact me via email [email protected] or call 07775 620954 to discuss any fire safety issues which you may have. I am able to carry out Fire Risk Assessments and can provide consultation with regard to building work and can also assist with fire safety/evacuation training if needed.
This information has been provided by solicitors working for Edward Connor Solicitors. It is designed for the purpose of knowledge sharing only and does not constitute legal advice.
Edward Connor Solicitors is a registered charity (charity number 1175305) and a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales (company number 10821224). Its registered office is at 39 The Point, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE16 7QU. It is registered for VAT (number GB 277792346). It is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (number 640691).