Fire safety notices are generally issued by fire safety officers from your local fire and rescue authority, if it is deemed that the standard of fire safety measures are inadequate.
There are additional circumstances where inspectors from different agencies have different enforcement powers to deal with fire matters, such as during construction work. These agencies are likely to include:
- the Health and Safety Executive
- local authorities
- Crown Premises Inspectors
- The Defence Fire and Rescue Service
Enforcement and issuing of fire safety notices are carried out under various regulations, such as:
- The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales
- The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 in Scotland
- Fire Safety Regulations Northern Ireland (2010) and The Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006
- Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) (England) Regulations 2009
- The Petroleum (Consolidation) Act 1928 and Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR)
- The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007
- The Public Health Act 1961
- Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004
- Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008
There are many approaches and choices available to the enforcement officers prior to issuing a formal notice. The fire authorities will always seek to use enforcement action that is proportionate primarily to the circumstances of the non compliance and the risk to life, but in so doing will also consider other factors such as the size of the business or undertaking and the nature of its activities.
The fire authorities believe in firm but fair enforcement of the law. An authority’s policy on determining the level of enforcement action to take uses recognised risk assessment methodology. In deciding what action to take to ensure compliance with the law, the authority considers the following:
- the nature and seriousness of any alleged offence
- the risk of death or serious injury
- previous experience and record of compliance of the responsible persons
- action taken to prevent any recurrence
- the likely effectiveness of the various enforcement options
- any explanation offered and the circumstances and attitude of the responsible person towards fire safety
- any action being taken by other regulatory bodies
- where applicable the views of any primary authority partner for the business
- the advice or views (where applicable) of other regulatory bodies with responsibilities in respect of the premises
- any statutory defence available
Choices of enforcement approach available to the fire authority are:
Educate and inform
When a breach of the law is found but the level of risk is not high, oral or written advice about the nature of the non compliance and the actions needed to remedy it may be given. Where advice is not mandatory this will be made clear.
Non statutory notification of deficienciesThe authority will formally write to the person responsible for the premises to explain what fire safety deficiencies have been found, and what needs to be done to address those deficiencies. The letter does not have legal force and is not binding. The authority will expect the responsible person to act on the advice given. However, if the risk score calculated following an audit was close to that where an enforcement notice would have been served, or officers have doubts that the responsible person will act on the letter, they have discretion to revisit and check what has been done. If the responsible person does not take action or act in response to a notification of deficiencies letter, this will be taken into account when considering the level of enforcement action that will be taken if fire safety deficiencies are found on a future visit.
Enforcement, Improvement and similar notices
Regulatory notices calling for corrective action would generally be used where there is a clear breach of the law, where the degree of risk or harm from the situation is significant and where a remedy needs to be identified and secured within a set period of time. Notices specify the problem and will either require a remedy as determined by officers, or (if the legislation allows) may allow for other action with an equivalent remedial effect. In most cases there is a right of appeal against a notice. Where there is a right of appeal, advice on the appeal mechanism will be set out in writing for the person on whom the notice is served.
Alterations notices are used where, by the nature of the use of the premises, people are at risk of death or serious injury (i.e. the premises use is high risk and this is normal for the type of activity carried out there); or where a change to premises, such as their use, furniture, fittings or equipment or an increase in quantities of dangerous substances, could result in persons being placed at risk of death or serious injury. The notice is legally binding, and requires that the fire risk assessment for the premises and fire safety records must be recorded. The notice may require that before any changes are made a copy of that fire risk assessment, together with details of the proposed changes, must be submitted to the authority. There are rights of appeal against the notice, and these will be clearly set out in writing at the time the notice is served.
The authority has powers under Article 31 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and Sections 21 and 22 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to prohibit the use of the whole or part of premises, or to restrict the use of premises. Such action will be considered where conditions are found that constitute a serious risk to life or injury to persons in the event of fire. Where immediate action is necessary, an explanation of why such action is required will be given at the time and confirmed in writing. Where there are rights of appeal these will be clearly set out in writing at the time the action is taken.
Often known as a formal caution, the authority will consider offering a simple caution in circumstances where:
- there is enough evidence to prove the case
- the offender has admitted the offence
- the offender has agreed to be cautioned
- the offence has not been committed by the offender before.
The decision to prosecute is a serious step. Fair and effective prosecution forms a legitimate element of the authority’s strategy to reduce the risk of death and injury in the workplace by enforcing fire safety law. Any prosecution has serious implications for all involved – including the person prosecuted, casualties, witnesses and authority personnel.
Decisions relating to the level of enforcement action to be applied
Fire safety officers will apply a level of enforcement, including consideration of timescale within which compliance should be achieved, that is proportionate to the circumstances of the case - taking into account the nature and size of the undertaking concerned.
Following the issue of one of the above notices, the responsible person should work with the enforcing officer to rectify the issues identified within the prescribed timeframes indicated.
If you were to disagree with any of the notices issued to you, there is an appeals process. You can appeal to your local magistrate with the decision to issue a fire safety notice. Your appeal must be lodged within 21 days of receiving the notice.
For notices which demand certain actions be taken, whether that is for immediate adjustments or for the restriction of access to your building, it is worth doing so. There are penalties for those who do not follow fire safety regulations, with minor penalties being fines of up to £5,000 and more serious penalties leading to unlimited fines and a maximum of two years in prison.