Fire Safety Issues
Health, Safety and Welfare at work legislation provides specific obligations in relation to fire safety and related risks. In addition, there is separate fire safety legislation administered by the Local Authorities as fire authority. This legislation applies to most commercial premises. The fire authority has powers to require works and take steps to enforce non-compliance with fire standards. Ultimately, a commercial premises can be closed entirely, if it does not comply with fire safety requirements.
The Building Regulations contain detailed requirements in respect of the construction of new buildings. They also apply where there is a change of use or material alteration to an existing building. One part of the Building Regulations deals in detail with fire safety issues. Unlike most other parts of the Regulations, a prior application for a fire safety certificate, which involves the lodgement of plans to demonstrate compliance with the fire safety elements of the regulations is required. 2007 legislation allows a number of more flexible methods of compliance.
Fire safety obligations are owed to both employees and others, including members of the public. There are preliminary duties at the planning and organisational stage. Employers must take the necessary measures to ensure the availability of first aid and fire fighting equipment.
Employers must ensure that only employees with appropriate training and instruction, have access to a place of work where a serious or specific danger exists.
Safety Plan re Fire Risks
The risk assessment and safety plan should deal with fire risks. Relevant risk scenarios should be dealt with in the safety plan. It should take account of the nature of the workplace and particular risks involved. The extent of the recommended content varies with reference to the number of employees.
Certain workplaces pose greater hazards and risks. Appropriate additional measures must be taken in respect of them. They include workplaces involving risk of burns, poisoning, exposure to substances, factories, meat factories and mines.
The safety statement must contain plans and procedures to be followed in the case of emergency or imminent danger. Fire precautions should deal with evacuation, firefighting and first aid. Necessary contacts and emergency services should be readily available.
The Fire Safety Act places a duty on all persons to take reasonable measures to guard against the outbreak of fire and to ensure the safety of persons in the event of a fire. There is a duty on the person having control of premises, to take steps to guard against the outbreak of fire, to provide fire safety measures and procedures, to ensure fire safety procedures are applied, and to provide for fire safety at all times.
Occupational safety legislation requires that workplaces be equipped with proper fire fighting equipment, detectors and alarm systems. Fire fighting equipment must be accessible, easy-to-use, and properly signed. It must be inspected and tested as necessary and serviced by a competent person. There are detailed guidelines in relation to fire risks published by the HSA.
The legislation requires that employers ensure that work equipment protective systems and appropriate devices are maintained, assembled, constructed and operated so as to reduce the risk of fire. Workplace equipment should include warning devices to ensure its safe use. Equipment must generally have the requisite CE marking, provided under the requisite standards body’s approval schemes.
Evacuation in event of Fire
There are obligations to provide and lay out adequate emergency routes and exits. Accessible emergency doors must be provided. There must not be locked internally and must be sign posted. Emergency routes must be kept free of obstruction. Lighting or emergency lighting may be required. Emergency lighting may be required.
There must be arrangements for the evacuation of employees and others in an emergency. Employers are obliged to arrange a means of contact with the emergency services. This requires at a minimum that the requisite telephone numbers and details are available to enable contact in an emergency.
Where there is a serious, imminent and unavoidable danger, the employer must take action and instruct employees to stop work and immediately leave the place concerned, proceeding to a safe place. Where there is an emergency or immediate danger employees must leave as soon as possible. An employee may leave a workplace at any time where there is a serious, imminent and unavoidable danger.
Fire Safety Training
Employers must designate employees to implement safety and evacuation plans and procedures, to apply in the event of a fire or other emergency. Employers must designate fire officers and wardens. Employers must ensure there is a sufficient number of fire wardens and that their training and equipment is adequate. The number of employees designated, their training and equipment must be sufficient, taking into account the nature of the particular workplace.
All employees should be trained and receive information regarding what to do in an emergency.
Fire drills are recommended at regular intervals. The objective should be to test the effectiveness and safety of the evacuation system, emergency exits and procedures. The purpose is also to raise awareness so that persons know what to do when confronted with an emergency.
The employer and employees should implement the plans and procedures for emergency actions. The directions to fire wardens should be followed. The employee should inform himself of the appropriate exit and evacuation procedure.
Enforcement of Fire Safety
The Fire Safety Act grants the fire authority (which is the local authority’s fire department) powers of inspection and duties of enforcement regarding fire safety standards. The Act applies to most premises, other than single dwelling houses. It covers places to where the public has access, such as places of work, teaching, training, entertainment, et cetera. Particular sectors have further specific obligations in respect to fire safety arising from risks associated with the industry concerned.
The fire authority may serve fire safety notices on potentially dangerous buildings prohibiting their use or prohibiting their use unless certain conditions are complied with. An appeal can be made against the notice to the District Court.
A fire officer may issue a closure notice on the spot, tn an owner or occupier where there is a grave and immediate risk to safety. An appeal may be made to the District Court, but it does not suspend the order. It is possible for the Local Authority, to apply to the High Court for an order restricting or prohibiting the use of the premises.
Prosecutions may be taken, in either the District Court, summarily or, in very serious cases, in the Circuit Court on indictment in respect to breaches of the fire safety legislation. The maximum punishment is €3,000 or six months in prison, in the District Court and up to €130,000 or two years’ imprisonment in the Circuit Court.
Public Premises and Fire Safety
There are rules applicable to places of assembly. They include licensed premises, dance halls, concert halls, casinos, cinemas, gymnasiums, bowling alleys, indoor games, non-residential clubs, canteens, riding schools, stadiums, swimming pool, tents and marquees to which the public is admitted.
Every person having control of a place of assembly, must keep escape routes unobstructed, allow doors, gates and other routes so that they can be quickly opened.
The Department of the Environment has issued a number of codes of practices under fire safety legislation in relation to the management of fire safety in places of assembly. Similarly, guideline documents have been published in relation to fire safety in a number of other contexts.
There are systems on licensing for indoor and outdoor events which provide for us fire safety.
Explosive Atmospheres Risks
There are detailed provisions in relation to atmospheres which carry the risk of explosions or where dust or fumes are present. The employer must assess the specific risks arising from explosive atmospheres, taking into account the likelihood of whther they will arise, the ignition sources, installations and processes that may cause interaction and unanticipated effects.
The employer must assess the risk to a person’s safety from their harmful physical effects and risks. The hazards may be fire or may arise from the physical or chemical properties of substances. The hazard may be the substance’s potential to cause a fire, explosion or harmful physical effects.
The employer must set out the findings of the risk assessment in an explosion protection document. This must be part of or referred to in the safety statement. The explosion protection document must demonstrate that the explosion risks have been determined and assessed. It must set out the measures that will be taken to deal with the risks.
Appropriate technical and organisational measures must be taken to prevent the formation of explosive atmospheres and to ensure the avoidance of ignition and the mitigation of risks.Employers must provide training and instruction, in order to ensure that employees who work in potentially explosive atmospheres, do so without putting themselves or others at risk.
Protective equipment must be provided as appropriate.
The regulations classify places in which explosions may occur into a number of zones, varying in severity. Principles of classifications are set out in the regulations and in guidance. The explosion protection document should identify places that have been classified into various zones under the regulations.
A system of permits must be used where high risk or non-routine work is carried out. High-risk activities are those that carry a risk, whereby an error or omission may cause serious injury.
Dangerous Substances and Fire Risk
Dangerous substances are classified and are to be labelled under separate legislation as flammable, highly inflammable or extremely flammable. Other non-flammable substances are potentially dangerous and explosive under certain circumstances, in particular in heat and in a confined environment.
There is specific legislation in respect of potentially explosive atmospheres. The regulations apply where flammable substances are stored or used. Employers must assess the risks in relation to potentially explosive atmospheres. The risk of safety being affected by harmful physical effects caused by fire, explosion or the hazardous properties of substances must be assessed and managed. Employers must record their findings in a written document. It must be incorporated or referred to in the safety statement.
Places in which explosions may incur must be classified into zones, depending on the risk factors. Steps must be taken to prevent, avoid and reduce the risk of explosion. All equipment must be designed, constructed, and assembled and used in a manner which mitigates risk.
Relevant training and instruction are required for employees working with dangerous substances. A system of permits to work must be used, where there are particular risks. Personal protective equipment is required.
References and Sources
Safety, Health and Welfare and at Work Law in Ireland 2nd Ed 2008 Byrne Ch 18,19
Safety & Health Acts Consolidated & Annotated 2013 Byrne,
Health, Safety & Welfare Law in Ireland 2012 Kinsella
Health & Safety: Law and practice 2007 Shannon
Health & Safety at Work 1998 Stranks Ch 12
The Health and Safety Authority www.hsa.ie
Health and Safety Executive (UK) www.hse.gov.uk
Health and safety at work, 2017 29th edition Author BAMBER, L.,
Corporate liability: work related deaths and criminal prosecutions 3rd ed. Author FORLIN, G.
Health and safety at work: European and comparative perspective Author ALES, E., ed.
Health and Safety Law 5th Ed 2005 Stranks Ch. 4
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005
Fire Service Act 1981
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 370 of 2016)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 70 of 2016)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 (S.I. No. 36 of 2016)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No. 445 of 2012)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 (S.I. No. 176 of 2010)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 732 of 2007)
Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 299 of 2007)
Fire Safety in Places of Assembly (Ease of Escape) Regulations 1985, S.I. No. 249 of 1985
Fire Authorities (Emergency Operations) Regulations 1987, S.I. No. 210 of 1987
Fire Services Act 1981 (Prescribed Premises) Regulations 1989, S.I. No. 319 of 1989