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Fire safety responsibilities at GP practices

It is vital for the individual in charge of fire safety at your surgery to fully understand what this involves, writes Phil Watkins.

The 'responsible person' must be authorised to improve fire safety measures: (Image: iStock)
The 'responsible person' must be authorised to improve fire safety measures: (Image: iStock)

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 puts responsibility for fire safety in non-domestic properties in the hands of a designated ‘responsible person’.

This individual, also called 'the duty holder', must carry out a written fire risk assessment and put in place appropriate fire safety measures, based on the nature, design and occupancy of the premises.

The order is enforced by periodic inspections or audits by the enforcing authority – usually the local fire authority.

Who is your responsible person?

In relation to the Fire Safety Order, the responsible person can, in general, be the employer or the owner or manager (controller) of the building. At surgeries, the GP partners may well delegate this role to the practice manager.

The practice manager (or GP partner or other designated team member) ultimately responsible will have, or should be given, authority over the general fire precautions and for implementing the findings of fire risk assessments.

If there is a fire at the surgery, the depending on how serious it is, the fire service will want to talk to the responsible person.

General fire precautions

These include all fire detection and alarms (where necessary), emergency lighting, signs, fire extinguishers, working fire doors/closers, management and emergency plans, a degree of initial training and a maintenance/inspection programme

Safe premises and equipment

The person responsible for fire safety needs to understand their building in respect of the fire safety measures designed into it and be able to identify where they may fall short. They must know and fully understand the implications of what the fire risk assessment involves.

The management part of the assessment includes whether there is:

  • A fire policy
  • An emergency plan
  • Appropriate training
  • An equipment inspection, testing and maintenance programme
  • Proof in writing/certificates recording the practice has all these.

Passive and active protection

Does the responsible person know how to identify failings in passive and active fire systems? Passive systems include fire protection built in to the structure of the building such as fire doors while active systems include emergency lighting, alarms and extinguishers).

Are there arrangements in place for competent/qualified person(s to) service, maintain and repair these systems? 

Providing suitable fire safety training for the practice team and how this relates to the emergency plan and fire strategy is very important. The risk of a disaster is higher if team members don’t know what to do if there is a fire.

This might all sound a bit of a nightmare, but guidance is available from the goverment:  visit the fire safety in the workplace section on the gov.uk website.

If your building is complex or has more than one floor and/or the building is put to other uses outside normal opening hours, the responsible person should consider seeking professional fire safety advice.

Dealing with minor fire

Around 80% of all fires on business property go unreported as, on almost all occasions, they are put out with a fire extinguisher by an employee. Unless there is a sudden and immediate conflagration that might involve a gas explosion or ignition of a large quantity of flammable products, the initial stages of a small fire are well within the design limits of the average fire extinguisher for business premises.

The operator must know what they are doing and have received ‘suitable training’ in the use of portable fire fighting equipment. There is no formal guidance as to whether theoretical or practical training is necessary or required – the law requires only that it is must be provided.

Practical extinguisher training is best. ‘Real flame’ (albeit from a gas-operated simulator), is a learning experience as the extinguisher operator gains an understanding of  the effects of heat and flame.

Theory or demonstration with a film or pictures is the absolute minimum and just about adequate in low-risk premises.

Steps to take if there is a fire

If there is a fire

  • Operate the alarm or other means to alert staff and visitors to a fire and ensure the fire service is called.
  • Is the fire behind a closed door? Carefully check the door with the back of your hand before opening it.
  • If the handle or the door is hot, there may be an established fire so do not open the door or open it very carefully and be ready to close it again
  • Establish what is on fire. If you (or a trained operator) are proficient enough, use an extinguisher on it, but ensure someone knows that you are tackling the fire. 
  • Select the appropriate extinguisher for the type of fire - see  the government's 'A short guide to making your premises safe from fire'
  • Check that extinguisher works before heading towards the fire by removing the service security tag, removing the mechanism pin and completing a quick, short burst from the nozzle. 
  • Ensure a clear escape route is available and that you can shut a door behind you and/or escape easily from the fire before putting it out.
  • Make sure the fire really is out. If in doubt, get another extinguisher ready to deal with any re-ignition. Have those extinguished flames discreetly ignited something else and, for example is spreading elsewhere behind a wall or screen?
  • Always put safety first. If you cannot deal with the fire safely, the Building Research Establishment's advice is to walk away, close the door, evacuate the building and call the fire service.

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