Not in general, but in regard to your fire alarm.
Would you know if you were?
In this quick guide, we will talk you through the definition of “a responsible person” according to fire safety law.
The law defines the responsible person as any someone who, to any significant degree, has:
• Control of the premises (for example a landlord or business owner)
• Control over the activities on the premises (eg the occupier)
• Employees working for them
In a business situation, there may be a number of people responsible for fire safety, and it can be unclear as to “where the buck stops”. Let’s look at a particular scenario to help us understand.
I’m a landlord of a building. I rent out the building to a business which employs 20 people.
That business has a managing director, a team of directors and a health and safety manager whose day to day duties include making sure the fire alarm system and fire extinguishers are maintained.
In this particular case, how do we know who is ultimately responsible for fire safety?
With regards to fire safety, the main legislation is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO). This states that:
3. In this Order “responsible person” means—
a) in relation to a workplace, the employer, if the workplace is to any extent under his control;
b) in relation to any premises not falling within paragraph (a)—
(i) the person who has control of the premises (as occupier or otherwise) in connection with the carrying on by him of a trade, business or other undertaking (for profit or not); or
(ii) the owner, where the person in control of the premises does not have control in connection with the carrying on by that person of a trade, business or other undertaking.
The important issues in our particular scenario are that there is clarity with regard to exactly who is ultimately responsible and that the parties work together on fire safety.
With regard to the landlord and tenant situation (commercial premises), the lease agreement will make it clear who is responsible for fire safety at the premises. Whilst it may not necessarily specify things such as who is responsible for installing the fire alarm and maintaining it, it will clarify whether or not the landlord or occupier is responsible for (and has control over) maintaining the building, and hence who is responsible for fire safety. If you are a landlord or commercial tenant, it’s crucial that you review your lease agreements to ensure there is no ambiguity with regard to who is responsible for fire safety.
A limited company that employs staff is ultimately responsible for the well-being of its employees, and is deemed to be “the responsible person”. However, whilst a limited company can be prosecuted in the event of a breach of fire safety regulations, it is worth noting that a director or manager can also be prosecuted, especially where it can be proved that an offence has been committed with that person’s consent, knowledge, or as a result of their negligence.
In short, there is a shared responsibility between the landlord, company, directors and managers. If a breach of fire safety were to be identified, there is potential that any of the above could be held responsible.
If you are a landlord and lease or rent out your commercial building, then you are ultimately responsible for the fire safety in that building unless your rental/lease agreement clearly states that the responsibility lies with the tenant.
If you are the director of a limited company, then whilst the company itself is ultimately liable, you are a “responsible person” and need to act accordingly, ensuring that fire safety legislation is adequately covered.
If you are the occupier of a building, not a limited company, and employ staff, then you will be considered to be the responsible person in that instance.
Where there is more than one company occupying a building, there is shared responsibility, each party is expected to understand the legal requirements and to adequately maintain fire alarm systems.
Any breach of fire safety comes with fierce penalties. It’s in your interest to ensure that you take great care to understand your legal obligations and adhere to them.
We have written a previous article which explains in a little more detail exactly what is expected of the responsible person.
Whilst we have taken care to fully understand the legislation and compiled the information carefully, our article cannot be deemed to be a replacement for reading the original documentation. For more detail please refer to The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 or ask a fire risk assessor to visit the premises in question and provide a written assessment.
Photo by Evan Dennis.