In some simple, open-plan, single-storey buildings and warehouses, a fire may be obvious to everyone as soon as it starts. In these cases, where the number and position of exits and the travel distance to them is adequate, a simple shout of 'fire' or a simple manually operated device, such as a gong, whistle or air horn that can be heard by everybody when operated from any single point within the building, may be all that is needed. Where a simple shout or manually operated device is not adequate, it is likely that an electrical fire warning system will be required.
In more complex premises, particularly those with more than one floor, where an alarm given from any single point is unlikely to be heard throughout the building, an electrical system incorporating sounders and manually operated call points (break glass boxes) is likely to be required. This type of system is likely to be acceptable where all parts of the building are occupied at the same time and it is unlikely that a fire could start without somebody noticing it quickly. However, where there are unoccupied areas, or common corridors and circulation spaces in multi-occupied premises, in which a fire could develop to the extent that escape routes could be affected before the fire is discovered, automatic fire detection may be necessary.
The use of these systems may also be risk dependent, so a small factory or warehouse which handles, manufactures, stores or uses low flash point or highly flammable hazardous substances might also need an automatic fire detection system.
You may need to consider special arrangements for times when people are working alone, are disabled, or when your normal occupancy patterns are different, e.g. when maintenance staff or other contractors are working at the weekend.
In large or complex premises, particularly those accommodating large numbers of people, it is likely that a more sophisticated form of warning and evacuation, possibly phased, should be provided.
False alarms from electrical fire warning systems are a major problem (e.g. malicious activation of manual call points) and result in many unwanted calls to the fire and rescue service every year. To help reduce the number of false alarms, the design and location of activation devices should be reviewed against the way the premises are currently used.
Firefighting equipment can reduce the risk of a small fire, e.g. a fire in a waste-paper bin, developing into a large one. The safe use of an appropriate fire extinguisher to control a fire in its early stages can also significantly reduce the risk to other people in the premises by allowing people to assist others who are at risk.
This equipment will need to comprise enough portable extinguishers that must be suitable for the risk.
In simple premises, having one or two portable extinguishers of the appropriate type, readily available for use, may be all that is necessary. In more complex premises, a number of portable extinguishers may be required and they should be sited in suitable locations, e.g. on the escape routes at each floor level. It may also be necessary to indicate the location of extinguishers by suitable signs.
Some premises will also have permanently installed firefighting equipment such as hose reels, for use by trained staff or firefighters.
People with no training should not be expected to attempt to extinguish a fire. However, all staff should be familiar with the location and basic operating procedures for the equipment provided, in case they need to use it. If your fire strategy means that certain people, e.g. fire marshals, will be expected to take a more active role, then they should be provided with more comprehensive training.
Other fixed installations and facilities to assist firefighters, such as dry rising mains and access for fire engines, or automatically operated, fixed fire suppression systems such as sprinklers and gas or foam flooding systems, may also have been provided.
Where these have been required by law, e.g. the Building Regulations or local Acts, such equipment and facilities must be maintained.
Similarly, if provided for other reasons, e.g. insurance, it is good practice to ensure that they are properly maintained.
In most cases it will be necessary to consult a competent service engineer. Keeping records of the maintenance carried out will help you demonstrate to the enforcing authority that you have complied with fire safety law.