• Under the Order employers and those in control of the premises are under a duty to take general fire precautions to ensure that certain people are safe in the event of a fire. This applies to farm businesses just like any other.

    Premises will clearly include farm offices and other farm buildings used as workplaces. There is an exception for “fields, woods or other land forming part of an agricultural or forestry undertaking but which is not inside a building and is situated away from the undertaking’s main buildings”. However, other external areas, for example, car parks, estate roads and loading areas are included.

    The key to effective compliance is the duty to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. This must be kept under review and will inform the precautions which need to be taken. Paul Garry of Fire Action Limited advises that:

    “Critical to this process is the assessor’s competency and regardless as to whoever carries out your fire risk assessment, you as the duty holder retain responsibility for ensuring that the assessment fulfils the requirements of the law. Satisfy yourself that fire risk assessor who carries out the work is competent. Ask them for a “statement of competency” and their CV, or ask them to provide evidence of compliance with the competency criteria set down by the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council. Also, request references from owners of similar business/premise types where they have completed a fire risk assessment.”

    It is only once an appropriate site specific risk assessment has been carried out that it will be possible to identify, for example, what equipment is needed for fire-fighting and detection or what information and safety training should be given to employees.

    The Local Fire and Rescue Authority has the power to carry out inspections, take enforcement action and serve notices to prohibit the use of dangerous premises. There are a number of criminal offences and in serious cases, the duty holder can be prosecuted.

    The importance of carrying out an appropriate risk assessment is reflected in government guidance which indicates that if a responsible person relies upon a risk assessment carried out on their behalf by a competent person then this may be a mitigating factor in deciding the penalty for any breach.

    The key message for farm business owners is to understand the importance of having in place a strong risk assessment regime. This will help you to achieve the key aim of ensuring that your business is a safe place to work. It may also help to minimise the impact on your business if something does go wrong.

    This article was first published in the December 2015 edition of South East Farmer

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