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14/01/2014 / Graham Lowe

The responsible approach to emergency lighting

I’m Graham Lowe, sales director at Hochiki Europe, and I’d like to welcome you to the latest in a series of blogs where I, along with guest bloggers, examine the issues affecting the life safety industry.

In this blog I look at the role of the ‘Responsible Person’ (more recently referred to as ‘Premises Management’ in relation to large buildings or sites) under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005) and explain why it’s not just fire detection that they must address as part of their duty of care, but emergency lighting too.

When it became law on 1st October 2006, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 represented a step change in the way protecting occupants within buildings is addressed. In my opinion the requirement for a dedicated ‘Responsible Person’ or team that ensures that premises are risk assessed and that any installed life safety equipment is fully maintained and fit for purpose (whether they are qualified to do this themselves, or organise a professional to do it), has been one of the most important pieces of legislation in recent times.

While in theory there should be the same rigorous and thorough approach to assessing risk and the potential for danger within any building, this is simply wishful thinking. Although some individuals wilfully neglect their responsibilities, others are simply unaware of the extent of their duties. While the former are far more overt in their flouting of the law, the fact is that ignorance is just as much of a problem.

Far more emphasis is now placed on the role of the premises management following the tragic events that took place at Rosepark Care Home in South Lanarkshire, when a fire broke out in a cupboard, spread through the building and led directly to the deaths of 14 elderly residents. Attempts to prosecute the owners for alleged fire safety breaches failed, due to a loophole in the law that meant that as they had dissolved their partnership they could no longer be prosecuted. However, in November 2012, Lord Wallace introduced a bill to close the loophole and ensure that dissolving a partnership will no longer protect the ‘Responsible Person’ from prosecution in such cases.

Being part of the premises management isn’t just about ensuring an adequate fire detection system is in place – it is also necessary to ensure that there is properly installed and maintained emergency lighting.

The RRFSO states that the ‘Responsible Person’ must ensure that the premises and any facilities, equipment and devices provided in respect of the premises are subject to a suitable system of maintenance and are maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair’. Emergency lighting is included, as its function is to indicate a clear means of escape and provide illumination along such routes to allow safe passage to an exit and ensure all points of emphasis are illuminated.

A failure to address this is now being met with severe penalties. Any failure that leads to loss of life, personal injury or damage to property will expose a ‘Responsible Person’ (or ‘Premises Management’) and could lead to prosecution. Those convicted will experience the full weight of the law – minor penalties include a fine of up to £5,000, while major penalties can have unlimited fines and up to two years in prison.

If that isn’t enough to worry those who are not facing up to their responsibilities, there is a growing portfolio of cases that demonstrates the seriousness of the issue.

Take, for instance a Nottinghamshire businessman who was found guilty of failure to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. His crimes included failure to comply with an enforcement order, failure to ensure an effective means of escape from the premises, failure to ensure that exit routes were clear at all times, failure to provide adequate emergency lighting in emergency routes and exits, failure to ensure that non-automatic fire-fighting equipment provided was easily accessible, simple to use and indicated by signs. He was sentenced to 26 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years, ordered to do 180 hours unpaid work and pay £4,000 in costs.

I strongly believe that ignorance is no excuse. We live in an age where information can be acquired at the push of a button and no one who accepts the role of a ‘Responsible Person’ should take this position lightly. Industry leading life safety equipment manufacturers can offer a range of advice on the subject and Hochiki Europe’s Emergency Lighting Considerations for Responsible Persons continuing professional development (CPD) seminar provides an overview of what is required when it comes to emergency lighting systems and the responsibilities under the RRFSO 2005.

This blog isn’t about scaremongering. However, if what I’ve written provides any responsible people who aren’t giving emergency lighting the consideration it deserves the impetus to do something about it, I’ll be delighted.  

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