Fire safety in the workplace in England and Wales is governed by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This includes a requirement for the ‘responsible person’, usually the employer, to ‘make such arrangements as are appropriate’, including ‘appointing one or more competent persons to assist in undertaking the preventive and protective measures’. These appointed, competent persons are called fire wardens or fire marshals.
What does ‘one or more’ mean?
Since every workplace is different, and has different risks and challenges, the Order does not specify precise numbers of fire marshals or fire wardens required. However, it does mandate that you to appoint ‘a sufficient number of competent persons’ and states that you must ‘ensure that the number of such persons, their training and the equipment available to them are adequate, taking into account the size of, and the specific hazards involved in, the premises concerned’. But what exactly do terms like ‘sufficient’ and ‘adequate’ mean in practice?
How do I work out how many fire marshals I need?
To work out how many fire marshals you need, the Order requires you to undertake a fire risk assessment at your premises. This will help identify fire risks and the hazards present in your workplace, as well as the challenges of evacuating your premises promptly and safely. Under the Order, your fire wardens must have ‘the time available for them to fulfil their functions…having regard to the size of the premises, the risks to which relevant persons are exposed and the distribution of those risks throughout the premises’.
It should be clear from your fire risk assessment how many fire wardens will be ‘adequate’ to ensure that they can fulfil their duties and keep your staff safe. You should document the findings of your fire risk assessment, so that you are able to justify your decision to a fire safety inspector. If you are unsure about the number of fire marshals you need, you can ask your fire safety training provider for help.
What factors will influence fire warden numbers?
The number of fire marshals or fire wardens you should have will depend on a range of factors that influence fire safety. These include the size of your workforce, the nature of your business and the layout of your premises. A fire marshal can only safely take responsibility for a limited area or a limited number of people, and so the larger your organisation, the more fire wardens you will need. The same is true for the risk level of your business, with higher risks, such as machinery or chemicals, needing more fire wardens.
Layout is also an important factor in determining how many fire wardens you need. For example, a small office, on one level, may only require a single fire warden, whereas a larger organisation spread across multiple levels of an office block may require one fire warden per floor. Similarly, manufacturing premises with various workshops and warehouses may need one fire marshal for each building.
Why you need extra fire wardens
It is important to remember that the required number of fire wardens must be present at all times. This means that you need to provide cover for shift patterns, sickness, holidays and other absences. While these ‘deputy’ fire wardens may only be required occasionally, they still require the same level of training as their full-time counterparts.