By Joanne Barratt
If there’s one thing that Joe Flounders knows about his job it is this: fire does not discriminate.
Businesses large and small, well established or fledgling, with multi-million-pound turnovers or limited cash flow – it doesn’t matter. If a blaze takes hold it has the same end result.
And the figures make for startling reading – 86% of businesses that have a fire do not recover from it.
Joe leads the Fire Engineering department at Cleveland Fire Brigade, the protection and prevention arm of the emergency service which provides vital advice and guidance aimed at keeping people safe and secure as they go about their daily lives.
His team inspects between 1,500 and 2,000 business premises every year as well as spending countless hours working on fire safety regulations with all kinds of firms.
The team is also responsible for enforcing those regulations and has the power to prosecute businesses that do not comply with legislation – prosecutions that can carry fines and even custodial sentences.
It is a serious business to be in and one that the incredibly knowledgeable team is committed to.
All businesses must follow fire safety regulations regardless of who they are, what they do or the business size. It can be quite complex, but that’s where Joe’s team come in.
So what exactly are the need to know essentials – and where can firms get help?
“The primary information for businesses in relation to fire safety comes from the Fire Safety Order of 2005, or the FSO for short,” says Joe.
“There are a number of areas, within that legislation – for example identifying a ‘responsible person’ who might be the person that owns the business or a person who has some control over the premises. It can be complicated.
“We are absolutely there to support businesses. We have a risk inspection programme, we’ll go out and visit premises every year to advise them and make sure they are compliant with legislation.
“We can offer one-to-one advice and we have information to help on our website and through our social media channels.”
“86% of businesses that have a fire do not recover from that incident,” says Joe. “It might not just be that they are not insured, they lose customers, making it extremely difficult to recover.
“Having some business continuity arrangements in place is extremely important. Store customer details off site, protect your server rooms with suppression systems, for example.”
Suppression systems, including sprinkler systems, are something the team is trying to drive in all types of buildings and hope to be able to support businesses in that.
Cleveland Fire Brigade have already noted a couple of successes in getting two newlybuilt schools in Hartlepool fitted with them.
There are several steps contained within the legislation which businesses must comply with. If they don’t, says Joe, enforcement action can be taken.
“If people breach prohibition orders, they do have the likelihood of being prosecuted. Regulations are there to protect everybody,” says Joe.
“Having said that, we have not had a fatality in a business premises for as long as I can remember and only one injury in the last 10 years. That’s down to two things – the work we do here and also undoubtedly, the businesses themselves.”