New anti-smoking legislation, whilst positively reducing the likelihood of fires inside a building, may simply be transferring some of the fire risks outside, according to Chubb Fire, the UK’s leading fire safety business.
The warning comes as the deadline looms for the ban on smoking in enclosed public places and most workplaces. The smoking ban brings potential penalties for those business owners, proprietors and managers of hotels, restaurants, pubs and other workplaces who fall foul of the law.
Chubb Fire believes the smoking ban will improve fire safety inside public premises and therefore welcomes the new legislation, but at the same time urges businesses to consider the implications of smokers being forced outside.
As Suzanne Donovan, Marketing and Communications Director of Chubb Fire explains: “All businesses must carry out Fire Risk Assessments to comply with 2006’s new fire laws, but these Fire Risk Assessments may not have considered the imminent increase in people smoking outside their premises and the potential issue this causes.
“There are plenty of materials which could burn outside a workplace and particularly outside a pub or restaurant. Wooden decking, for example, can trap flammable rubbish. This may not have been considered a particular hazard before, but with an increasing number of smokers gathered outside the premises there is a greater likelihood of someone carelessly discarding a lit cigarette or match. And whilst dry grass or vegetation seems like a distant memory given recent downpours, we cannot become complacent about wildfires.
“Perhaps even more serious,” Suzanne continues, “is that whilst the structure of buildings and the appropriate fire evacuation strategies have probably been designed to deal with a fire starting from the inside, it is a very different proposition if a building catches fire from the outside and potentially blocks escape routes.”
To help, Suzanne highlights a number of key areas for managers to consider, including:
- Adequate provision and emptying of ashtrays and cigarette bins;
- As well as the No Smoking signs within the premises, appropriate external signage may be required to remind customers of the need to extinguish cigarettes and matches carefully;
- Regimes for the regular clearing of rubbish, particularly crisp packets and litter accumulating under decking;
- Ensuring waste bins are secured away from the building so that a fire starting in an outside bin cannot easily spread to the main building;
- Arrangements for detecting a fire and raising the alarm (normally served by automatic fire detection inside the premises) plus ensuring staff are trained to regularly check on the areas used by smokers.
“Many of the larger pub groups have already recognised these risks and are taking the appropriate measures, but amongst the smaller chains or independents, perhaps without the same level of resource, it might not even have been considered. The smoking ban is a timely reminder for businesses to review their existing Fire Risk Assessments, and the culture of fire safety management within the hospitality sector in particular. It is not an expensive exercise - existing Fire Risk Assessments should already have considered potential sources of ignition such as candles, barbeques and patio heaters - but it should be looked at again with some urgency.”
From 1st July 2007, it will be against the law to smoke in virtually all enclosed (or substantially enclosed) public places and workplaces. From that date, managers and landlords will be legally responsible should anyone be found smoking on their premises.
“The fines can be substantial,” Suzanne says. “Failure to prevent smoking in a smoke-free environment carries with it a maximum fine of £2,500 ‘for whoever manages or controls the smoke-free premises’ if prosecuted and convicted by a court of law.
“But managers creating smoking areas outside their premises also need to understand the potential cost of fire.”
Chubb Fire is the UK’s leading fire business, advising companies across all sectors.