Commercial premises can change use for many reasons, whether it’s a new office layout, remodelling of a shop floor or expansion of a factory or warehouse.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated working practices for the last three years, with many businesses altering their property use or layout, leaving buildings sitting empty for prolonged periods or even relocating their operations altogether.
Businesses faced with any of these scenarios should review their fire risk assessment to ensure the safety of their people, the public and the business itself in terms of liability.
Examples of change of use can include:
- Alterations, extensions and new buildings: It is essential to design fire safety into any proposed building or extension. This includes the building materials used as well as additional fire escapes, fire doors, signage, fire extinguishers and sprinklers. Even if working within your existing space, for example, adding dividing walls or a mezzanine, or installing a kitchen area, it is vital to take fire safety into account.
- Shared office space within buildings: When a commercial property changes to accommodate multiple tenants, an important task is to address the common evacuation plans. There must be clear signage to and at the assigned assembly points, emergency lighting in the event of power outages and a common policy for occupants in terms of their use of furniture, fittings, floor surfaces, etc.
- Storage of combustible materials: Warehouses storing combustible materials must ensure their fire safety systems, equipment and management processes reflect the type and volume of combustible materials being stored. New occupants of a warehouse may need to make alterations to the building fabric itself to ensure fire safety compliance.
Who is responsible for meeting fire risk obligations?
The legal obligations to manage fire risk for commercial properties in the UK lie with the appointed Responsible Person (or Duty Holder in Scotland). It is their responsibility to ensure there is adequate fire protection and an up-to-date fire risk assessment where the requirements are carried out satisfactorily.
If there is no Responsible Person appointed, the employer or the person who controls the premises becomes the Responsible Person by default, as stated in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
What about unoccupied premises?
With no occupants in a building, issues that would usually be seen and rectified before leading to a fire may go unnoticed. An empty building can still be vulnerable to fire risk, for example, because a fire starts accidentally (for example, faulty electrical equipment or vermin chewing through wiring), it is destroyed or damaged due to arson, or fire safety equipment has been vandalised.
The same legal obligations apply for an empty building as one that is occupied and you should ensure that you have adequate insurance cover for an unoccupied property. A typical business insurance policy would not provide sufficient cover for premises left unoccupied for more than 60 days (sometimes as little as 30 days) so it’s important to check your existing business policy to see if this is something you would need to put in place.
Fire safety support from Gallagher
If you have made changes to your business premises, our specialist team can support you by carrying out an audit of your fire risk safety precautions and risk assessments. We also offer a range of risk management services, including health and safety, to help you meet your legal obligations and proactively manage risk across your organisation.
To find out more, please get in touch with us on 0800 138 7538.