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Small businesses put heat on Government over fire laws

The Government is being criticized for placing fire regulations upon private businesses whilst simultaneously scrapping fire certificates and the aid of fire authority officers.

Rex Garratt, national spokesman for the Forum of Private Business (FPB) says: "Up until now, experienced fire authority officers have always advised employers on the fire precautions they need to take, and have issued Fire Certificates. But under this new law, employers will be held responsible and Fire Certificates will be phased out."

Businesses will be expected to read through up to 11 different fire safety manuals drawn up by the Government, each one 100 pages thick, and follow the safety guidelines to the the law.

Alternatively, firms would have to go employ fire safety consultants to ensure compliance.

Garratt says: "This is a classic example of the Government shifting public sector costs on to the private sector."

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is introducing the Fire Safety Regulatory Reform Order which comes into effect next April. It means that Fire Safety Certificates will no longer be issued by Fire Brigades.

Businesses will be expected to decide which manual applies to their business activity, and then download the information from the Government's website. Firms will face penalties if subsequent inspections by fire officers subsequently discover any of the guidelines have not been fully implemented.

The new regulations will apply to all 52 fire brigade authorities throughout England and Wales initially, with Scotland expected to follow suit later.

Fire authority officials say switching responsibility for fire safety to employers is aimed as streamlining the brigades' manpower so they can pay more attention in future to so called 'high risk' premises, such as care homes and hostels where vulnerable people sleep.

The Business Liaison Officer with Cheshire Fire Authority, Duncan Palin, says: "Fires in commercial premises are not as frequent as in domestic premises, mainly because regulations are imposed on business premises in terms of health and safety, as well as fire certificates in the past."

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