New fire safety regulations, under the title The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, came into force on 1st October 2006. The regulations may sound onerous and daunting, but most churches will find that it is largely common sense and being careful.
The most important requirement for churches is to carry out a fire risk assessment, which must focus on the safety of all church employees, members of the congregation and users of the church buildings in case of fire. It should pay particular attention to those at special risk, such as the disabled and those with special needs, and must include consideration of any dangerous substances liable to be on the premises (such as liquid fuel or asbestos).
The fire risk assessment can be done by any competent person from the church congregation and the findings should be recorded. These findings should then be reviewed every year or whenever any changes are carried out to the fabric, layout or use of the building.
The assessment will help identify risks that can be removed or reduced and to decide the nature and extent of the general fire precautions needed to be taken to protect people against the risks that remain.
Any church employees must be provided with comprehensive and relevant information on the risks to them identified by the fire risk assessment, the measures that have been taken to prevent these and how they will be protected if a fire breaks out. They must be given appropriate information, instruction and training about the fire precautions in the workplace when they commence employment and from time to time during the period of their employment.
Volunteers and temporary or contract workers must be informed of the relevant risks to them and be provided with information about the fire safety procedures for the premises.
If church buildings are used as a workplace by another organisation, such as a nursery school or a counselling centre, there must be co-
Fire fighting equipment and fire detection and warning systems and signage must be maintained in efficient working order and in good repair and all emergency routes and exits must be kept clear and accessible.
The Methodist Church has produced a very comprehensive booklet on fire safety that is specific to church buildings and we strongly recommend that you read this and use the sample forms and checklists provided when carrying out your fire risk assessment. It can be found at
The insurance companies Congregational and General and Ecclesiastical both have some very useful information for churches on their websites
The statutory order is at www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2005/20051541.htm
Information about the new regulations is at http://www.communities.gov.uk/fire/firesafety/firesafetylaw
More detailed guidance for small and medium places of assembly (including village halls, community centres, religious premises, tents and marquees) can be downloaded from:www.communities.gov.uk/staging/index.asp?id=1162110