Last reviewed on 20/04/2016 11:28

Fire safety is everyone's responsibility. This page gives advice on reducing the risks of fire in the workplace and information on legal duties and responsibilities.

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Fire risks and the workplace

Fire presents significant risk to businesses. It can kill or seriously injure employees or visitors and can damage or destroy buildings, equipment and stock.

Organisations operating from single premises are particularly vulnerable as loss of premises may completely disrupt their operations. Many businesses fail to continue trading following a severe fire.

Fire may have a more significant impact on businesses that:

  • stock combustible materials including flammable liquids or gases
  • use heat processes
  • have people working alone in parts of the building
  • have poorly maintained equipment or electrical circuits
  • have public access (i.e. are at risk from arson)
  • have poor housekeeping standards.

However, any organisation may be affected at any time

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Legal duties and responsibilities around fire safety

The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and The Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 have replaced almost all workplace fire safety legislation. Some elements of the Building Standards Regulations are also related to fire safety.

For a comprehensive guide to your responsibilities, visit the Scottish Government Website on Fire Law (external site).

Under the legislation, those who are responsible for premises, including owners, employers, managers, employees and others occupying non-domestic premises must manage fire safety on those premises.

Those responsible should:

  • take steps to prevent and reduce the impact of fire on the workplace and carry out a fire risk assessment of their workplace
  • identify the significant findings of the risk assessment and the details of anyone who might be especially at risk in case of fire (these must be recorded if more than five e​mployees)
  • provide and maintain fire precautions necessary to safeguard anyone using the workplace (including visitors)
  • provide information, instruction and training to employees about the fire precautions in the workplace.


  • where it is necessary to safeguard the safety of employees, employers must nominate people to undertake any special roles which are required under the emergency plan
  • employers must consult their employees (or their elected representatives or appointed trade union safety representatives) about the nomination of people to carry out particular roles in connection with fire safety and about proposals for improving the fire precautions
  • employers must inform other employers who also have workplaces in the building of any significant risks they found which might affect the safety of their employees – and co-operate with them about the measures proposed to reduce/control those risks
  • controllers of premises (even if they do not employ anyone themselves) which contain more than one workplace are also responsible for ensuring that the requirements of the fire legislation are complied with in those parts over which they have control
  • employers must establish a suitable means of contacting the emergency services, and ensure that they can be called easily. They should also ensure that the emergency services can gain access to the premises in an emergency.
  • employees must co-operate with employers to ensure the workplace is safe from fire and its effects and not to do anything which will place themselves or other people at risk
  • in some workplaces there may be a need to apply for a licence, or other form of approval before using the workplace – find out more from your local authority or check the Scottish Government's FireLaw section (external site).

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Fire alarms and detectors (fire warning systems)

  • ensure existing means of detection discover a fire quickly enough to raise an alarm in time for all the occupants to escape to a safe place
  • the means for giving warning should be clearly heard and understood throughout the whole premises when initiated from any single point
  • if the fire detection and warning system is electrically powered, ensure it has a back-up power supply
  • ensure employees know about the fire warning system, and that they know how to operate and respond to it
  • ensure there are instructions/notices for employees on how to operate the fire warning system.

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Escape routes

  • make sure there is a reasonable length of time for all the occupants to escape to a place of safety once a fire has been detected.
  • ensure there are enough exits and that they are in the right places. The type and size of exits should be suitable and sufficient for the number of people likely to need to use them.
  • in the event of fire anywhere in the workplace, make sure at least one route from any part of the premises remains available
  • all escape routes must be easily identifiable, free from any obstructions and adequately illuminated
  • all staff should be instructed and trained in using the means of escape
  • instructions about the means of escape should be displayed for employees
  • means of escape arrangements should be included in the emergency plan.

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Evacuation of disabled people

The first step in your fire risk assessment process is to identify those people at risk and to take particular care in assessing the risks to vulnerable groups or individuals. This could include children the elderly or those with a disability.

The Equality Act 2010 ensures that disabled people should not be treated less favourably or be at a substantial disadvantage to people without disabilities.

If an employer fails to make arrangements for the safe evacuation of disabled people from their premises it could be seen as discriminatory as well as failing to comply with the current fire safety legislation. Remember that the definition of disability is wide ranging and not restricted to physical disabilities.

Individuals have different capabilities and each building will have unique characteristics so in many cases a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) will be required.

It should include clear concise instructions and evacuation maps or diagrams, detailing how disabled people can reach a place of safety.

Fire and Rescue Services will expect to see it as part of your Fire Safety Risk Assessment. They will be looking for information on how you will evacuate that person and do not expect you to leave them in a refuge to await rescue by the Fire and Rescue Service.

A refuge should only be used as a stage of a full evacuation. You may use it to determine whether a full evacuation is required or as a rest point on the route. No one should ever be left in a refuge during a full evacuation.

The Scottish Government website contains comprehensive guidance - Practical Fire Safety Guidance: The Evacuation of Disabled Persons from Buildings (external link) (external link) – which provides detailed information on the matters you should consider and includes templates to develop and record details of your PEEP.

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Fire extinguishers

  • ensure extinguishers are suitable for the purpose and of sufficient capacity for the fire risks on the premises
  • ensure sufficient extinguishers are sited throughout the workplace
  • ensure the right types of extinguishers are located close to the fire hazards and that users can gain access to them without exposing themselves to risk
  • ensure the locations of the extinguishers are obvious or highlight their positions
  • give the people likely to use the fire extinguishers adequate instruction and training
  • include the use of fire-fighting equipment in your emergency plan. 

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Maintenance and testing of fire safety equipment

  • all fire doors and escape routes should be regularly checked along with associated lighting and signs
  • fire-fighting equipment should be regularly checked
  • fire detection and alarm equipment should be regularly checked
  • all other equipment provided to help means of escape arrangements in the building should be regularly checked
  • instructions for relevant employees about testing of equipment should be available
  • make sure those who test and maintain the equipment are properly trained to do so.

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Good practices:

General fire safety

  • good standards of housekeeping are essential – keep workplaces tidy
  • regularly remove combustible waste, including accumulations of dust
  • keep ignition sources away from combustible material, flammable liquids/gases, etc.
  • keep use of flammable liquids to a minimum and close containers when not in use
  • have bunding in place in larger storage areas, to control the extent of any spillages and prevent chemicals mixing
  • consider how you would recover from the effects of a fire.

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Test your observation skills in identifying fire hazards

Knowing how to identify potential fire hazards in a variety of settings can help you look for hazards in your workplace and at home, in a more objective way. You could use the film in your fire training exercises. These films were created by Healthy Working Lives and the McGill Fire Safety Centre.

Emergency planning and training

Local Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) may offer training in emergency planning and fire safety.

  • compile an emergency plan
  • ensure employees are familiar with the plan, trained in its use and involved in testing it
  • ensure the emergency plan is made available to all who need to be aware of it
  • ensure the procedures to be followed are clearly indicated throughout the workplace
  • consider all the people likely to be present in the workplace and others who share the building.

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At shutdown

  • ensure all windows and doors are closed, including doors held open by automatic release units
  • switch off electrical equipment not in use, and where appropriate, unplug
  • check that smokers' materials are not left smouldering
  • check that all naked flames are extinguished or left in a safe condition
  • ensure all flammable or combustible waste is removed to a safe place
  • check that all highly flammable materials are safely stored
  • ensure that the workplace is secured against unauthorised entry.

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Further information on fire safety

If you're looking for further advice on fire evacuation or any other aspect of occupational health and safety, Healthy Working Lives has produced a Fire Risk Assessment Pack to record the findings of your risk assessment:

Free confidential telephone advice is also available through our Adviceline on 0800 019 22 11. Our advisers also offer free workplace visits to SMEs. The visit will include a review of your health and safety performance on all relevant issues - not only fire safety.

For a comprehensive guide to fire safety, including downloadable factsheets for specific sectors, visit the Scottish Government website on Fire Law (external site).

You can find details of your local fire and rescue service on the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service's website (external link).

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