Fire safety in in Places of Worship in England is covered by The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, frequently known as ‘The Order’. This is in place to protect all users of the building from fire and the effects of fire. The law is enforced by the Fire and Rescue Services, who have the power to prosecute individuals for failing to comply with the regulations. Offenders can expect criminal sanctions including fines and even imprisonment. A key part of the legislation is the requirement for a Fire Risk Assessment. This assesses how a fire might start, along with the precautions that are in place to reduce the risk of fire. The main outcome is to prevent fire, but should there be an outbreak, suitable measures need to be in place to detect it, control it or limit its spread.
Places of Worship fall into the category of buildings that must comply with The Order. It does not matter how many attend or if there are any paid employees. The Order covers general fire precautions and other fire safety duties which are needed to protect all users of the building, (relevant persons), in case of fire. The Order requires fire precautions to be put in place ‘where necessary’ and to the extent that it is ‘reasonable and practicable’ to do so. Responsibility for complying with the Order rests with the ‘responsible person’. The Responsible Person is likely to be the Pastor or Deacons. This is the person or persons who have overall control of the premises and have a say over the precautions that are put into place. Each Church should formally appoint a Responsible Person/s so it is clear who has this legal responsibility.
Fire Risk Assessment
The Responsible Person must carry out a fire risk assessment which must focus on the safety, in case of fire, of all users of the building. It should pay particular attention to those at special risk, such as disabled people, those who you know have special needs and children. The fire risk assessment will help identify risks that can be removed or reduced and decide the nature and extent of the fire precautions required. As the fire spreads, there is a need to consider who else it could possibly affect, such as those who are evacuating the building and people passing by the premises on footpaths and pavements. Nearby property could also be affected by the fire. This is all considered in the Risk Assessment.
The Fire Risk Assessment should be reviewed and kept up to date (Every 12 months) or after any significant change to layout or legislation and a signed copy maintained.
A sample Fire Risk Assessment Form produced by Ecclesiastical Insurance can be downloaded from http://www.ecclesiastical.com/ChurchMatters/Images/fire-risk-assessment-form.pdf
Further details on Fire Risk Assessments can be found on the Government web site at
One of the purposes of Fire Risk Assessment is to reduce the likelihood of fire. Fire Prevention is an important part of The Order, and this might affect some activities in some Places of Worship.
Some measures to consider include:
- Using heaters carefully, and not using portable heaters in exit areas.
- Ensuring that the electrical wiring is tested and inspected frequently.
- Having portable electrical equipment checked periodically.
- Not storing rubbish outside the premises, preventing fire if the rubbish is set alight.
- Having good security measures to protect against arson attacks.
- Reducing the amount of flammable and combustible material that is stored on the premises, especially in those easily forgotten spaces and store areas.
The most significant fire precautions for Places of Worship include:
- Some kind of appropriate fire warning, for example a whistle or an electrical fire alarm, depending on the size of the premises. This allows anyone to warn others of the fire and is needed irrespective of any fire detection that might be present (although detection systems usually include manual call points and alarm sounders to fulfil both objectives).
- Automatic fire detectors might be needed in some buildings, especially if a fire could be a risk to people if it is not detected (such as a two-storey building) or there are large numbers of people in the building. Smoke detectors provide the best response.
- There must be suitable numbers of fire extinguishers in the building, not only to maintain exits while people evacuate but to control or even extinguish small fires. Extinguishers should be marked with signs, be simple to use and people need to be trained in how to use them. They also must be maintained by a reputable contractor.
- There must be adequate fire exit provision for the building considering the numbers of people who might be present. Sliding or rotating doors are not suitable as emergency exits, and any door on an exit route must open in the direction of travel (but there might be some flexibility for the smallest of buildings where fewer than 60 people congregate or for doors used by staff only).
- Exits must be clearly marked with exit signs and they must be kept clear and readily available. Exit signs must include the 'moving person' symbol. There should be no ambiguity as to which door can be used as an emergency exit.
- Fire exit routes might need to be protected so that people evacuating the building won't be affected by the smoke and flames. Typically, self-closing fire doors would be used in some premises where this is identified on the Risk Assessment.
- Emergency lighting might be needed in some situations to light exit routes and rooms in the event of a power failure. In smaller buildings, torches might be adequate. Generally, if the premises are used in the hours of darkness, or areas do not have windows, some kind of emergency lighting needs to be available.
- Fire precautions must be tested, checked and maintained, so that the precautions will be in working order when needed most. This includes periodic servicing of fire detection and alarm equipment, extinguishers, checks on fire exit doors testing of emergency lights or replacement of torch batteries. A record of tests, maintenance and servicing needs to be kept to show that this has been done, and a log book is the normal way to keep this information.
- There must be a fire procedure for the building, outlining people's responsibilities for the safe evacuation in case of fire.
- Ensure that training is given to those who carry out specific tasks in an emergency. Back up training with practice fire drills.
- If people need assistance to evacuate the premises, provide suitable equipment and train people how to use it as required. This can include evacuation chairs and devices to aid people with mobility impairment.
The above list might not include everything required in a Place of Worship. Exactly what is required would follow from the Risk Assessment and depends on the situation, the size of the building and the people in the congregation. However, ‘worse case’ situations should be accounted for in planning, such as special services, weddings or funerals.
A Fire Risk Checklist can be downloaded here
and the circular issued by the Trust can be downloaded here
There are numerous suppliers who provide advice, guidance and products. To name just one, Safelincs is a fire safety supplier with headquarters in the UK. It is the central fire safety provider for the Church of England and the Catholic Church in the UK (ChurchMarketplace)