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How Businesses are being Affected by the Cost of Living Crisis

The rising cost of living is affecting everyone in the UK. That includes its businesses.

With the increasing costs of goods, staffing, distribution, fuel, and energy, businesses are facing a lot of financial pressure. It’s understandable that many business owners are making changes to save money. These changes might mean reducing staff, making alternative heating arrangements, or altering how building interiors are laid out or used.

Despite the rising cost of living and the difficulties this is causing for businesses, fire safety remains vital. It’s really important to think about how any changes you make might impact the fire safety of employees, customers, and visitors.

We’ve put this resource together to help business owners and managers to stay safe during this聽challenging聽time.

What You Need To Know

Protecting Your Business

This section includes several key areas you need to think about to protect your business. While many of these points are relevant at all times, each section gains even more relevance during the cost of living crisis.

All these points are very important to consider. Together, we can help you protect yourself, your people, and your business from the threat of fire.

Please read through each section and remember you can email our protection team [opens a draft email]聽for more information and support.聽The other pages in our business fire safety聽[opens in a new tab] section offer more information.

Cafe owner having a business fire safety check

  • Fire Risk Assessments

    Fire risk assessments must be reviewed following any changes to your premises

    You should already have completed a fire risk assessment. It’s important that you review your current fire risk assessment to make sure everything is up to date, including:

    • If staffing or occupant levels have changed.
    • Changes to the layout or use of buildings.
    • Using alternative heating setups.
    • What to do if there is a power cut.
    • Servicing, testing, and maintenance.
    • Providing warm places.
    • Sleeping on-site.

    Fire risk assessments should be completed by a competent person. If you require support from a qualified fire risk assessor, please find more details 聽[opens in a new tab].

  • Changes to Your Premises

    Ensure your premises' means of escape are not blocked

    Many businesses are changing the layouts of their interiors, or altering how each interior is used. This might be because of an attempt to reduce operating costs, or diversify how buildings are used to make their businesses more resilient.

    Whatever the reason for changing your premises, its vital that you review your fire risk assessment in light of the changes made.

    Consider the following:

    • Do the changes obstruct fire escapes, or fire escape signage?
    • Do they impact how a fire could be spotted and reported?
    • Can emergency vehicles still access the premises if required?
    • Are temporary structures in place? Will these obstruct fire escapes?
    • Have you retrained your staff in light of the changes?
    • Is your fire detection system adequate for the premises?
    • Is your building secure, to protect against arson?
    • Are you continuing to test and maintain fire detection systems?

    Asking yourself these questions can help you focus on what’s needed if altering the buildings in which your business operates.

  • Reduction in Staffing Levels

    Thinking about changing your level of staffing?

    Many businesses might be looking to reduce staffing levels due to financial constraints.

    If you reduce staffing, it’s important that you measure the impact of this on your fire risk assessment. Fewer employees might mean tasks aren’t completed, therefore increasing fire risk. This includes wherever employees are relied up for fire detection and emergency evacuation procedures.

    You should continue to perform testing and maintenance on fire detection systems, and ensure competent persons remain in place to protect your business against fire.

  • Alternative Heating Arrangements

    Only use heaters in the way they are designed to be used

    Changing how you heat your buildings can be hazardous. This is a risk, particularly for small and medium-sized firms that may be looking to decrease spending on conventional heating systems.

    Here is some advice for businesses seeking alternative heating arrangements:

    • Check that any portable heaters are PAT-tested and not subject to any product recalls.
    • Do not block escape routes.
    • Give portable heaters adequate space – never less than 1m.
    • Do not plug heaters into extension leads. Only use a wall power outlet.
    • Do not move heaters unless switched off and thoroughly cool.
    • Only use heaters as intended by the manufacturer.
    • Ensure heaters are maintained by a qualified person.
    • Never use outdoor heaters inside.
    • Always securely store gas cylinders outside and out of direct sunlight.
  • Power Cuts

    It’s possible that businesses will be required to operate with reduced energy supplies, either via planned outages or power cuts.

    Plan ahead to ensure your systems can restart safely when the power supply is reconnected. This includes lighting, as well as fire detection and security systems which may be impacted by a reduction in power.

    You should be notified ahead of any planned power outage. Learn more about planned outages on [opens in a new tab].

    If you have an unplanned power cut, please report it by calling 105.

  • Providing Facilities and Warm Places

    Ensure cooking and charging facilities on your premises are designed for this purpose

    Many businesses are offering facilities or warm places for those in need, as well as their employees. While this is commendable, it is vital to consider how this affects your safety arrangements.

    Review your fire risk assessment so that it reflects this use of the building’s energy or heat supply.

    Sleeping on a Business Premises

    We recommend you never allow employees to sleep in business locations. This can be a major safety issue because the building is simply not designed to be used in this way.

    Sleeping and other activities such as cooking can greatly increase the chance of someone getting hurt in a fire or other incident inside the commercial building.

  • Fire System Servicing and Maintenance

    It is the responsibility of the duty holder or responsible person to ensure fire safety measures are thoroughly tested, serviced, and sufficiently maintained.

    This makes sure that the systems will operate successfully in the event of a fire. It can mean the difference between life and death.

    If you stop testing and maintaining fire detection/suppression systems, be sure to inform your insurer. This could invalidate any insurance policies you have taken out on the property.

  • Preventing Crime

    Protect your business from the risk of energy theft

    Crime is a considerable risk in the context of the cost of living increases. Businesses and building owners must be aware of the risk of arson, as well as the potential for criminals to bypass gas or electric meters in order to steal energy.

    Bypassing Energy Meters

    The increased cost of energy may lead to an increase in energy theft. One method criminals steal energy is by bypassing gas and electric meters inside a property. This threat can affect landlords and other commercial building owners.

    Bypassing a meter is not only criminal. It’s also extremely dangerous. If you suspect someone has illegally bypassed an energy meter, report it now by calling 0800 023 2777.

    Learn more about meter tampering on the [opens in a new tab].

    Arson

    Arson – or deliberate fire setting – is always a risk for businesses. A vigilant workforce and robust security setup can help protect you and your people from harm.

    • Remove all items from outdoor areas that could be used as fuel.
    • Ensure windows and doors are locked.
    • Keep access gates closed and locked, especially at night.
    • Consider using external lighting to dissuade troublemakers.
    • Keep entrances and exits clear at all times, especially if building use has recently changed.

    You can report arson in an emergency by calling the police on 999 or by contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Care Homes and Supported Living

nurse talking to residentIf you operate a care home or assisted living facility, you should continue to undertake and review your Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) and Generic Emergency Evacuation Plans (GEEPs) for relevant persons. This is particularly relevant to the care industry, where residents may rely on staff to instigate evacuation measures.

You should review your procedures so that they accurately reflect the staff available. Such reviews must carefully weigh the risks of fire and your business’s ability to operate safely.

In care homes, a review of the fire risk assessment may find that having fewer employees as a result of job cuts may affect the number of residents that can occupy the premises safely.

If there are no longer enough employees to evacuate the business premises safely, this will need to be reviewed as a matter of priority. This might result in the need to provide alternative provisions for care if your business is no longer able to ensure the safety of residents.

Where staff may be working in unfamiliar environments, you must ensure that they continue to provide appropriate staff training. The importance of retraining can be overlooked when employees of the same company come to work at a different site.

Responsible persons should be able to show that all personnel (permanent or temporary) know what to do in case of fire. They should also test their emergency procedures, particularly after staffing changes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

These frequently asked questions are provided by the NFCC (National Fire Chief’s Council) to assist businesses in the cost of living crisis.

If you have a question that you can’t see here, don’t forget you can聽contact us聽[opens in a new tab].

  • What can I do to reduce the risk of fire at my business/workplace?

    The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (as amended by the Fire Safety Act 聽2021) (FSO) and the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 (which come into force on 23 January 2023) place a legal requirement upon employers and persons with responsibility for premises. These responsibilities and safety measures are designed to protect life regardless of fire service intervention. It is, therefore, essential to ensure that all existing fire safety provisions are in place and effective.

    To help small businesses understand your legal duties for fire safety, NFCC has developed a free, interactive Business Fire Safety Awareness Tool.聽Directors, Senior Managers and Health & Safety Managers will want to ensure the following are maintained and considered:

    • Check business continuity plans.
    • Review their existing fire risk assessment.
    • Ensure any measures they take are in place, working and effective.
    • Check staff are fully aware of fire and evacuation procedures.
    • Take appropriate steps to enhance staff vigilance.
    • Review arrangements for calling the emergency services.
    • The need for additional staffing or patrols.
  • I鈥檓 making changes to my premises 鈥 what actions am I required to take?

    Any changes made to your premises (such as closing off areas, using areas for storage, or altering the layout) require your fire risk assessment to be reviewed. The fire risk assessment should determine the level of risk resulting from the changes and any mitigation measures e.g. more frequent deliveries/collections, or the use of other sites to provide storage.

  • The rise in living costs means I need to reduce the number of staff. What fire protection considerations do I need to factor in?

    Responsible persons should ensure that the premises鈥 fire risk assessment reflects the added risk a reduction in staff poses. Where businesses are operating with fewer staff, this could mean that current processes may no longer be able to be carried out safely,聽increasing the risk of fire. Similarly, a reduction in staff may result in employees not being able to successfully carry out evacuations and emergency procedures, such as in-house 聽fire response or fire warden duties.

    Employers should continue to undertake and review their Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) and Generic Emergency Evacuation Plans (GEEPs) for relevant persons. Procedures should be reviewed so that they accurately reflect the staff available. Such reviews must carefully weigh the risks from fire and the ability of such
    businesses to operate safely.

  • I鈥檓 considering changing how I heat my premises to save money due to rising energy bills 鈥 what do I need to be aware of to protect my premises?

    Businesses, especially small to medium sized ones, may avoid using central heating and
    look to use portable heaters and small open fires in the spaces they use. Portable
    heaters are not restricted to electric heaters and can present additional risks so must be
    considered.

    Portable heaters

    • People may use devices that have not been used for several years, or have had stored away for emergencies, such as when central heating has needed repair.
    • Check that your heater is not subject to a product recall or repair.
    • Heaters must not be placed where they will block an escape route or have the potential risk to cause a fire, e.g. under desks, or congested spaces.
    • Plug electric heaters into a wall socket not an extension lead, as they can easily be overloaded and cause fires. They must only be moved when they have been switched off and have cooled down.
    • Only use a heater in rooms they are designed to be used in.
    • Never install, repair, or service appliances yourself. Make sure anyone who does so is registered with the Gas Safe Register (for gas appliances), the Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme (HETAS) (for solid fuel appliances), or the Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) (for oil appliances), or a qualified electrician for electric heaters.
    • Make sure gas, paraffin, and LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) cylinders are stored safely outside in a secure location and out of direct sunlight. Make sure you change cylinders for portable heaters in a well-ventilated place and away from sources of heat and ignition.
    • Second-hand heaters should be avoided. If you need to buy one, however, check it closely for damage an if in any doubt avoid it. Make sure it is made by a manufacturer you recognise and if the seller cannot provide the instruction manual look online and download a copy. This will ensure you know how to use the heater correctly and can reduce the risk of fire.

    Outdoor heaters

    • Outdoor heaters must not be used indoors. They can produce a lot of heat which would be a fire risk in the confined space of a premises, but they also produce carbon monoxide which can be fatal.
  • I鈥檓 considering reducing or limiting energy use on my premises to save money due to rising energy bills 鈥 what do I need to be aware of?

    Introducing a policy to reduce or limit energy usage may have an impact on your fire safety measures operating effectively. For example, the operation of automatic fire detection systems, emergency lighting, automatic door hold-open devices, smoke control devices and automatic ventilation systems, and sprinklers systems could be affected.

    Ensure that suitable back-up systems, such as battery backup systems, are in safely place to support the reduction of energy usage. Ensure checks are in place so that fire safety systems have restarted correctly and are operating as they should.

    In addition to checking fire safety systems, you should ensure that other equipment that stops during power cuts restarts safely and does not pose a fire risk when doing so, especially if restarting whilst unsupervised.鈥疶his may also affect the use of medical equipment and storage of some medicines (e.g. in care homes, GP surgeries, hospitals, or day care facilities).

  • I鈥檝e made changes to my storage/stock handling 鈥 how can I reduce the risk of fire?

    Following any changes to how and where stock is stored, businesses should ensure that entrances and exits are clear at all times. Increased stock levels may result in a higher fire loading, which fire safety systems (such as sprinkler systems) may not be designed for. Any change to your premises, including how and where stock is handled and stored will require the fire risk assessment to be reviewed.

  • What could power cuts or reduced any supply mean for my fire safety systems?

    In case of any power cuts locally and nationally, back-up measures must be put in place, as well as checks to ensure fire safety systems have restarted correctly and are operating as they should.鈥疘n addition to checking fire safety systems, businesses are encouraged to ensure that other equipment that stops during power cuts restarts safely and does not pose a fire risk when doing so, especially if restarting whilst unsupervised.鈥疶his may also affect the use of medical equipment and storage of some medicines (e.g. in care homes, GP surgeries, hospitals, or day care facilities).

  • What can responsible persons do to reduce the risk of fire in their residential buildings?

    The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (as amended by the Fire Safety Act 2021) and the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 (which come into force on 23 January 2023) place a legal requirement upon employers and persons with responsibility for premises, including residential buildings. These responsibilities and safety measures are designed to protect life regardless of fire service intervention. It is, therefore, essential to ensure that all existing fire safety provisions are in place and effective.

    Responsible persons for premises may wish to consider reviewing their fire risk聽assessment and should check their existing fire precautions are in place and working effectively. Following a review of the assessment of risk, they should make any necessary adjustments and ensure that through their resident engagement strategy that聽residents are aware of the risk reduction measures for the premises and the actions they should take in the event of fire.

  • What can residents do to reduce the risk of fire in their residential building?

    Following a review of the assessment of risk, responsible persons should make any necessary adjustments and ensure that residents are aware of the risk reduction measures for the premises and the actions they should take in the event of fire.

    Residents should consider the risk of using alternative heating sources and discuss any concerns regarding staying warm etc with their landlord to ensure safe practices are in place. Residents should contact their responsible person to seek advice on the actions they should take to reduce risk and what to do in the event of a fire in their building.

  • What steps can I take to prevent energy theft/meter tampering on my premises?

    Business and building owners should be aware of the potential for hot-wiring or bypassing electrical and gas supplies undertaken by others. You can find information and resources on the dedicated 聽[opens in a new tab].

  • Why should I be cautious of using second-life batteries for vehicles and energy storage applications?

    Although second-life batteries, particularly those used in vehicles and energy-storage applications, can be relatively easy to obtain there are concerns that they may not be appropriate for use, particularly where not installed by a competent electrician.

  • What are the requirements for servicing, testing, and maintenance in areas of my premises which are currently out of use?

    It is the responsibility of the responsible person and/or the duty holder to ensure they are testing and maintaining all fire safety measures to maintain a safe premises.鈥疘f there is no聽one on, or in the immediate vicinity, of the premises who may be reliant on your fire safety measures (e.g., in accommodation over a premises), the FSO follows a risk-based approach to testing and maintenance. If doubt exists, advice must be sought from a competent person.

  • What are the requirements for servicing, testing, and maintenance in areas of my premises which are only partly being used?

    If your premises is in part use, the responsible person must ensure any fire safety systems for the protection of life are fully checked by a competent person as soon as possible when vacant areas are planned to be brought back into use, and ensure they are tested before occupation.

    The routine testing and maintenance of all fire safety measures, to ensure they operate
    and perform as required in event of fire, is essential in keeping people safe.
    This includes in any areas that may temporarily be out of use as a cost saving measure.

    You should review you premises fire risk assessment prior to the cessation of testing and maintenance of fire safety systems to ensure this does not cause additional risks. If any doubt exists as to the purpose of any fire safety system that may not be maintained advice should be sought from a competent person and/or your local fire and rescue service.

  • Can I permit staff to sleep on my business premises?

    We strongly discourage business owners from introducing a sleeping risk to a premises by permitting anyone to sleep in a premises that is not designed to provide sleeping accommodation. Business owners should be mindful to prevent unauthorised sleeping on the premises, such as employees who have not requested permission, or contract cleaning staff.

  • I want to support staff by providing cooking and food warming facilities 鈥 what should I put in place to ensure this can be done safely?

    Make sure that only appliances designed for this purpose are used. Camping equipment聽and BBQs (including disposable ones) should only be used in outdoor spaces appropriate for their use (i.e. not roofs and balconies) and should not be used to heat premises. Ensure that any changes to the provision of cooking facilities are reflected in the premises鈥 fire risk assessment.