This is probably the most important section on this site and please read it carefully. It deals with several major topics:
Q. Do I need to equip my machines with fire extinguishing systems and how do I comply with the current legislation?
Q. Who is responsible to ensure compliance?
Q. If my company has not complied with the legislation and there is an incident then what happens?
The latest fire safety regulations came into force in October 2006 and require industry (for the purposes of this article machine tool users) to carry out a detailed fire risk assessment and to comply with its recommendations. Failure to do so can result in a very large fine or even imprisonment. Risk assessments are also required and you must show that not only have fire risks been identified that steps have then been taken to prevent accidents and injury to employees. This must be documented.
Is a machine tool a fire risk? It is difficult to argue that it is not - there are many hundreds of fires on machine tool of all types in the UK in any given year.
How can fires be prevented if machines are not fitted with an appropriate fire extinguisher safety system? - There is no other satisfactory method available. The general consensus within industry is that machines that must be fitted with fire extinguishing equipment are, but are not limited to, the following:
Any machine that uses oil, or any kind of potentially flammable liquid, such as an oil based coolant. Examples include turning machines, milling machines, machining centres and grinding machines.
Any machine that produces a spark or similar such as an EDM machine or a Laser machine.
Any machine that although being used "dry" (without coolant) is machining a self-combustible material such as titanium or magnesium alloys.
The person responsible? - This is "the employer where the place of work is under its control" or "the person in control where they have an obligation for its repair and maintenance" In practise for most engineering companies/users of machine tools the person responsible and therefore liable in case of an accident will be:
The Factory Manager
The Health & Safety Officer and/or The Head or person in charge of Machine Maintenance
The responsible person must then nominate a "competent person" to carry out the new requirements to meet the new laws - failure to do so will result in a breach of the regulations leaving the responsible person open to charges if things do go wrong. The nominated competent person must have received suitable training and have sufficient experience to carry out his duties under the new act.
This person must carry out fire risk assessments and take whatever action is required and to carry out works and install any fire precautions that the assessment recommends. If the assessment fails to take into account any machine tools that may be on-site and then fails to recommend and then ensure that suitable fire protection equipment is fitted then it is highly unlikely that the necessary fire safety recommendations will have been met!
The responsible person needs to establish the means and route of escape in case of a fire, a suitable fire alarm system, and to provide and maintain fire-fighting equipment. The full risk assessment needs to be fully documented if the business employs more than 5 people. This documentation is very important.
Importantly responsibility of the end user of machines cannot easily be passed onto the machine supplier or manufacturer. Whilst the OEMs have obligations to consider and to fit automatic fire fighting systems onto the machines when new, itís the end user of the machine that has to ensure that his workplace is in compliance with UK legislation.
Thereís been an incident Ė what happens?
If you have complied with the legislation then you probably have nothing to worry about from a legal perspective. Insurance companies get involved and the battle of the insurers begins. If there has been an incident on a machine they will firstly check to see if there was a fire system fitted to it and if so when it was last serviced and also who serviced it. Itís important you hold the annual certificates we give for each systems mandatory service on file and have these to hand.
If machines have not been protected with adequate automatic fire systems, or if they have but no current service certificate is in place then any insurance policy is almost certainly going to be invalid.
In case there has been injury then obviously things very quickly become very serious indeed.
Enforcement of these new regulations is carried out by a local fire authority who appoints inspectors (as is currently the case) to enter premises to inspect records and ensure compliance with the new regulations is being made.
The price for not complying with the new regulations range from a fine of £5,000 in a magistrates court up to an unlimited fine and / or 2 years in prison if the case is held in the high court.
If you want to read further into legislation regarding fire protection on machine tools you will find more detailed information is available on our download page.