Practical fire safety guidance for existing non-residential premises

Guidance note on fire safety responsibilities for business owners of non-residential premises.

Chapter 1: Preface


1. In 2006, the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 ("the 2005 Act") introduced changes to fire safety law in Scotland and repealed previous fire safety legislation. This guide has been produced to assist those who have responsibility under this Act for ensuring fire safety in premises in Scotland. In addition, the guide has a statutory basis for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (" SFRS") and local authorities, as enforcers.

2. This guide, prepared by the Scottish Government, offers fire safety advice in respect of existing non-residential premises. It consolidates and supersedes a number of individual Scottish Government guides, and introduces a substantial number of editorial changes in the revision aimed at improving dutyholders' understanding. The guides superseded are:

  • Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Educational and Day Care for Children Premises: February 2008
  • Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Places of Entertainment and Assembly: December 2007
  • Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Factories and Storage Premises: February 2008
  • Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Offices, Shops and Similar Premises: February 2008
  • Practical Fire Safety Guidance for Transport Premises: February 2008


3. The guidance in this document is applicable to general fire safety in existing non-residential commercial, industrial, transport, assembly, educational, day care or entertainment premises. The guide does not apply to premises used for overnight sleeping accommodation and does not apply to premises used for child-minding, for which other guidance has been produced [1] .

4. Much of the guidance in this document relates to buildings, however, the requirements of fire safety law also apply to other structures, external areas and open air sites.

5. This guide extends to fire safety measures intended to protect life. Fire protection for the protection of property is not within the scope of this guide.

6. This guide applies to existing premises and is not a design guide for new build. New buildings must be designed to the mandatory functional standards under the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004. Similarly, buildings which undergo extension, structural alteration or change of use should also meet the standards (and be subject to building warrant approval, where required). Design guidance in respect of building regulations is contained in the Scottish Building Standards Technical Handbook for Non‑Domestic Buildings.

7. There are types of premises which, due to their complexity and use, require or will have involved specialist consideration for fire safety. There are also buildings where fire safety engineering has produced bespoke fire safety measures. In these cases, specific sector information and advice may be applied and this guide used for general principles. Examples are large transport hubs, enclosed shopping centres, and certain industrial premises which contain special processes or hazards such as high bay warehouse, automated retrieval system, explosives, petrochemical plant; and power generation.

8. In major sports grounds, fire safety is closely related to other aspects of spectator safety and reference should also be made to the document commonly known as the Green Guide - 'Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds'.

Fire Safety Law

9. Part 3 of the 2005 Act, along with the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006, sets out the fire safety duties in respect of the majority of non-domestic premises in Scotland.

10. The legislation requires the provision of fire safety measures; this includes risk reduction measures, means of fire warning, fire-fighting, escape, staff training and instruction, as well as emergency procedures. It sets out fire safety responsibilities and seeks to ensure the safety of persons from harm caused by fire.

11. The list below is a summary of the general requirements imposed and is not intended to be comprehensive; anyone in doubt about their legal obligations may wish to seek further advice. Guidance on complying with these general requirements is considered in the remaining chapters:

  • assessing the risk from fire in respect of the premises;
  • identifying the fire safety measures necessary as a result of the assessment of risk;
  • implementing these fire safety measures, using risk reduction principles;
  • putting in place fire safety arrangements for the ongoing control and review of the fire safety measures;
  • complying additionally with the specific requirements of the fire safety regulations;
  • keeping the fire safety risk assessment and outcome under review; and
  • record keeping.

12. Underground railway stations and certain mainline stations [2] in Scotland are additionally subject to the general fire safety provisions in the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989.

13. The general fire safety provisions in Part 3 of the 2005 Act take precedence over the terms and conditions imposed in relation to licences issued under other legislation. Section 71 of the 2005 Act provides that terms, conditions or restrictions in such licences - including statutory certification or registration schemes - have no effect if they relate to fire safety requirements or prohibitions which are, or could be, imposed under Part 3. For example, fire safety in sports grounds is governed through Part 3 of the 2005 Act and not through sports grounds certification.

Who Must Comply With These Duties?

14. The responsibility for complying with the fire safety duties in premises sits with the employer and other persons who operate or have control of the premises to any extent. This may include managing agents, landlords and tenants, factors, owners, and managers and staff. Contractors and volunteers working on site may also have some responsibilities through their degree of control or responsibility for safety systems. In this guide, persons with fire safety responsibilities are referred to generally as 'dutyholders'.

15. Under fire safety law, all dutyholders are required to take all reasonable measures regarding the safety of persons. Employers additionally have a specific obligation to ensure the safety of employees in the event of fire, so far as is reasonably practicable. This means that fire safety measures need to be taken to address risk, but not to the extent that the cost, effort and other disadvantages associated with the provision of fire safety measures would be disproportionate to the risk to life. In this respect, a judgement is made about the cost of measures being proportionate to the resulting risk reduction, not the capacity of a dutyholder to pay.

16. Where premises or responsibilities are shared, each employer, or other dutyholder who has control over any part of the premises is required to co-operate and co-ordinate in respect of complying with fire safety law and to inform each other of risks.

17. If the requirements of fire safety law are not complied with, the omission may constitute a criminal offence with a penalty of a fine or imprisonment.

Obtaining Advice on Fire Safety

18. The responsibility for carrying out an assessment of fire risk, reviewing such an assessment and taking fire safety measures rests with dutyholders. General guidance is available on the Scottish Government Firelaw webpages .

19. Dutyholders should consider their own capabilities and circumstances in respect of assessing and managing risk, and factors such as the size and use of premises and the number and type of persons involved.

20. Whilst dutyholders are usually best placed to know their premises, they will need to decide whether they, or their employees, have the capability to assess fire risk. If dutyholders do not have sufficient resources, skills or experience to undertake a fire safety risk assessment themselves they can arrange for a suitably qualified person or company to carry out an assessment on their behalf.

21. When looking to contract a specialist, it can be difficult to judge the competence of companies and persons who advertise their services. The fact that a person or company is operating in the fire sector or that someone has previous fire service experience, does not mean that they are a fire safety specialist.

22. Both the Scottish Government and the SFRS recommend that dutyholders who wish to contract the services of an external fire safety risk assessor, select an assessor from a list of competent fire risk assessors maintained by a professional body or a UKAS accredited third party certification body. Alternatively they could use the services of companies, including sole traders, that are third party certificated under appropriate schemes operated by certification bodies that have, themselves, been UKAS accredited as competent to certificate against such schemes. (The benefit of company certification is that the certification body monitors the quality of the certificated company's work and confirms that there is a system for management of quality within the certificated company).

23. The SFRS maintains a list of UKAS accredited certification bodies and professional registration schemes, which can be accessed on its website The SFRS has not assessed and does not endorse any individuals or companies participating in these schemes. However, participation in such schemes can offer a degree of assurance that a risk assessor (individual or company) has met the professional requirements of the scheme.

24. Generally, reviews of a risk assessment should be carried out regularly by the dutyholder to ensure it remains valid. This will reinforce ownership of fire safety management and assist in the development of relevant knowledge, and of a fire safety culture. However, where significant changes to premises have occurred or if the dutyholder continues to feel that they lack the time, knowledge or skills required to undertake a thorough review, it may be advisable to seek specialist advice to review and revise the initial assessment.

Who Enforces the Fire Safety Law?

25. While the responsibility for compliance with the legislation sits principally with the persons who operate and employ persons to work in the premises, there is provision in the legislation for an enforcing authority with enforcement powers.

26. The SFRS enforces Part 3 of the 2005 Act and relevant regulations in respect of the majority of non-domestic premises. Though there are certain premises where enforcement is by other bodies:

  • in premises occupied by the armed forces or visiting forces - the Defence Fire and Rescue Service;
  • in ships under repair or construction and in some construction sites - the Health and Safety Executive;
  • in nuclear installations - the Office for Nuclear Regulation; and
  • in major sports grounds - the local authority.

27. The SFRS policy towards enforcement is proactive and it adopts an enabling approach to assist dutyholders in complying with their obligations.

28. Enforcement officers' powers are listed in section 62 of the 2005 Act: they may do anything necessary to allow them to enforce the provisions of the legislation. This includes entering premises, inspecting, requesting information, records or assistance, copying or removing documents; carrying out measurements or tests; taking samples, dismantling articles, and taking possession of an article for examination or evidence.

29. If the SFRS is not satisfied with the outcome of a dutyholder's assessment of fire risk in the premises, or the action taken by a dutyholder, or the fire safety measures in place, it may send out a letter which requests or specifies that certain action or measures be taken and may request that a dutyholder draws up an action plan for implementation of the measures.

30. The SFRS has the power to take more formal action in certain situations. This could involve:

  • the issuing of an 'Enforcement Notice' that requires specified action to be taken;
  • the issuing of a 'Prohibition Notice' in cases of serious risk so that the use of all or part of the premises is prohibited or restricted until specified matters are remedied; or
  • reporting the matter for prosecution.

31. Additionally, the SFRS has power to issue an 'Alterations Notice' that requires the recipient to inform the enforcing authority before making specified changes to the premises.

32. Failure to comply with a notice issued by the enforcing authority or placing persons at risk of death or serious injury by failing to carry out any duty imposed by fire safety law is an offence.

33. Where there is disagreement between a dutyholder and the enforcing authority on compliance issues, the dispute may be suitable for referral for a determination. Dispute determination is a third party independent resolution arrangement. Information on this provision is available on the web pages of the Fire Service Inspectorate at

34. There is also a right of appeal to the court against a Prohibition Notice, Enforcement Notice or Alterations Notice, within 21 days from the date the notice is issued.

35. While the general fire safety measures required by the 2005 Act are enforced by SFRS (or other enforcing authority), there are some matters that are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive or the local authority, under various pieces of health and safety legislation. Some examples are precautions relating to:

  • use and storage of flammable liquids;
  • ventilation systems to dilute or remove flammable gas or vapour;
  • selecting equipment that will not be a source of ignition; and
  • maintenance of electrical equipment.

36. Certain premises which pose a risk of major accident are also subject to the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 2015 (" COMAH"). Where COMAH applies, general fire safety is controlled through both the 2005 Act, by the appropriate enforcing authority, and also through COMAH by the Health and Safety Executive.

How To Use This Guide

37. The remaining chapters in this guide provide information on the assessment of fire risk, the reduction of risk and identification and implementation of fire safety measures. It is not necessary to follow the risk assessment method in this guide or the guidance on fire safety measures; other suitable methods and measures may be appropriate.

38. The fire safety measures described in this guide are principally benchmarks. When deciding what fire safety measures are appropriate for premises, the benchmarks can be used as a comparison against what exists in the premises. The benchmarks should not be applied prescriptively to premises, they are not minimum standards nor are they provisions that are deemed to satisfy the legislation. In each case, the measures adopted should be risk appropriate for the particular circumstances in which they are applied. A standard lower than the benchmark may be adequate, in other cases a standard above the benchmark may be necessary. The assessment of risk needs to be specific to the individual premises.

39. If persons feel unable to interpret this guidance, they should seek assistance from someone with technical knowledge. The SFRS as an enforcer of the legislation, cannot undertake a dutyholder's risk assessment obligation. But it has a statutory requirement to provide general advice on request about issues relating to fire safety and should be able to provide information and advice which will assist dutyholders to understand their obligations under the law.

40. While the principal purpose of this guide is to provide guidance to assist dutyholders in complying with their legal obligations, the guide and its contents constitute guidance given by the Scottish Ministers to the SFRS and local authorities in terms of section 61(2) of the 2005 Act and the SFRS and local authorities are therefore required to take it into account in determining whether enforcement action may be necessary. In their enforcement function, these enforcing authorities are also required to have regard to the Scottish Regulators' Strategic Code of Practice.

41. Where an enforcement officer considers that additional fire safety measures are necessary in premises, this decision should be based on risk, taking likely cost benefit into account. It will assist the awareness of dutyholders if enforcement officers explain why the existing fire safety measures are not acceptable, and how additional fire safety measures will deliver improvement.

42. Nothing in this guide should be interpreted as permitting a reduction in the standard of fire safety measures where the measures have been incorporated to comply with Building Regulations. But it is possible for a standard higher than that required by Building Regulations to be necessary as a consequence of assessment of risk.

43. From October 2013, a Fire Safety Design Summary is recorded as part of the building regulation process. This may be a useful source of information to assist dutyholders with the safe operation of the premises and to inform the assessment of fire risk.


Email: Fire and Rescue Unit:

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

Back to top