Practical fire safety guidance for existing non-residential premises: consultation

Consultation on the revised fire safety guidance for 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 In 2006, the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 ("the 2005 Act") introduced changes to fire safety law in Scotland and repealed previous fire safety legislation.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.

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 The guides superseded are: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 premises used for commercial, industrial, transport, assembly, educational, day care or entertainment. The guide does not apply to premises used for overnight sleeping accommodation and does not apply to premises used for child-minding [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 applies to existing premises and is not a design guide for new build. New buildings must be designed to the mandatory 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 .

6. 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.

Fire Safety Law

7. 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.

8. The legislation requires the provision of fire safety measures; this includes risk reduction, 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.

9. 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.

10. Certain mainline and underground railway stations in Scotland are also additionally subject to the general fire safety provisions in the Fire Precautions (Sub-surface Railway Stations) Regulations 1989.

11. The general fire safety provisions in Part 3 of the 2005 Act take precedence over the terms and conditions imposed in relation to licenses 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?

12. 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, including managers, owners and staff. Contractors and volunteers working on site may also have some responsibilities. In this guide, persons with fire safety responsibilities are referred to generally as 'dutyholders'.

13. Under fire safety law, 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 the effort, expense and any other disadvantages associated with the provision of fire safety measures need only be proportionate to the fire risk. Where premises or responsibilities are shared, each employer, owner or other person 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.

External assistance

14. The responsibility for assessing the risk from fire in premises and taking fire safety measures, sits with dutyholders. In some sectors, fire safety may be well developed and controlled. However, where resources or expertise is insufficient to match the complexity of the situation, dutyholders may wish to engage an external fire safety consultant who has a greater depth of understanding of the issues and an ability to solve problems and assess the level of risk.

15. It can be difficult to judge the competence of companies and persons who advertise their services as fire risk assessors. 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 competent fire safety specialist.

16. Where dutyholders seek external assistance, they should satisfy themselves with the credentials of external consultants. The quality assurance of fire safety consultants is a developing area and readers should check for relevant guidance, including on the Scottish Government FireLaw web pages.

17. External consultants are accountable under the legislation when, for example, they undertake fire safety risk assessment. Even where external assistance is used, dutyholders remain legally responsible and accountable for fire safety in the premises.

Who enforces the fire safety law?

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

19. 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.

20. 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.

21. 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.

22. The SFRS has the power to take 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.

23. 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.

24. 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.

25. 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

26. There is also a right of appeal to the court against a Prohibition Notice, Enforcement Notice or Alterations Notice, within a short timescale from the date the notice is issued.

27. While the general fire safety measures required by the 2005 Act are enforced by SFRS, 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:

  • 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.

28. 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

29. The remaining chapters in this guide provide information on the assessment of fire safety 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.

30. The fire safety standards 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.

31. 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.

32. The objective of fire safety law is life safety. Fire safety measures are only necessary where they are required to ensure an acceptable level of life safety.

33. 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.

34. While the principal purpose of this guide is to provide guidance to assist dutyholders comply 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.

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

36. 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.

37. 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.

38. 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'.


Email: Richard Hastings,

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