Section 53 – Duties of employers to employees
77.Section 53 provides that employers have a general duty to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the safety of their employees in respect of harm caused by fire in the workplace. The formulation of this duty is very similar to that in section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (c.37) (“the 1974 Act”). In that context the words “so far as is reasonably practicable” have been considered by the Court of Appeal in Edwards v NCB  1 All ER 743, where the court held that it is a narrower term than “physically possible” and implies that a computation must be made in which the quantum of risk is placed in one scale and the sacrifice, whether in money, time or trouble, involved in the measures necessary to avert the risk is placed in the other. If it can be shown that there is a gross disproportion between them, the risk being insufficient in relation to the sacrifice, the person on whom the burden is placed discharges the burden of proving that compliance was not reasonably practicable. This interpretation has been consistently applied by the courts in subsequent decisions.
78.Subsection (2) sets out specific duties of employers in relation to carrying out a risk assessment to identify fire safety risks, and taking the necessary fire safety measures to ensure that they comply with their general duty under subsection (1). The obligations apply whether or not the requirements relate to matters within their control. There is therefore a difference between this duty and that found in section 54, where persons who have control of premises to a certain extent, have a duty to the same extent. This reflects the high standard which is expected of employers in domestic and European legislation.
79.Fire safety measures are defined in schedule 2. Paragraph 2 of schedule 2 makes it clear that these measures do not include process fire precautions which are a reserved matter under Section H2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998. The term “process fire precautions” is not defined anywhere in statute but is widely used and understood as being distinct from general fire safety. Essentially, “process fire precautions”, which include risk assessment, are designed to prevent the outbreak or spread of fire from any work processes, taking into account process risk which can be perceived as the danger, due to the work process, that fire will break out. This is to be distinguished from “general fire precautions” which relate to the means of fire warning, fire fighting and escape, thereby dealing with the means to ensure people can escape safely once a fire has started.
80.Subsection (3) imposes a duty on the employer to review the risk assessment in accordance with regulations under section 57 and to take the necessary fire safety measures to ensure compliance with the general duty under subsection (1).