China’s Fire Safety Law Affecting Foreign-Owned Factories and Warehouses

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Aug. 20 – The release of amendments to China’s fire safety laws following an increase in the numbers of fatal fires in commercial premises on the mainland last year is affecting businesses, which are now having to ensure adequate measures in fire prevention, evacuation and extinguishing are implemented.

The amendments took effect May 1 and provide strict new provisions regarding business’ owner’s responsibilities.

For the first time, the senior management of a China-registered business will have to take specific responsibility for their building’s fire prevention, safety, and evacuation plans. The person must be within the top three most senior personnel and can be personally liable in the event of serious accident, injury or death. The new law also provides for a fire safety system and evacuation plans, which must both be put into place and approved by the fire department along with the current annual testing of fire protection systems.

In terms of premises, the law divides buildings into two categories: high occupancy buildings, which have to report directly to the fire department through their management offices; and all other buildings, in which the proprietor takes responsibility for liaising with the fire department. Existing buildings will maintain their current fire classification as per the previous fire department inspection, unless renovations have taken place. Under the latter circumstances, a new inspection and license is required.

For foreign-invested businesses in China whose operations include the ownership of premises, the business management should now take steps to liaise with the local fire department over the required prevention, safety and evacuation plans. It would be good practice to produce a fire safety manual in Chinese for staff and hold drills to ensure recommendations and correct fire fighting and evacuation procedures are carried out. A senior manager will need to be identified as the Fire Safety Officer for the business. Duties will be personally responsible and will include ensuring the adequate number of fire fighting equipments, fire prevention and safety apparatus is installed, together with the evacuation plan.

It should be noted that the fire department has the right to levy fines on responsible individuals and/or their companies in the event that substandard, out of date equipment is found, or that safety procedures are inadequate. These can amount to a maximum of RMB300,000 for violations of the new Fire Safety law. Companies may also have their operations suspended until compliance is reached.