The NEC have recently become aware of a fire in a prison establishment which has raised many concerns. HM Prisons experience a number of fires per year across all prisoner groups, with the vast majority of fires the result of deliberate fire setting by prisoners. A fire occurring anywhere within custodial premises could have serious consequences in terms of life safety, business continuity and security. Preventative measures, if successful, reduce the risk of fire occurring and therefore have equivalence to protective control measures.

All establishments which have closed cellular, or cubicle accommodation (for not more than four persons) fitted with inundation points, must have a sufficient number of RPE sets readily available for immediate use in the event of a cell fire occurring.

RPE will be used by prison staff as part of the Cell Fire – Safe System of Work. RPE will provide staff with up to 15 minutes respiratory protection from smoke and toxic fumes (10 minutes working duration with 5-minute safety duration). It is intended for this limited purpose only and must not be used for general firefighting duties or for escorting fire service staff.

In the fire mentioned above, RPE was used to fight a fire in an open area. Use of RPE in larger areas is dangerous in that staff might become disorientated and the equipment is only intended for safe cell removal of prisoner(s) that would take less than 10 minutes. 

It is the employer’s responsibility to carry out an assessment of the risks from fire and to complete a Safe System of Work which sets out the arrangements for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring, and review of the preventative and protective measures that are implemented to manage the identified fire risks.

Risk Assessments and Safe Systems of Work should provide instruction and provide training in how to deal with fires in an open area. This should also consider Fire Service response times.

The NEC therefore request that ALL branches ask for sight of their Fire Risk Assessments, which should include Fire Service response times. The NEC would be grateful if these response times are provided to


Thank you for your anticipated assistance.


Yours sincerely

Deputy General Secretary

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.