October 26, 2021

Fire Risk Assessments: Your questions answered

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In this article, we look at what Fire Risk Assessments are, why they matter and how we carry them out. With input from Simon Thomas the fire risk assessor, whose experience and knowledge in this area gives a better understanding when explaining to clients the requirements of a fire risk assessment.

What exactly is a Fire Risk Assessment?

This perhaps sounds like an obvious question, but there’s more to Fire Risk Assessments than you might think. It is a methodical and practical assessment of the building, its use, occupancy, fire risks present and overall fire safety management. Then, if necessary, we offer recommendations to make the building safer. 

Does every building legally need a written Fire Risk Assessment? No – only if there are five occupants or more, regularly in the premises. Fewer than five, and you don’t need a formally written assessment.

However, we recommend that every workplace always has a Fire Risk Assessment in writing. Simply the process of undergoing the assessment will encourage the occupants to consider their own safety and the safety of others.

Why is a Fire Risk Assessment necessary?

A simple question with three simple answers –

  1. To protect people
  2. To protect property
  3. To comply with the law

The order is important too. People – property – law.

What are the legal requirements of a Fire Risk Assessment?

There are specific legal guidelines for Fire Risk Assessments.

Regular assessment is vital. We recommend the following –

  • 12 months after your building’s original assessment
  • At subsequent intervals advised by the fire risk assessor – based on building occupancy and risk
  • If your building’s purpose has substantially changed
  • If you’ve changed the structure of your building, such as the layout
  • If there has been a significant change in the occupants
  • If you have had a fire incident or near miss

There are a few other circumstances where the law requires you to have a written fire risk assessment, even when having fewer than five regular occupants. They are

  • You’ve been instructed to do so by the fire brigade (for example, after a visit)
  • If your premises are required to have a licence

Who’s responsible for Fire Risk at my premises?

Every block of flats and business must have an individual designated as the ‘Responsible Person’. Their job is to ensure that all relevant fire safety tasks are conducted and that any necessary action is taken to prevent fire and consequential death or injury.

The responsible person is the one who needs to ensure that a valid fire risk assessment is made on your building.

Small business owners are usually the Responsible Person for their premises unless they nominate someone else from their team.

For tower blocks and blocks of flats, the Responsible Person is usually the managing agent or landlord, although it could be a Residents’ Association member. In blocks of flats, the Responsible Person is only responsible for common areas, like stairwells and corridors. Obviously, residents are responsible for ensuring that their own flats are safe from fire.

Who conducts a Fire Risk Assessment?

This must be a ‘competent’ individual as stated within the law. But, of course, what does ‘competent’ mean? It means someone who has relevant industry qualifications, training, skills and experience in assessing the fire risk for your type of premises against all of the factors listed in the next section.

They also need to be able to

  • Record all of their significant findings clearly, in detail and provide recommended solutions
  • Develop a Fire Safety Action Plan if any changes are necessary and then record those actions in writing with advised timescales for completion.
  • Make sure the action plan implemented
  • Continuously update the fire risk assessment as it is a “live” document

So the question must be, ‘Why would you not use a qualified Assessor to carry out Fire Risk Assessment for your building?

Fire risk assessments must be “suitable and sufficient” as described in law, therefore it is an offence if the fire risk assessment is found not to be so and deficient in some way.

What must a Fire Risk Assessment include?

The amount of detail included in an individual review depends to a great extent on the building’s complexity. For example, a one-compartment building, like a kiosk or small shop, is going to have a lot less that needs to be reviewed compared to a block of flats or large office block.

A Fire Risk Assessment should cover the following –

  • The building’s construction, layout, and use
  • The nature and number of occupants, including potentially vulnerable occupants
  • Electrical equipment on the site that could be a source of ignition
  • Whether the building has a history of any fire loss
  • Defence against arson
  • Smoking areas as well as measures taken to prevent fires caused by smoking
  • Protection against fires that might be caused by lightning
  • Installed and portable heating devices that can trigger fires
  • Fire hazards introduced by outside contractors or building works
  • General housekeeping and key areas being kept clear of any combustible materials
  • The configuration and maintenance of escape routes
  • Storage arrangements for flammable and dangerous liquids
  • Properly installed emergency lighting is in good working order
  • Measures are in placed for limiting fire spread
  • Adequate means to raise the alarm in the event of a fire
  • Fire safety signs in the proper locations and used correctly
  • Other devices, like sprinklers, are properly installed and maintained
  • The appropriate fire extinguishers are in the correct locations
  • Evacuation drills and fire safety training carried out on a regular basis
  • Proper records and documentation are being kept on fire safety measures
  • Correct testing procedures and maintenance are in place for fire safety systems

What is the penalty for failing to have a fire risk assessment?

If you don’t have a fire risk assessment and, specifically, don’t have the proper fire safety precautions in place, the penalty is prosecution, followed by substantial fines. In extreme cases, the penalty can be a prison sentence.

Not all Fire Risk Assessments are the same

A risk assessment is approached differently depending on the type of building and occupancy. So a risk assessment on a school would be approached differently from a large warehouse or a care home with sleeping occupancy.

We have to consider the buildings’ purpose, use and occupancy. In a school, we have to ask all kinds of questions. catering is always a big issue –

  • Is the school used for ‘let ins’ or the hiring out of halls out of school hours?
  • Does the kitchen have its own staff?
  • Do they cook food on the premises?
  • Is there an external caterer coming to the school? Do they cook on-site, or do they reheat?
  • Who is responsible for the kitchen, the checking of the equipment?
  • Have the external company and staff been trained about fire evacuation and how to raise an alarm?
  • Is there a hirer’s agreement or contract between the school and a business employed by the school (kitchen staff or cleaning company) that highlights key responsibilities?

Then, we also need to know about staff or pupils with special needs. Do they need special support in case of fire or an evacuation? Is this support clearly documented? How is it communicated?

Does the school have any trained fire wardens?  Do they have fire extinguisher training? Is this evidenced?

Is the school secure and safe from the possibility of arson? Is there an intruder alarm system?

Exploring the purpose of the buildings

We had to carry out a visual inspection of the school. This meant looking around the entire site – looking in all rooms, electrical cupboards, external storage areas, observation of Fire Doors, emergency lighting, fire alarm panels and fire extinguishers, gas shut-offs in boiler rooms and kitchens.

The Fire Risk Assessment process

As the visit progressed, it became increasingly clear how thorough the fact-finding and assessment had to be.

We had to check –

  • Site Maintenance records
  • Fire logbooks
  • Weekly testing logs
  • Asbestos logs
  • Electrical wiring information
  • Pat testing
  • Gas check logs
  • Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) – storage of chemicals
  • Evacuation plans

Once our work was done and the Fire Risk Assessment completed, we issued the school with a written FRA report. This details our findings – the results of our fact-finding. It also highlights recommendations, deficiencies, areas needing improvements, levels of urgency and necessary timescales.

 A Fire, Safety and Security supplier you can trust

As you can see, Fire Risk Assessment is a serious matter.

Simon Thomas and his fellow assessors are members of The Institution of Fire Engineers. Remember, you are legally obliged to ensure that your people and your premises are adequately protected.

Here at TEC Fire & Security, we take Fire Risk Assessment seriously. Most of all we’re here to help, so please get in touch.