Anyone who owns or manages a non-domestic property has a legal responsibility, in accordance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, to protect everyone working, living or visiting the building from the threat of fire.
Having a fire risk assessment carried out is a key part of this, but what exactly does this process involve?
What is a fire risk assessment and what is it for?
As the term itself suggests, a fire risk assessment is performed in order to assess the fire risk a given building poses. This review process, in turn, allows for informed recommendations to be devised to help make the building safer, should this be required.
Although it isn’t strictly necessary for a fire risk assessment to be written down if the building has fewer than five regular occupants, it is still recommended that all fire risk assessments take the form of a written document. After all, this makes it easier to communicate the assessment findings and ensure that the responsible person acts on any recommendations.
Who is responsible for ensuring that a fire risk assessment is conducted?
It is legally required for every business or block of flats to have a designated “responsible person” who is responsible for the fire safety of the building.
This “responsible person” has the job of ensuring all relevant fire safety tasks are undertaken, and that any required action is carried out in order to prevent the occurrence of fire and prevent injury or death if a fire does break out.
That means the “responsible person” is also responsible for making sure a valid fire risk assessment is performed in relation to the building.
What is the penalty for failing to have a fire risk assessment?
Failing to have a fire risk assessment and the proper fire safety precautions in place can lead to prosecution and severe fines. In cases of extreme negligence, a prison sentence can be imposed.
Are there any legal guidelines associated with fire risk assessments?
As previously mentioned, your fire risk assessment must be in writing if the property being assessed has five regular occupants or more – but it is still recommended that this be the case regardless of the size of your premises.
Furthermore, even if your building has fewer than five regular occupants, you are still required to have a written fire risk assessment if your premises are required to have a licence, or if the fire brigade has instructed you to have a written assessment carried out – for example, after a visit.
Regardless of whether it is written down, a fire risk assessment must also consist of two parts. The first of those is the review itself, which should assess the fire safety of the building against several points. The second part is a list of the requirements that the “responsible person” should act upon to bring the premises into compliance with fire safety measures.
It is also necessary for every building’s fire risk assessment to be regularly reviewed. It is advisable for this to be done every 12 months after the original assessment is done, with an entirely new assessment being carried out every five years.
So, with all of the above in mind, what are the key steps to carrying out a fire risk assessment, as outlined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)? You may also find it helpful to follow a more structured fire risk assessment checklist when conducting your assessment to make sure you do not miss anything important.
1. Identify the fire hazards
This step entails identifying anything within the building that could be a possible fire hazard. Fire occurs due to heat coming into contact with fuel and oxygen, so you must consider the various ways in which a fire could start in the given premises, and what could burn as a result.
Anything that gets very hot or causes sparks – such as electrical equipment, heaters, lighting or a naked flame – could potentially be a source of ignition. Materials that can burn, meanwhile, range from furniture, packaging and rubbish to paper, paint and petrol.
2. Identify people at risk
Anyone on the premises at the time a fire breaks out is at risk. However, the level of risk may be greater for some occupants than for others.
You may determine that certain occupants would be at greater risk in the event of a fire due to when or where they work – for example, if they are night staff, work in more secluded areas, or work with especially hazardous materials or equipment.
Customers or guests who are unfamiliar with the building, as well as the elderly, children and the disabled, may also be in particular danger if a fire occurs.
3. Evaluate, remove or reduce any potential risks
After completing the above two steps, think carefully about your findings. This evaluation stage will enable you to analyse the risk that particular hazards on your premises might pose to particular people in the building or nearby.
This can be followed by careful consideration of exactly how you might best remove or reduce specific risks. This might include taking action to keep apart any sources of fuel and heat. You may also look to arrange for the installation of fire alarms and fire extinguishers, and plan escape routes.
4. Record your findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training
As we addressed above, there are certain conditions under which your fire risk assessment must take the form of a written record – and it is recommended that this is the case regardless.
This will help you to start setting out your clear and complete plans of what would happen if a fire did break out on your premises; this should be discussed with the other regular occupants of the property. You will then be able to train the occupants in what to do in the event of a fire, including practising a fire drill and recording how it goes. Ultimately, every relevant person must be adequately informed and trained in your plan.
5. Review and update the fire risk assessment regularly
Again as we touched on above, it is crucial to keep your property’s fire risk assessment under regular review. This is especially important because risks may change over time – for example, due to internal or external changes to the building, or altered work practices.
It may therefore be necessary from time to time to reassess your fire risk assessment and fire evacuation plans, inform and retrain staff, and update your records.
The benefits of using software to manage your fire risk assessments
Fire risk management can quickly become quite complex task as the size of the business and premises increases. In such situations, using a fire risk assessment and management software package can make a big difference to your ability to fulfil your fire safety obligations as the “responsible person” arranging to have fire risk assessments carried out and periodically reviewed.
Specialised software such as ACMS UK’s Vision Fire Risk Assessment and Management Module will assist you in carrying out a suitable assessment for the property for which you are responsible.
This particular platform is a powerful online tool with considerable scope for customisation, and the option to download information on your action plan, priority risk areas, findings and evacuation procedures into a hard copy fire risk assessment if needed.
Why not call a specialist advisor from ACMS UK on +44(0) 115 922 0600, or request a callback to find out more about the fire risk assessment and management module within our Vision software?