There’s no question that in recent years, the devastating 2017 Grenfell Tower fire has further helped draw attention to the critical importance of fastidious fire safety legislation. The tragedy has seemingly served as a catalyst, for example, for major updates to PAS 79, which helps ensure that all of the necessary information in relation to both fire risk assessments and their findings are recorded.
What is PAS 79 and what does it stand for?
PAS stands for Publicly Available Specification, with PAS 79 outlining a specific way to conduct a fire risk assessment. PAS 79 was first published in 2005, and was subsequently updated in 2007 and 2012. While PAS 79 was not at first a British Standard, it has gone on to be developed and published by the British Standards Institution, or BSI.
It is especially important to note how PAS 79 has evolved down the years, including in response to the housing sector’s request for more specific recommendations. PAS 79:2012 served as generic fire risk assessment guidance, but it has since become PAS 79-1:2020, which is a code of practice for non-housing premises. In addition, there is now a housing-specific section, known as PAS 79-2.
The new standard was published in December 2020, and it is intended that its new structure and status as a code of practice will help ensure greater compliance than the previous PAS 79.
Who does PAS 79 affect?
PAS 79 is essentially aimed at individuals and professionals like fire risk assessors, to help ensure fire risk assessments are carried out in a manner that complies with a reputable methodology. This, in turn, is key to making sure a comprehensive report is produced, covering all of the bases of fire safety.
Ultimately, anyone whose role gives them responsibility for complying with fire safety legislation and code of practice – potentially including not only fire risk assessors, but also property landlords and relevant figures at local authorities – should make sure they are fully informed about PAS 79:2020. Both PAS 79-1 and PAS 79-2 are available for download from the BSI.
Although PAS 79 might not represent the most suitable methodology in every circumstance, it has consistently been found to be useful for all building sizes and in many different types of premises, such as shops, offices, schools, hospitals, hotels, warehouses, and many more.
Steve Aldridge, MD of ACMS UK has many years’ experience working in the fire risk and compliance industry. The advice he offers fire risk assessors is simple yet powerful. He said, “As with most compliance issues, there are good, bad and indifferent risk assessments undertaken. A lot of this is down to the training of the fire risk assessor; undertaking and passing a course is only the starting point.”
He went on to say, “I always tell our assessors to assess the risk as if it were your own family living there or undertaking any works there. I find that this personalises the risk assessment, whether it be fire, asbestos or legionella, would you let your nearest and dearest live or work there? I find if we can instil this mindset into the assessors, they look at the task with the correct perspective – will my assessment help save lives in the event of an incident? Be thorough, dig deep and do not deliver a report that the client wants to see, deliver an assessment that provides the facts along with the potential solutions, because if you only deliver the findings without the solutions, you potentially add to the problem!”
Steps for carrying out a thorough fire risk assessment
PAS 79 sets out nine specific steps for conducting an all-encompassing fire risk assessment, including:
- Obtaining information and data about the building. This should include details on the processes carried out in the structure, and the people either present or likely to be present.
- Identifying fire hazards and means for their control and elimination. Carefully consider the circumstances in which heat, fuel and oxygen could conceivably combine on your premises to cause a fire. Then, think about how you could remove or minimise those risks.
- Assessing the likelihood of any fire. While a fire can break out anywhere sources of ignition and fuel have the potential to come together, there may be certain buildings – and certain areas of those buildings – where fire is a particularly great risk.
- Determining any fire protection measures present. Certain fire safety practices are likely to be evident on the premises already, such as a fire detection and warning system, equipment for tackling small fires like fire extinguishers, and measures to keep flammable materials away from possible ignition sources.
- Obtaining related information regarding fire safety management. What other steps – such as fire drills – have been put in place, or may need to be put in place, to ensure the risk of fire in the building is managed responsibly?
- Assessing the most likely repercussions for individuals if a fire happens. The aforementioned two steps will aid you in considering the level of threat to individuals using the premises in the event of a fire. Factors like the number of people usually on the site, how familiar they are with the building, and their mobility will all impact on the likely consequences of a fire for individuals.
- Assessing overall fire risk. Likelihood and severity combine to create the overall level of fire risk in a given building. By this, we mean the likelihood of a fire occurring as a result of a fire hazard, and the extent and severity of the damage that could occur if a fire does break out.
- Formulating and documenting an action plan. By now, you should have identified what’s good about the current fire safety management at your premises, and what could be improved. This should leave you better informed to devise a plan to address any shortcomings and carry out periodic reviews of your fire risk assessment.
- Setting a fire risk assessment review date. It will be necessary to review your fire risk assessment regularly, and keep it up to date. You should also be looking again at your fire risk assessment whenever there has been a major change to the fire risk on the premises – for example, if there has been a change in working practices, or modifications to the inside or outside of the building.
How software can help you manage your fire risk responsibly
Steps that individuals and organisations can take to help improve how they manage their fire risk responsibilities include implementing appropriate control measures, nominating employees to put in place such measures, and ensuring these employees receive adequate training and equipment.
Another measure for managing the risk of fire at your premises more effectively, is investing in a suitably specialised software solution. The right software doesn’t have to be expensive but it does have to ensure compliance.
ACMS UK’s own Vision risk and compliance management software, is ideal for helping any organisation, large or small manage every aspect, from assessment to implementation, scheduled inspections to planned or unplanned maintenance.
An appropriately comprehensive and tailored platform for managing fire risk responsibilities is an important weapon in your armoury, enabling you to more easily devise an action plan, identify significant findings from risk assessments, and even upload evacuation procedures.
These are all benefits potentially available to users of the Vision fire risk management module, which is also easily accessible for every user, whether they are a fire risk assessor, property manager, landlord or someone else responsible for helping to manage fire risk on given premises.
For a more detailed discussion of how the fire risk assessment and management module contained within Vision could greatly help your efforts to comply with PAS 79 and maximise fire safety on your site, please don’t hesitate to call to the ACMS UK team.