Fire risk assessments could save your business from disaster

Fire risk assessments could save your business from disaster

Fire safety risks increase as firms gearing up for the Christmas rush and holiday shutdowns neglect to modify their fire risk assessments to suit. The Fire and Safety Centre highlights the dangers, and offers fire prevention advice and guidance for a business continuity plan.

Few who saw the inferno consuming the furniture shop on Reeves Corner in Croydon during the London riots in August 2011 will never forget it – or the expressions on the faces of the family who owned it, shown live whilst watching the events played back on TV the following evening.

Their anguish was plain to see. A 140-year-old business was destroyed in less than 140 minutes. But in the aftermath of the fire, the Reeves family became part of a more fortunate minority. After a devastating fire, they are back in business today, in the same spot in Croydon. Only one in five firms achieves that. The other four never make it; this is why effective fire prevention and fire protection is so important.

Fire safety fact: four out of five firms never recover after a fire

Christmas is the time your business is at most significant risk from fire – and that’s why the Chief Fire Officers’ Association is promoting a fire-themed UK Business Safety Week from Monday December 8th to Sunday December 14th. This is the time, they say, when you may have more stock than usual and seasonal staff on site to help process and deliver orders. Or the opposite may be true, and you may be preparing for a shutdown, when the premises will be left empty for longer than at any other time in the year.

All of those factors mean that the fire risk assessments you’ve done throughout the year are unlikely to be fit for purpose, because circumstances have changed. You’ve taken your eye off the fire safety ball, and it’ll stay that way until into the New Year and beyond, when life returns to normal – unless you implement revised ones for effective fire risk management.

How to complete a Fire Risk Assessment

Fire risk assessments are required by these laws:

• The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales
• Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act

The starting point for an effective fire risk assessment under this legislation is to have a working knowledge of fire prevention, because these laws have a broader scope the than the legislation they replace. The old laws were about keeping people safe if a fire broke out. The new ones are about preventing a fire from starting in the first place. This fire prevention guide on our advice pages gives pointers not only to the letter of the law, but also makes suggestions about good practice that you’ll find useful.

Fire safety fact: you could be responsible

Who should do fire risk assessments in your premises? The law says these must be done by ‘responsible persons’, who will usually be:

• employers
• building owners
• building occupiers

If you’re a responsible person, you must:Business Safety Week photo on Fire Safety and Fire Risk Assessments

• carry out a fire risk assessment of the premises and review it regularly
• tell staff or their representatives about the risks you’ve identified
• put in place, and maintain, appropriate fire safety measures
• plan for an emergency
• provide staff information, fire safety instruction and training

That’s just a high-level view. At the Fire and Safety Centre we offer much more detail about the legislation around fire risk assessments, and how it might affect you, in our advice pages.

What you need to do next

Fire safety management might appear to be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Treated like any other management task, and broken down into manageable pieces, it’s relatively straightforward. Many requirements of the legislation concern fire risk management responsibilities. There’s a general duty to manage fire safety properly, while Fire Inspection Officers, in ‘policing’ the legislation, will consider the standard of fire safety management along with the physical precautions. We offer a fire safety management 10-point guide to the key elements in managing fire safety in any building, which we’re sure you’ll find helpful.

Business continuity plan

Having completed all of that successfully, you’re far less likely to be a victim of fire, and therefore less likely to need a business continuity plan – but you should still have one. At its most basic level, it’s about knowing what you can’t afford to lose from your business, and working out your response to not having it any more.

Identify:

• key products and services
• resources you need to deliver them
• what risks you face
• how you’ll sustain critical activities if you lose those resources

Often business interruption is caused by things outside your control. The trick is to prepare the solution to those eventualities, and therefore bring them under your control. The government offers a detailed business continuity management tool kit. Follow it, and like the Reeves family in Croydon, yours will be one of the ‘one in five’ companies that can rebuild after the worst happens.

Picture: Martin Stitchener via Flickr Creative Commons.

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