Legislation – Fire Risk Assessments

In essence a fire risk assessment is a methodical, structured examination of the risk to the buildings occupants from fire, taking into account the fire hazards, the means by which the fire hazards are to be controlled and the arrangements for protecting people from any fire, including an assessment of both the physical structures and managerial systems.

The new Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) requires that a fire risk assessment be carried out by the “Responsible Person” in virtually all non domestic premises.
As a broad reference this applies if you are:
– responsible for business premises
– an employer or self-employed with business premises
– responsible for a part of a dwelling where that part is solely used for business purposes
– a charity or voluntary organisation
– a contractor with a degree of control over any premises
– providing accommodation for paying guests

Businesses employing more than 5 people also have a responsibility to record the substantive findings and resulting actions identified and taken as a consequence of the Assessment. This legally enforceable requirement is imposed on both the “Responsible Person” and or any other person deemed as having control over part of the premises. Each needs to carry out their own fire risk assessment.

The following seeks to explain in greater detail what comprises a fire risk assessment, its purpose and benefits.

The fire risk assessment forms a template for ongoing fire safety planning within the premises. The Fire Safety Order requires adequacy in respect of the “preventive and protective” measures, which translates to the general fire precautions (means of escape, emergency escape lighting, signs, fire warning systems, fire extinguishers, training of staff, maintenance of equipment, etc) identified as necessary by the fire risk assessment.

The  fire risk assessment arises logically from the identification of fire risk, which is a combination of the fire hazard and the potential harm that can occur to people if fire occurs. This is a major distinction between fire risk assessments, which underpin compliance with the Fire Safety Order, and fire certificates previously required under the Fire Precaution Act. The requirements of the Fire Precautions Act, and hence those set out in the fire certificate, were intended solely to prevent harm to people if fire occurred. A fire risk assessment is a more holistic process, by which not only is there consideration of the measures required to protect people in the event of fire, but also the measures to ensure the likelihood of a fire is minimized.

The Fire Safety Order requires that the fire risk assessment is suitable and sufficient. How is this defined?

The term “suitable and sufficient” is not actually defined in the Fire Safety Order but following the stated provisions provides a working template. Except for small companies (employing less than five persons), there is a requirement for the “significant findings” of the assessment to be documented. This should include everything that the fire risk assessor has taken into account in making his assessment, for example the nature and size of the premises, the processes carried out, the hazards present, the people at risk, the fire protection measures and the management systems and procedures for fire safety. It is also a specific requirement that people “especially at risk” are recorded; this will include disabled people, young persons, possibly those who sleep on the premises, etc.

Having established this background information, the fire hazards (ignition sources and situations and processes that could cause a fire) need to be identified; the appropriate counter-measures for control of the hazards and actions to minimise fire risks also need to be identified and recorded. Typically fire doors, alarms, fire extinguishers and signage. Thereafter, there needs to be consideration of any ommissions in the provision of adequate fire protection measures.

An important part of any suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment is the examination of fire safety management. Thus, the risk assessment will consider matters such as fire procedures and fire drills, arrangements for assisting occupants (including disabled people) to evacuate, arrangements for inspection, testing and servicing of the fire extinguishers and other fire control equipment, and the quality of documentation.

The outcome of the “suitable and sufficient” fire risk assessment is not just a formal record of what exists. The most important outcome is a coherent action plan detailing the preventative and fire control actions that need to be taken. It is on the quality of the action plan and the quality of its implementation and control that the safety of people in the building will ultimately rely.