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Fire risk assessments: A guide

Fire safety in the workplace, or any commercial building, begins with a fire risk assessment. Also known as the ‘responsible person’, you’re accountable for fire safety and protection of property and people if you’re an employer, owner, landlord, occupier or in control of the premises.

Here, we take a look at the requirements of a fire risk assessment and consider what you need to do to be legally compliant.

What is a fire risk assessment?

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, it’s the legal duty of the responsible person to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of fire and ensure people can safely escape the building in the event of a fire. Your first action must be to carry out a fire risk assessment of the premises. This detailed review involves a physical inspection of the building to assess the competency of existing fire precautions and whether any additional measures are required. A fire risk assessment must be carried out by the responsible person or another person they deem competent and should take into consideration everyone who might be on the premises at the time of a fire. The fire risk assessment must be written down if your business has five or more regular occupants in the building. However, it’s always recommended the findings are written down no matter how many employees you have – for communication purposes and to ensure required actions are clear and carried out.

Where to start with a fire safety risk assessment

As part of your fire risk assessment, you must:

Identify fire hazards

A fire needs three things to ignite – heat, fuel and oxygen. You need to ensure sources of ignition and fuel are kept apart. Think about how fires could start in your work setting and what could burn easily. For example, papers, packaging, rubbish all pose fire risks just as petrol, paint and varnish do. Identify sources of oxygen too – air conditioning or commercial oxygen supplies, for example.

• Identify people at risk

Everyone who uses the building is at risk in the event of a fire. However, the risk assessment should provide evidence of thought given to those particularly at risk, including: people who work near to fire hazards or those not familiar with the building (visitors). Children, elderly and disabled people may also be vulnerable.

• Evaluate, remove and reduce the risk

Consider the findings from the previous steps and evaluate how you can remove or reduce those risks, as well as further protect premises and people. For example, you may reconsider smoking policies, separate flammable materials from sources of ignition or take steps to protect against arson or accidental fire. You must then decide on further measures to provide a reasonable level of fire safety. General fire precautions include installing a suitable fire detection and warning system and the means and equipment to tackle small fires ie the correct fire extinguishers for the premises. You must also consider here all safe and clear routes for people to exit the building. Don’t underestimate the importance of signage in an emergency. Fire extinguishers, escape routes and fire doors must be clearly signposted and leave people in no doubt as to any actions required of them in the event of a fire.

• Record, plan, instruct and inform

For businesses with more than five employees, it’s a legal requirement to document all findings of the fire risk assessment. However, every business should keep a record to keep in line with best practice and take peace of mind that all fire safety information is well-communicated. The result of the assessment must be a clear plan of how to prevent fire and how you will ensure people are kept safe in the event of a fire. Finally, it’s vital your staff are clear on what to do in case of a fire and training should be given where relevant (for example for fire marshals).

• Review

Your fire risk assessment should be kept up to date and reviewed regularly. It should be re-examined every time there is a significant change to the level of risk in the building. For example, if there’s been any changes made to the inside or outside of the building or if working practices have changed.

Once reviewed, it should be communicated to staff once more and further training given.

The risks of not complying

Your local fire and rescue authority is responsible for enforcing fire safety legalisation. It will visit your premises to check the fire risk assessment and ensure all appropriate fire prevention measures are in place. However, the authority can take action if you’re not compliant with legislation or have inadequate fire safety measures. An informal notice suggesting improvements is usually the first step. For more serious breaches where there’s deemed to be risk to life, the fire authority can issue a notice restricting use of part or all of the building.

Need more information about fire risk assessments? Download our handy guide or head over to the government’s assessment guides for details regarding specific premises.

The content of the CheckFire blog is for general information purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure accuracy at the time of publication, under no circumstances should it be considered professional advice. Any reliance you place on the information is at your own risk. Always seek the advice of a fire professional for your particular circumstances and requirements.
  • by Toria Jones

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