Nobody wants to see their hard work or belongings go up in smoke. So, fire safety is critical in any building. And organisations must conduct a risk assessment to protect their employees, visitors and property from the potential devastation of a fire.
But what is a fire risk assessment? According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it’s a vital tool to identify any weaknesses in your fire safety plans and determine how to fix them.
Legal Guidelines for Fire Risk Assessments:
Fire risk assessments are governed by two key pieces of legislation:
- The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (UK) requires a “responsible person” to conduct a fire risk assessment for non-domestic premises and shared areas of residential buildings.
- Local Building Codes: Many councils have building codes that mandate regular fire risk assessments and compliance with specific fire safety
Who is Responsible for Ensuring a Fire Risk Assessment is Completed?
The responsible person must ensure a risk assessment is conducted. This person can be the owner, employer, landlord or anyone with control over the premises.
Suppose the responsible person lacks the time or expertise. In that case, they may delegate the task to another competent individual. But the responsible person is always responsible for ensuring the completion of the risk assessments.
Who Can Conduct a Fire Risk Assessment?
A Fire Risk Assessment must be conducted by a competent person.
Competency can be demonstrated through the following:
- Relevant qualifications
- Experience in fire safety
There is no standard qualification for competence, so it’s up to the responsible person to determine someone’s ability to do the job safely.
While the specific requirements may vary, suitable candidates include:
- Fire safety professionals, including qualified fire safety engineers, consultants or specialists
- Trained personnel – this can be an internal staff member who has received specialised training
Local fire and rescue authorities can also help check if fire risk assessments are accurate or compliant and can offer guidance. However, they cannot complete the risk assessment on the responsible person’s behalf.
What's Evaluated as Part of a Fire Risk Assessment?
Several key elements must be reviewed to evaluate the fire risk of a building, including:
- Identification of fire hazards: Ignition sources, flammable materials, electrical systems, smoking policies and more must be recorded.
- Hazardous substances: Storage, handling, and containment measures must align with safety regulations if hazardous materials are present.
- Fire prevention measures: Fire doors, emergency lighting, fire alarms and firefighting equipment must all be checked regularly and properly maintained.
- Escape routes and evacuation procedures: Adequate evacuation plans must be drawn up for the building.
- Training and staff competence: All staff members must be trained to fulfil their fire safety duties.
How Often Should Fire Risk Assessments be Reviewed?
Effective fire prevention requires constant vigilance and risk assessments are no exception. They should be reviewed periodically to ensure any measures to control or eliminate fire risks are still necessary and effective.
The legislation states that risk assessments must be reviewed ‘regularly’ but does not specify what this means. It’s up to the responsible person to determine when it’s necessary for a review to happen. But generally, fire risk assessments should be reviewed if:
- There has been a near miss or fire emergency
- There has been a significant change to the building (such as occupancy levels or refurbishments)
- There has been a significant change to the type of work conducted on the premises
The Consequences of Failure
Failure to comply with the fire safety guidelines can result in legal consequences, including fines, formal fire safety notices or imprisonment.
After a fire devastated one of its buildings, the property company First Port Limited was found to be in breach of the Fire Safety Order. The company was fined for four offences, which were:
- Failing to make a proper fire risk assessment of the building – £120,000
- Failing to take general fire precautions – £120,000
- Failing to maintain fire precautions – £80,000
- Failing to train staff in fire safety – £40,000
In addition to these fines, one of the building’s residents sadly lost their life due to First Port Limited’s failings. This is just one fatality caused by a dereliction of fire safety duties.
There are around 22,000 workplace fires yearly; thankfully, most don’t end in tragedy. But only through consistent and thorough risk assessments can you be sure your employees or occupants can escape with their lives in an emergency.
Put simply, you cannot afford to get fire safety wrong.
Getting a Copy of the Fire Risk Assessment for Your Building:
According to the HSE, the responsible person should share the results of the risk assessment with you. They should also inform you of any actions taken or planned in response to those findings.
But as a tenant or an employee, you have the right to access the fire risk assessment for your building.
To obtain a copy, you can contact the following:
- The responsible person or building owner/management
- Local fire authority
Understanding Fire Risk Assessments Ensures Safety in Your Building
Up-to-date fire safety plans and thorough risk assessments keep building occupants safe and protect organisations from legal action. They are vital to fire safety.
Our recommended Fire Risk Assessment training course will enhance your knowledge and skills. Trainees can stay safe, stay informed and keep fire risks under control in your organisation or building.