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What is a fire risk assessment?

A fire risk assessment (FRA) is the process of identifying and evaluating the risks in a property that could cause a fire and the consequences if a fire was to start. An FRA helps property and business owners mitigate fire risks by improving their premises and the way they are used. This minimises the probability of a fire, improves evacuation planning and protects employees, residents or occupants from injury or death,

Why is a fire risk assessment important?

According to the UK Government, in 2019 the UK’s fire and rescue services attended 163,039 incidents that involved a fire. That same year, 252 fire-related fatalities were recorded compared with 251 in the previous year. Although there has been a general decline in the number of incidents attended since 2004, fire continues to injure and kill people every year. A fire risk assessment is a vital part of protecting life so fatality statistics continue to decline.

Does fire safety legislation differ across the UK?

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 covers England and Wales. Scotland is covered by the Fire Scotland Act 2005 and The Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006. Northern Ireland is covered by The Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and The Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010.

We have written this article based on the legislation covering England and Wales. Fire safety rules do differ in Scotland and Northern Ireland so we encourage you to visit their respective pages if you require specific information for those regions.

What properties require a fire risk assessment?

All properties require a fire risk assessment with the exception of domestic properties classed as private single dwellings and other types of specialist commercial premises such as offshore installations.

Shops, gyms, restaurants, offices, warehouses, hotels, factories and the communal areas in residential flats are common examples of buildings that legally require a fire risk assessment.

Who carries out a fire risk assessment?

A responsible person is required to carry out the fire risk assessment. This is either the:

  • employer if the assessment is in relation to a workplace that is under their control;
  • person who has control of the premises such as a business manager, occupier or building manager;
  • property owner if the person who has control of the premises does not have control of the undertakings in the property such as a business or trade.

You may wish to consider hiring a professional fire risk assessor.

How is a fire risk assessment carried out?

The nominated responsible person must carry out a suitable assessment to:

  1. identify the risks associated with fires, which are called fire hazards;
  2. identify all relevant people in the premises who are at risk and their requirements;
  3. what risks have been evaluated, removed or reduced by the responsible person to comply with applicable fire safety legislation;
  4. record findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training;
  5. review and update the fire risk assessment regularly.

The government has published a checklist that follows these five steps.

What are examples of fire hazards?

The risks associated with fire are generally determined by the building layout, what is contained inside the building and who occupies it. Common fire hazards include:

  • electrical equipment and lighting;
  • heating devices and equipment;
  • oil or gas burning equipment such as boilers and cookers;
  • combustible materials;
  • hazards introduced by visiting occupants such as contractors;
  • maintenance standards;
  • fire alarm system coverage, status, maintenance and testing;
  • the provision of fire safety signage;
  • evacuation routes, emergency exits and drill frequency;
  • the provision of fire safety equipment such as extinguishers;
  • a clear hierarchy of those responsible for fire safety;
  • the provision of information to employees or occupants;
  • appropriate record and documentation management; and
  • other interdependencies such as the procedures enforced by property owners.

Extra precautions will be required for specific risks such as if the premises contains hazardous substances.

What are examples of fire risk management?

Once the fire risks have been identified and their impact evaluated, the assessment should present a clear course of action to take in order to meet compliance requirements. These actions are called the principles of prevention and can involve:

  • avoiding risks or mitigating them at their source;
  • evaluating the management of risks that can’t be avoided;
  • replacing the dangerous with the danger-free or less dangerous; and
  • prioritising collective protective measures over individual ones.

The risks associated with fire hazards will affect different people in specific ways such as young or disabled persons. All of this must be factored into the fire risk assessment.

New employees or occupants must be trained to ensure they understand how to follow emergency plans. The system of training must also adapt to new risks that may arise such as changes to the building layout, new work equipment or a new person responsible for fire safety.

Training programs develop in tandem with risk assessments and it’s important your training is repeated periodically much like your fire drills.

How is a fire risk assessment reported?

The findings of the assessment must be documented if there are five or more regular occupants in the premises. For example, a small hairdresser that employs two workers would still require a fire assessment that is communicated verbally to all employees. There are exceptions where premises with less than five occupants would require a written assessment such as receiving instructions from the local fire regulation authority after a visit or the premises requires a licence.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ template for fire risk assessments, they are all unique; however, there are guidance documents for different types of businesses available from the government.

When am I due for re-assessment?

All fire risk assessments are unique; therefore, there is no set period for review and re-assessment. This is dependent on the premises, its occupants, and how they both change over time. Reasons for reviewing and updating a fire risk assessment include:

  • changing the layout of the premises;
  • deploying new work equipment or processes;
  • considerably changing the quantity of stock;
  • introducing or changing the quantity of hazardous substances;
  • hiring a new employee who has disabled requirements or special needs;
  • experiencing a near miss with a fire; and
  • identifying vulnerabilities with your current fire safety measures and principles of prevention.

Who enforces the fire safety order?

Local fire and rescue authorities enforce fire safety standards for all premises in their jurisdiction that must comply with the fire safety order. For example, our offices are based near Cannock so our local authority is Staffordshire Fire & Rescue.

There are exceptions such as:

  • the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who are responsible for construction sites and premises requiring specific licences such as nuclear installations;
  • local authorities who are responsible for sports grounds, stands and stadiums;
  • the fire service maintained by the Secretary of State for Defense who is responsible for military premises; and
  • the fire inspector authorised by the Secretary of State who is responsible for premises owned or occupied by the Crown.

Can I be inspected?

Your local fire and rescue authority can visit your premises to check your fire risk assessment and prevention measures are compliant. They can serve notices for different infractions depending on the level of severity. The penalty for non-compliance with a notice ranges from fines to prison sentences. It’s really not worth letting your premises fall into a state that does not comply with fire safety legislation.

Can I hire a professional fire risk assessor?

Yes, you can fire a professional fire risk assessor to help you with your assessment. Reasons for hiring a professional include:

  • the responsible person does not have the expertise or time to carry out the assessment;
  • you are worried that your current fire risk assessment is not compliant; and
  • you have been served with a notice and require immediate support.

It’s worth noting that fire and rescue authorities cannot carry out a fire risk assessment for you. If you do require professional help, consider using an experienced provider such as S2 Fire Solutions. We are BAFE approved for fire alarms with years of experience delivering fire risk assessments for all types of premises.

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