Home Office figures show that around 26,000 fires occur in commercial premises every year in England alone. These incidents can cause damage to property, business interruption, harm to individuals and in the very worst cases can lead to fatalities. Something as mundane as a worn cable can trigger a fire, so as an organisation it’s essential you conduct a comprehensive fire risk assessment.
A fire risk assessment is a systematic appraisal of your workplace that identifies all potential fire hazards and risks to people and property and provides a starting point for planning on how to control the risks.
A fire risk assessment should form the core of your organisation’s fire safety plan and inform your organisation’s fire safety policy and procedures.
Having a current fire risk assessment enables you to better protect your employees, your neighbours and customers from fire. It also protects your premises, and with insurers paying out a yearly £1.3 billion for fire damages, an Fire risk assessment could help you avoid significant financial challenges. The repair costs for businesses following major fire incidents was an average of £657,074 where the loss was greater than £100,000 according to research by the Fire Protection Association. By identifying risks and ensuring your organisation has all the necessary controls in place, you could be helping safeguard the health of your workforce and the viability of your organisation by preventing fires occurring and managing any adverse events better.
What is a fire risk assessment?
A fire risk assessment is a structured observation and inspection of the workplace, including premises, policies and employees from a fire prevention point of view. It identifies existing and potential fire hazards and rates them in terms of severity. Its primary aim is to increase the safety of your employees and your organisation’s fire safety management as a whole. It should be conducted by a competent risk assessor and registered as a fire assessor with an organisation such as the Institute of Fire Safety Managers.
A practical fire risk assessment can be broken down into five primary steps:
- Identify all existing or potential fire hazards such as sources of fuel, ignition or fire route obstructions.
- Identify all employees who may be at risk.
- Evaluate, remove or reduce the identified risks.
- Record your findings, prepare an emergency plan and initiate employee training.
- Review and update the fire risk assessment on a regular basis.
Fire risk assessment – legal requirements
Under the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 (RRFSO), it is a legal requirement for any non-domestic premises to hold an up-to-date fire risk assessment (FRA) in England and Wales.
In Scotland, the main rules are covered by the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006. In Northern Ireland, it’s the Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010.
Failure to have a current fire risk assessment in place could result in a fine of up £25,000 or in cases of extreme negligence – a prison sentence. Fire safety law is enforced by your local fire and rescue authority and your local council and your fire risk assessment will be investigated during any government body inspection.
Who is responsible for completing a fire risk assessment?
Under the legislation, a ‘responsible person’ is responsible for undertaking suitable and sufficient fire risk assessments and ensure organisational compliance with all government fire safety regulations. A competent fire risk assessor appointed by the responsible person must carry out the assessment.
While your organisation may require a designated fire warden, undertaking fire risk assessment is not part of their role unless they are competent. They are responsible for assisting with the safe evacuation of the building.
A fire risk assessment should be reviewed regularly and the frequency is normally every 12 months but in any event, where there are changes to the premises or there have been any fire incidents.
What is reviewed during a fire risk assessment?
During your assessment, the competent fire risk assessor will identify potential sources of ignition, combustion and fire hazards.
A fire hazard is classified as anything that has the potential in the form of an action, material or condition that might increase the size or severity of a fire, that might increase the risk of a fire starting or may increase the impact of a fire. This is why conditions such as poor housekeeping and disposal of waste and changes to the layout of premises are matters that are assessed and recommendations prioritised within the fire risk assessment output report.
The fire risk assessment will also examine factors such as building materials and an organisation’s susceptibility for arson which remains the most significant cause of workplace fires. Each assessment’s level of detail will vary depending upon the building use, processes undertaken there, complexity in terms of layout and the number of employees, but all assessments should check the following factors:
- Existing fire safety management arrangements
- Security arrangement to prevent and guards against arson.
- The configuration and maintenance of fire evacuation routes.
- Storage arrangements for any flammable and dangerous liquids.
- General housekeeping and key areas are being kept clear of any combustible materials.
- Emergency lighting has been properly installed and is in good working order.
- Measures are in place for limiting fire spread.
- Fire safety devices such as smoke detectors and sprinklers are properly installed and maintained.
- The relevant fire extinguishers are in their correct locations and employees have been trained in their use.
- The efficacy of the organisation’s fire safety plan and evacuation procedure.
- Whether the organisation is holding fire drills at least bi-annually as required by law.
- Whether the organisation is providing fire safety training to its employees.
- Electrical device testing procedures and maintenance.
- Electrical equipment on the site that could be a potential source of ignition.
- Protection against fires that are caused by lighting elements.
- The building’s construction, layout and use.
- Defence against arson.
- The nature and number of occupants, including any potentially vulnerable occupants.
- Whether the building has a history of any fire loss.
- The condition of the smoking areas and measures taken to prevent fires caused by smoking.
- Installed and portable heating devices that can trigger fires.
- Any fire hazards introduced by outside contractors.
- Adequate means are in place to raise the alarm in the event of a fire.
- Proper records and documentation are being kept on fire safety measures.
- Who manages the building’s fire safety and how well it is achieved.
- Accurate records and documentation are being held on fire safety measures, such as a fire alarm test log.
Who can carry out a fire risk assessment?
Legislation in England and Wales and also Scotland specifies that a fire risk assessment must be undertaken by a competent person. This is defined as someone with suitable training, knowledge of the subject and experience of conducting fire risk assessments. For this reason, we strongly advise that a fire risk assessment be carried out by a registered fire safety practioner.