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ARMS issues reminder of employers' fire risk assessment responsibilities

Although some businesses may not be aware of the fact, all firms operating in the UK are required by law to complete a fire risk assessment*. This places a number of responsibilities on businesses, including the need to appoint a responsible person to carry out fire risk assessments. If a company lacks this expertise in-house, Aviva Risk Management Solutions (ARMS) can assist them to meet their legal requirements, advised Michael Flowers, the insurer's regional risk solutions manager for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Despite legislation making fire risk assessment a legal requirement*, research suggests that many are still unaware of their responsibilities as an employer. Figures from the Fire and Rescue Service's operational statistics bulletin in England show that between 2008 and 2009, 40 per cent of properties inspected were found to be unsatisfactory.

The consequences of failing to complete a fire risk assessment can be serious. The Fire and Rescue Service served 3,200 enforcement notices in 2008-09 to companies which had failed to reach the required level of compliance. There is no limit to the size of fine that can be imposed where failings are identified. Even more concerning than the threat of enforcement action are the potential consequences of a fire which include loss of life, personal injury and property damage.

What does an employer need to do to be compliant?

The responsibilities the legislation has placed on firms varies slightly depending on their size. For instance, businesses which employ fewer than five people must carry out a fire risk assessment, but the law does not require them to document their findings unless the premises are subject to licensing conditions.

However, Michael Flowers said ARMS recommends that all firms document their fire risk assessment, as it could be the only thing standing between them and a large fine. In the event of a blaze, fire and rescue officers would request evidence that a fire risk assessment has been undertaken which may be difficult to provide unless the findings have been written down.

The issue of potential hefty fines is one of the major motivating factors behind employers carrying out a fire risk assessment, Michael Flowers said. He pointed out that new record penalties are being imposed with increasing regularity. One company was hit with a £400,000 fine in November 2009 for fire safety breaches after a fire broke out at one of the London retail properties.

In order to comply with legislation, employers also have the duty of appointing a responsible and sufficiently skilled person to complete their fire risk assessment. Again, ARMS can assist businesses with this matter by appointing one of its qualified professionals to carry out the study and formally document the matter.

Once a fire risk assessment has been finished and documented, some employers may assume that their duties have been met and that they are fully compliant with legislation. However, this is not the case. Michael Flowers explained that there needs to be ongoing management of fire safety with the arrangements in place being reviewed regularly.

Time is not the only factor governing whether or not a review is necessary - any substantial changes to a property will also make a review advisable. For instance, if a business completes a fire risk assessment then builds an extension to its property six months later or purchases new machinery, the original assessment should be reviewed and updated to ensure continuing compliance. ARMS is aware of this need for flexibility and can conduct a review of a fire risk assessment whenever one is necessary.

It is this level of understanding of an employer's needs, as well as the skilled nature of its professional staff, which makes ARMS's fire risk assessment service such good value for money, Michael Flowers commented.

Anyone who wants to find out more about the help which ARMS can provide with fire risk assessments should call 0845 301 60 30 and select option two.

* Relevant Legislation - England and Wales - Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, Scotland - Fire (Scotland) Act 2006, Northern Ireland - The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations (NI) 2001 soon to be superseded by Fire Safety (NI) RegulationsADNFCR-2134-ID-19717907-ADNFCR