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What makes a good fire risk assessment?

Every year there are a number of serious fires at business premises in the UK. The cost of blazes, whether started by accident or begun deliberately, is significant.

Fires cost lives, cause injury and cause serious damage to buildings and property. In the construction sector, for example, there are around 11 construction site fires every day in the UK, costing the industry an estimated £400 million a year – or over £1 million a day. (Source: HSE).

Yet it is the case that many fires are preventable and can be avoided by duty holders with responsibility for implementing fire safety strategies.

This feature considers what constitutes an effective fire risk assessment and points those taking on fire health and safety responsibility in the direction of useful documents and guidance.

In 2006 existing fire safety law was altogether replaced with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (known as RRFSO).

This legislation did away with the need for firms to hold fire certificates and instead advocates a risk-based approach to fire safety in community, industrial and business premises.

RRFSO requires a responsible person (usually the employer, owner or occupier) to carry out a fire safety risk assessment (FRA) and implement appropriate fire precautionary and protection measures and to maintain a fire management plan.

Core documents that should be the first port of call for any firm or organisation taking on FRA responsibility are the Fire Safety Guides, written by Fire and Rescue Services and published by the government.

The guides define a FRA as "an organised and methodical look at your premises, the activities carried on there and the likelihood that a fire could start and cause harm to those in and around the premises".

There are 11 published fire safety guides in total, ranging from offices and shops to residential care premises and theatres and cinemas.

Duty holders should select a guide (or guides) most relevant to them. The guides are available to order or download for free.

The documents broadly set out a five-step approach that is easy to follow.

The first step is to identify hazards. All potential sources of ignition, fuel and oxygen must be identified. It is crucial that the two most common sources of ignition – arson and electricity – are included.

Note that if premises contain higher than nominal amounts of flammable substances then a more intricate FRA will be required under the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere (DSEAR) Regulations.

The next move is to identify people at risk. Obviously, this will include employees and other people who occupy the building on a daily basis. But it also refers to people who may be present on-site on an intermittent basis, such as visitors.

It is also important that people who could be deemed particularly "at risk", such as lone workers, those unfamiliar with the premises and people with language difficulties, are given special consideration under the FRA.

Now that potential hazards and people at risk have been identified, think about how to evaluate, remove, reduce and protect.

Consider the risk of a fire starting on your premises and the risk to people if it does. Factors that will influence fire risk chiefly depend on the number of sources on-site that would be liable to ignition – and how well these risks are controlled (think about the management arrangements you have in place – like fire alarms and training programmes).

After an appraisal of possible sources of fire, consider how they could be removed or reduced.
Reduction techniques would include having electrical installations regularly tested by competent contractors or reducing the quantity of fuel, such as cardboard, held on site. Protecting people from the effects of fire can be achieved in many ways such as the provision of fire alarms to give occupants early warning, a sufficient number of clear and unobstructed escape routes with clear signage and emergency lighting.

Next, inform, instruct, train and record. It is crucial that your staff are informed about the risk assessment and any risks that have been identified as a result of it.

Implement appropriate training sessions, a formal emergency and evacuation plan and consider appointing Fire Marshals – they will need to be trained to know what to do in the event of a fire.

Also, factor in people who may be on-site infrequently, like contractors and visitors – think about how you will communicate fire safety procedures to them.

Finally, review. Ensure the FRA is. If there are specific, tangible changes to your business – like taking on more staff – it will be necessary to review the assessment in light of these new factors.

In the absence of any changes, review the assessment periodically, say once a year.

It may be the case that as part of your FRA you find the safety and health strategies you have in place to manage fire risk are insufficient – this will allow you to identify what further action must then be taken.

Whilst there is plenty of guidance available it is also important to recognise your limitations and in particular when to call in expert assistance and guidance. Your local fire officer or an independent fire consultant can provide professional advice.

To think about: more and more emphasis is now being placed on BS9999:2008 Code of practice for fire safety in the design, management and use of buildings when completing FRAs. This is becoming a prominent tool for the undertaking of assessments and is worth reading.

How Aviva Risk Management Solutions Limited can help

Aviva Risk Management Solutions have a specialist team of health and safety consultants and can provide training for you or your employees on how to undertake a fire risk assessment, training for fire marshals or they can undertake a fire risk assessment for you. For further information contact our sales team on 0500 559977 or visit