Fire Risk Assessments (FRA) form the bedrock of your fire safety strategy. If you’re new to fire safety, the first thing you should arrange is your FRA. From there, you’ll have all the advice you need on how to stay safe and on the right side of the law.
In this blog, we’ll look at what the Fire Risk Assessment involves and the areas of fire safety it covers. It really is the foundations upon which fire safety is constructed. Check today to ensure that you have a FRA and it’s up to date. However, it’s also worth verifying that the assessor you’ve used is competent as this is your responsibility. In the event of a fire, if you were investigated, it’s not sufficient to simply say that you carried out our FRA; you must also be able to prove that you took the necessary steps to check that your assessor was competent. We’ll explain what that means in more detail later.
What is a Fire Risk Assessment?
It’s a visual inspection of your building and the people who use it, aimed to evaluate fire risk and devise strategies and actions to mitigate those risks.
Once your FRA is completed, you’ll be expected to follow the assessor’s recommendations. This will include updates to building safety (which incidentally, should also confirm to current building regulations).
In England and Wales, the FRA is covered by legislation known as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The RRO applies to nearly all buildings except for individual family homes. So, if you’re a building owner, manager or employer, under the RRO, you’re designated as the ‘responsible person’, with a duty of care to everyone using your building. This duty of care extends to fire safety.
The RRO says that you must have a FRA and if you have more than five employees, it must be kept as a written record with a copy on your premises.
Is a Fire Risk Assessment really necessary?
Legal obligations aside, some businesses do resent the need for a FRA, which they view as an expensive piece of paper. But this misses the point.
Fires are devastating, especially to business continuity. Bear in mind that the majority of businesses fail to recover after a major fire. Carrying out a FRA puts you in the strongest possible position to pick up the pieces after such an event.
Who can carry out a Fire Risk Assessment?
Can I do it myself? Certainly, for small businesses, this is a common question. The answer, as with most fire-safety related questions, is ‘maybe’.
The law doesn’t stipulate who can and can’t conduct a FRA; all it says is that the assessor must be ‘competent’. The law also doesn’t define competency (which should cover training, skills and expertise), but that’s not to say there’s no guidance available.
You’re not expected to be a fire expert, so as long as you’ve taken reasonable steps to establish someone’s competency (or your own), you’ll be safe from scrutiny. Reasonable steps might include:
Asking for references of their previous work directly from their customers
Using someone with third party accreditation or certification
Talking to a respected fire safety supplier or using someone they recommend
Consulting a voluntary register of risk assessors
What does a Fire Risk Assessment cover?
The FRA covers five main aspects of fire safety (and the responsible person takes automatic ownership for all five):
1. Identify fire hazards present in the building
2. Identify people who may be at risk during a fire
3. Evaluate, remove or reduce the risks
4. Record findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training
5. Review and update the FRA regularly
Let’s think about fire hazards. What might you encounter?
Fires require three elements to start and thrive: heat (or source of ignition), fuel (or anything flammable) and oxygen (air). What heat sources and fuel sources co-exist in your building? Kitchens are the obvious answer, but there may be other vulnerable spots.
Flammable items include paper and cardboard which are present in most buildings regardless of their use. Equipment used in factories can become hot (such as grinding machines) releasing sparks and starting a fire.
A good fire risk assessor will view everything through the lens of fire safety and make recommendations for mitigating any risk, however small.
Who is at risk?
Your fire risk assessor will be interested in anyone who uses your building. Certain groups may be more at risk because of when they work (e.g. night shifts), how they work (e.g. machinery they operate), or if they are unfamiliar with your building (e.g. visitors).
Vulnerable groups are also of particular interest such as children, disabled people and the elderly as they invariably need assistance during an emergency.
Evaluate, remove or reduce risks
A competent assessor should evaluate everything they’ve seen during their inspection of your building. This allows them to check whether these risks can be removed or, if not, reduced as far as possible.
While it’s acknowledged that some risks can never be completely removed, the assessor will also want to verify that you have a robust fire safety strategy in place should fire break out.
2. Fire doors: these are installed to act as barriers which protect people from smoke and fire. If your fire doors are inadequate or poorly maintained, your risk assessor will expect you to remedy this. Your assessor will also be looking for signs of misuse, such as doors propped open.
3. Fire extinguishers: imagine being trapped in a burning building with only a fire extinguisher to hand. You try to use it, but to no avail… it’s faulty. Believe it or not, this does happen. Don’t fall foul to the common mistake of choosing the cheapest extinguishers on the market in the belief that you’ll probably never need to use one. Your assessor will guide you on where to position your fire extinguishers and how to clearly signpost them to building users.
4. Fire safety signage: not just used for extinguishers, good signage is critical during an evacuation. Remember, a calm, peaceful space feels very different when filled with smoke and panicked people. Make sure your signs are clearly visible and easy to follow. Fire safety signs should always lead people to the nearest exit and assembly point.
5. AOVs: smoke ventilation systems are an important part of fire safety but with relatively few experts in the field, they can be overlooked when it comes to the Fire Risk Assessment. We are experts in both fire safety and smoke ventilation systems so our assessments will always check your AOVs and report back to you with recommendations for improvement.
It’s important that you can demonstrate your due diligence to anyone in authority who may ask. Spot checks by local fire brigades or the local authority can shine a light on those who are not compliant with the law.
It’s wise to document all your Fire Risk Assessments and keep them in a safe place. Make sure your most recent (and up to date) assessment is on hand should you need it.
Prepare an emergency plan and training
Acting upon recommendations made by your fire risk assessor is as important as commissioning an assessment. If your staff are untrained and you do not have a designated fire warden, you’ll most certainly be required to organise appropriate training.
You should also be emergency-proofed, that is, if fire breaks out, you have a plan in place to evacuate everyone in your building safely. Briefing those who need to know of this plan is also crucial.
Update the FRA regularly
Finally, remember that your Fire Risk Assessment should be reviewed ‘regularly’. The law doesn’t specify because it would be impossible to set rigid timelines for everyone. All buildings and businesses operate differently and the law acknowledges this. That said, some do take this to extremes and fail to update their Fire Risk Assessment for long periods of time.
The spirit of the law is that everyone takes responsibility for making sensible decisions about fire safety. We would recommend that you always update your assessment if a significant change has taken place in your business, e.g. someone with a disability has been hired, building layout has changed or the nature of your business is now different.