The Fire Safety Order requires a fire risk assessment to be carried out in most buildings with few exceptions but what is a fire risk assessment, can you carry out your own assessment or do you need a fire safety specialist to do it for you?
What is a fire risk assessment?
A fire risk assessment is a written document that looks at the safety of your premises and the people in it in the event of a fire. It doesn’t stop a fire occurring, nor does it prevent people getting injured but it is intended to reduce the risk (to an acceptable level) of either of these two things happening. It is a methodical look at the way you run your business that tries to assess how likely a fire is to start and (if it does) how much harm it could do to your staff, your visitors or contractors or anyone else in the immediate vicinity.
There are three aims to the assessment, they are to:
Is there any guidance?
Yes, there is guidance. The government has provided a suite of documents (eleven in total) for you to use. The documents cover most types of building e.g. offices and shops, factories, sleeping accommodation; residential care premises etc. each costing £12 from the Department of Communities and Local Government or copies can be downloaded from the website http://www.communities.gov.uk/fire/firesafety/firesafetylaw/
Is there a pro-forma or checklist included in the guidance?
No, there is no pro-forma given in the guidance or the fire safety order although there is much good advice given in the guidance. One of the reasons there is no pro-forma is because of the diversity of buildings and businesses around the UK. A fire risk assessment for a multi-storey office building in the middle of a city will be very different and far more complex than one for a single-storey corner shop in a village, although both are required to carry out the same fire risk assessment and both will attempt to achieve the three aims mentioned above.
The nearest thing to an official pro-forma is published by the British Standards Institute (BSI) in the publication PAS79 (PAS stands for Publicly Available Specification and is one of the steps along the way for a document becoming a full British Standard). This pro-forma can be used by anyone who purchases the document (£99 from BSI http://shop.bsigroup.com/en/) and is set out in the form of a checklist.
Can you carry out your own fire risk assessment?
“Yes, you can” (to misquote the words of US President Barack Obama). If you have the confidence and knowledge to identify the fire hazards and people at risk and then decide on the measures necessary to reach and maintain an adequate level of safety there is no reason why you should not carry out your own assessment. In fact, the opinion of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is that all risk assessments are best carried out by people who know their business, by people who know the way the business is run and by people who are intimate with the manufacturing processes that take place. That can only be someone (or some people) who has been employed in the workplace for some time. The difficulty comes with matching that knowledge and experience with the knowledge and experience necessary to produce a meaningful fire risk assessment. You may feel that you have to bring in specialist knowledge.
Do you need specialist knowledge of fire?
Doing it yourself is certainly achievable for a small uncomplicated business premises but how complex does a business have to become before an assessment requires specialist fire knowledge. Does it depend on the size of the business, the type of occupants, the manufacturing processes carried out? Does it depend on the design of the building, the complexity of the fire alarm and escape lighting systems or the flammability of the processes?
There are no easy answers to these questions but answer them you must. You must also decide whether you will carry out your own assessment or bring in a fire safety professional to work with you. You will certainly have to quickly decide if the fire safety officer comes to call and you may also be given an enforcement notice with all its legal implications to urge you on your way. Don’t get caught out.
In my next article I shall go into some of the considerations you need to make to result in an adequate fire risk assessment.
For further information or guidance on fire risk assessment contact Jim Baker (Fire Safety Consultant) at Allan Baker Associates, Hinckley, Leicestershire on 01455 881 050.
Use the following quick links to access and read the other three excellent articles in this series by Jim Baker of Allan Baker Associates (Fire Risk Assessors) on Fire Safety: