Carrying Out Your Own Fire Risk Assessment
21st November 2009
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Well, can you carry out your own fire risk assessment?

A question that I asked in my last article and I pointed out that carrying out your own fire risk assessment was certainly possible for a small uncomplicated business (say, a corner shop or a small office block) and that there was plenty of free and freely available guidance to assist you in the process.

However, I also posed the question “how complex does a business have to become before an assessment requires specialist fire knowledge?” and on this subject, of course, there is no guidance at all.  So, do you attempt to use the guidance yourself to carry out your own fire risk assessment or do you employ the services of a fire consultant such as myself?

What complicates the process?

It can’t be that difficult, can it? Well no, so long as you have an idea what to look for and can analyse the risks involved.  Firstly you should identify the fire hazards, as follows ...

Identify what could start a fire.

Think about what would start a fire in your premises and think simple! For example:

  • do you use naked flames in your processes?
  • what sort of heating do you have; gas heaters, electric heaters?
  • how many pieces of electrical equipment do you use and what state are they in?
  • do you assist your staff and customers to smoke safely or do you prohibit them but allow them to smoke where they should not?
  • do you allow people to smoke in your hotel bedrooms?
  • do any of your processes cause sparks and if so do you guard against the sparks igniting combustible materials?

Identify what could be set on fire.

Then think about what materials could burn if they were ignited, think of material as fuel to burn.  Would it be a good fuel, one that ignites easily and burns quickly like paper or cardboard or would it be a good fuel but one that does not ignite so easily, like wood?  What about the foam in a sofa cushion or the foam in an office chair, is that a good fuel and does it ignite easily?

Have you considered arson?

What about your rubbish, recycling or packaging?  Do you have a waste bin outside with combustible rubbish in it?  Do you keep it locked?  Does it stand alongside your building?  Could the rubbish in the bin be set on fire and the fire transfer into your building through a vent or through the soffit? Many buildings are subject to fire in this way every year.  Just how confident are you about potential arson attacks?  How about if someone sets fire to your rubbish while you are in your property, could you be trapped inside?

Identify people at risk.

Who is at risk from fire in your business?  Who is most at risk and who is least at risk?  Do people sleep in your property or do you serve customers at a counter?  Are children more at risk than adults?

Disabled people.

What about disabled people?  Do you employ disabled people or do you serve customers that are disabled?  Do you look after elderly sick people?  What does disabled mean; deaf people, blind people, people in wheelchairs?  How should you consider them and how much consideration should you give them?  Remember that if you do not consider disabled people sufficiently you are effectively discriminating against them and may become liable for prosecution under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Does the layout of your building make a difference?

Is your property single-storey or multi-storey?  How many staircases do you have?  If you are on the first, second or third floor and you can’t use the staircase because of a fire below you, how do you get out of the building?  Which doors are fire doors and which are the compartment walls?  How do they make a building safe?

An action plan.

With all the information about what could start a fire, what could burn and who is at risk, you should be able to formulate an action plan.  This is a balanced, considered plan that is intended to reduce the incidence of fire and, if a fire should occur, improve the chances of survival of people in your property.

You first look at your current methods of controlling the fire risks.  You evaluate them and decide whether or not they work sufficiently well.  If they do, then you need to maintain them, if they do not, then you need to do something about them because what you are saying is that the risk from fire is unacceptable.

Next, you look at all your unacceptable risks and decide which ones are more unacceptable than others and you prioritise them into:

  • those which you cannot tolerate and must be dealt with immediately;
  • those which you can tolerate for a while but must be dealt with fairly soon say within the next seven days;
  • those which you can tolerate for longer but must be done within about three months; and
  • those which must be done sometime in the next twelve months.

The real nub of the problem.

Then it is a matter of deciding how to deal with your unacceptable risks and reduce them to an acceptable level.  This involves knowledge of how that can be done and experience of what is an acceptable level.  This is the real nub of the problem and the one that will tax you most.

People who can help.

There are people, such as myself, who are in business to assist you in the process of risk assessment and who can explain your fire risks and make your business safer.  We can also give you guidance into how to make your business more robust and more likely to withstand a fire.

Don’t get caught out.  If you do not feel able to carry out your own fire risk assessment, you now know someone who does ...

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.

Missed Jim's other blog arrticles on the Fire Safety Order?  Use the quick links below to go to each article in the series:

  1. New Fire Regulations
  2. Fire Safety Order
  3. Hotel Fire Safety
  4. Can You Carry Out Your Own Fire Risk Assessment?



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