How to carry out fire safety risk assessments

Article reference: UK-IA-HSE02
Last updated: August 2023 | 4 min read

Every year, a large number of deaths occur in workplace and business environments. There are many reasons for fatalities including accident, neglect of safety procedures, and lack of training. Although safety can never be guaranteed, measures can be taken in ensure that public and work premises are as safe as possible. This can be done in the form of a fire safety risk assessment.

What is a fire safety risk assessment?

A fire safety assessment is a means of judging the risk of fire and other potential hazards in order to maintain relative control over fire safety for all those who visit the premises. They are carried out to ensure that the law regarding fire safety has not been or would be broken. It is similar to other types of business risk assessments.

Before 2005, buildings and premises had to abide by general fire safety legislation. In 2006, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 replaced this legislation with one simple order, increasing the responsibility of anyone with any degree of control over the premises.

Who does the fire safety risk assessment effect?

The Order applies to virtually all business premises. This includes buildings, open spaces, hotels, offices, and community areas in shared accommodation. However, it does not include private homes.

Anyone who has control, or a degree of control, over the premises is responsible for fire safety. This includes those responsible for other members of staff e.g. an employer, or an owner or shared occupier.

Responsibility extends to making sure anyone can safely escape in an emergency, not just staff, but also visitors.

The Order also applies to residential buildings that are managed on behalf of leasehold owners, for example, blocks of flats.

How to carry out a fire safety assessment

A fire safety assessment is carried out in order to identify potential dangers or risks. While performing an assessment it’s important to consider all those who could potentially use the premises, for example, people with disabilities. Once the assessment has been carried out, necessary precautions can be put in place in order to reduce potential dangers and risks.

A fire safety risk assessment can be completed in five steps:

Step 1: Identify fire hazards

The three hazards that should be identified are:

  • sources of ignition
  • sources of fuel
  • sources of oxygen

All three components are needed for a fire to start, but eliminating any unnecessary sources of all three elements can significantly reduce the risk of a fire. Sources of ignition can include open flames and heaters. Sources of fuel can include waste, display materials, or excess stock. A common source of oxygen is air conditioning.

Step 2: Identify people at risk

This includes people on and around the premises. As well as this, those who are particularly at risk should be identified, for example, the elderly or disabled. It is also important to take extra precautions in areas where people work alone.

Step 3: Evaluate, remove or reduce, and protect from risk

Those responsible must evaluate the risk of a fire, evaluate the risk of those on the premises, and remove or reduce the hazards in order to protect people from a possible fire.

For example, highly flammable materials could be replaced with less flammable materials, and then stored as far as possible from sources of ignition.

Protecting people from risk of a fire can also include installing fire detection or warning systems, as well as multi-purpose fire extinguishers. Reducing the risk can also be achieved by creating safe escape routes or instigating waking watches.

Step 4: Record, plan, inform, instruct, and train

It is important to record any hazards found and the action taken to reduce/remove this hazard.

Once the hazards have been assessed, those responsible can collaborate in order to produce a unique emergency plan. Any other employees or people on the premises can then be informed of this plan and instructed on how to carry it out. Detailed training can be provided to those that it is relevant to including, in some cases, fire marshals.

Net Lawman provides a fire safety policy template that is an important tool in educating staff.

Step 5: Review

The fire risk assessment should be reviewed regularly. Any changes in risk should be noted down and dealt with in order to keep the assessment as accurate as possible. The assessment can be updated as regularly as necessary.

How is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order enforced? 

The local Fire and Rescue Authority (FRA) generally enforces the reform order. Often they will target higher risk premises over lower risk. If the premises don’t meet the Reform Order specifications then the authority can provide a formal warning notice and, if necessary, prevent the use of the premises.

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