Why every block of flats requires a fire risk assessment
From towering commercial buildings to cosy flats, a fire risk assessment forms a vital part of any safety protocol.
In the United Kingdom, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 stipulates that it's a legal requirement for all non-domestic properties.
The reason is to ensure the safety of everyone present, from workers and customers to guests and tenants, both so as to prevent fire and should a fire occur.
While owners of leasehold properties do not have to comply with the law, the landlord and the managing agents of the freehold property (with whom they have a long term lease) do.
The legal duties around fire risk assessments
The legal requirement for fire risk assessments stems from a wider concern for human safety. The law aims to safeguard life, property, and business continuity. Non-compliance can lead to severe penalties, and, more importantly, it can put people's lives in danger.
The main duties include conducting a thorough fire risk assessment, implementing suitable fire safety measures, and keeping a written record of these if you have five or more people on the premises.
Who is the responsible person for conducting a fire risk assessment?
The responsible person could be anyone who has control over the premises or a degree of influence over fire safety. In a business, for instance, the employer usually carries this mantle. In a block of flats, it could be the landlord, freeholder, or managing agent.
If you are the responsible person, your duty is to ensure that the fire risk assessment is carried out to a competent standard.
Fire risk assessors
While the responsible person has the duty to ensure an assessment is conducted, they don't necessarily have to do it themselves. Often, a competent person, like a fire risk assessor, is hired to conduct this task. They bring expertise in identifying potential risks and recommending appropriate fire safety precautions, making sure nothing is overlooked.
What is fire risk assessment and why it makes good sense
A fire risk assessment is a systematic and critical examination of a premises to evaluate the risk of fire. From a practical perspective, it helps to protect your property and safeguard the people inside.
Beyond legal compliance, it also makes good business sense as it minimises potential damage and disruption, thus preserving your investment and reputation.
What gets assessed?
An assessment examines several aspects of your property.
It aims to identify potential fire hazards, evaluate current fire safety measures, and ascertain if those measures are enough to keep people safe. The significant findings must be recorded, and an action plan needs to be developed to mitigate the identified risks.
For example, it may be identified that a waking watch is needed in the interim until longer-term infrastructure can be put in place.
Identifying fire hazards
Hazards could be anything that may lead to a fire. It includes electrical equipment, combustible materials such as flammable liquids or gases, and even ordinary items like paper and furniture. The fire risk assessment seeks to identify all these hazards and assess their potential risk.
Fire safety measures
Along with identifying hazards, an assessment also looks at the safety measures in place.
This could include fire fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers, fire alarms, escape routes, and signage, among other precautions.
It evaluates whether these measures are adequate, functional, and well-placed to deal with potential risks.
Procedure of conducting a fire risk assessment
The process of conducting an assessment can be broken down into five main steps, which include identifying hazards, identifying people at risk, evaluating risks and deciding on precautions, recording significant findings and implementing them, and reviewing the assessment regularly.
The objective of a fire risk assessment
The primary objectives when you carry out a fire risk assessment are to reduce the probability of a fire breaking out, and to ensure people can safely escape if one does occur.
It also aims to inform the development of an emergency plan and provide training to occupants or employees, further reinforcing the premises' fire safety.
How to reduce the risk of fire starting
Reducing the risk of fire starts with understanding the potential ignition sources. Common sources include open flames, faulty electrical equipment, or overheating machinery. The assessment seeks to identify these sources and suggest measures to either eliminate or control them, thus preventing fires from starting.
Preparing an action plan to keep people safe
The action plan, often referred to as the fire emergency plan, is a critical outcome of the fire risk assessment.
It covers what occupants should do if a fire occurs, including escape routes and meeting points. The plan should be communicated to everyone on the premises, ensuring everyone knows what to do in case of an emergency.
The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002
Potential risks from substances in your premises
In 2002, UK law was supplemented with regulations specifically targeting dangerous substances and explosive atmospheres, commonly referred to as DSEAR. By stipulating certain standards, the DSEAR ensures safety by managing and reducing risks posed by substances present within premises.
This law demands that the responsible person conducts a risk assessment considering these substances.
Once identified, mitigating measures should be put in place to manage and reduce the risk associated with the presence of such substances.
The importance of management policies in handling hazards causing harm
Adherence to DSEAR regulations not only ensures compliance with the law but also represents good business sense. Successful handling of hazards relies heavily on efficient management policies.
Such policies are intended to minimise the existence of fire hazards, by managing dangerous substances, ensuring their correct storage and handling, and maintaining regular inspections to keep fire risks to a minimum.
Regular staff training can help your employees become well-versed in these policies, enabling them to contribute to a safer work environment.
Recording and reviewing your fire safety risk assessment regularly
Why written records of fire safety precautions are a legal requirement
For businesses or blocks of flats with five or more people, a legal requirement dictates the need for a written record of fire safety precautions.
This record, encompassing significant findings and actions taken, forms the backbone of your fire risk assessment and underlines your commitment to safety.
It serves as a tangible reminder to regularly review fire safety measures and to reassess the potential risks that might lead to a fire.
How often should you review the original assessment?
While there is no legally stipulated frequency for reviewing fire safety risk assessments, it's recommended that you should spend time reviewing these regularly.
'Regularly' in this context is somewhat subjective, depending on the nature and size of your premises, the complexity of your operations, and any significant changes made to the building or the way it is used.
For example, if you refurbish your office space, this constitutes a significant change that warrants a review of your risk assessment.
What happens if significant changes are made to the business premises?
When significant changes occur, it's important to revisit your fire risk assessment.
A significant change could involve structural changes to the building, an alteration in the usage of the premises, or changes in the number of people using the building.
Each of these changes can potentially affect fire risks and should trigger a comprehensive review of your fire safety measures to ensure continued compliance with the law.
Consequences of non-compliance and penalties for not having a fire risk assessment
The Fire and Rescue Services and other local authorities in the UK enforce fire safety regulations. Their duties involve conducting inspections, offering advice, and issuing notices when businesses are not compliant with the law.
In severe cases, these authorities have the power to shut down a business until satisfactory fire safety measures are in place.
What to expect if a fire occurs due to lack of adequate assessment?
In the unfortunate event of a fire caused by inadequate assessment or negligence, the consequences can be serious. Not only is there a risk to life and property, but you could also face severe legal penalties. These can range from fines to imprisonment, depending on the severity of the breach.
Therefore, it's not only a matter of good business sense to keep up-to-date with your fire risk assessments, it's also a legal necessity.
Resources to help you
How to get a copy of your building’s fire risk assessment?
Obtaining a copy of your building's fire risk assessment might be as straightforward as asking your property manager or landlord. For leaseholders in a block of flats, the assessment report should be readily available for inspection.
Where to find guidance and training for carrying out a fire risk assessment
You can find guidance for carrying out a fire risk assessment from reputable sources such as the UK Government website and the London Fire Brigade. These resources provide clear, fact-based advice and can guide you through the process of conducting an assessment yourself.
Your local fire station may also be able to help.
Fire risk assessment in small premises
For small premises, the process of conducting a fire risk assessment may be less complex. However, the importance of a thorough assessment remains the same. Resources such as the UK Government's simple fire safety manual can be a helpful tool in guiding you through this process and tell you about general fire precautions.
Why you should strongly recommend spending time in training
Training plays a key role in fire safety. By spending time on training, you and your employees can become more adept at spotting potential risks, and better equipped to respond in the event of a fire.
A variety of online courses and local training options are available to help ensure that everyone in your premises understands fire safety.