How To Conduct Fire Risk Assessments
I’ve done all I can to make sure my building is a safe place for my employees to work.
So why is conducting a risk assessment so important and is it a legal requirement?
A formal risk assessment is a fundamental requirement for any business. Put simply, if you don’t know, or appreciate where the risks are, you are putting yourself, your employees, your customers and your organisation in danger.
There are a number of important pieces of legislation relating to this area, including The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which contain a consistent set of requirements. Employers also have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work.
Furthermore, in order to comply with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, it is a legal requirement for every employer and self-employed person to carry out a systematic examination of their work activities and identify the health and safety risks arising from them.
When it comes to the dangers associated specifically with fire, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO) makes it mandatory for a dedicated ‘responsible person’ to ensure that premises are risk assessed and that any installed life safety equipment is fully maintained and fit for purpose.
What exactly does a fire risk assessment process involve?
There are no hard and fast rules as to how fire risk assessments should be carried out, as every organisation is unique and may require a slightly different approach. However, it’s important that they are carried out systematically and all of the foreseeable risks considered.
The most important requirement is to identify the fire hazards and how people could be at risk. Once this is done it is necessary to evaluate, remove or reduce the risks. As well as employees, others who could be affected must also be accounted for including contractors, temporary workers, volunteers and the general public.
You’ll need to consider emergency routes and exits, fire detection and warning systems, fire fighting equipment, the removal or safe storage of dangerous substances, and the needs of vulnerable people such as the elderly or those with disabilities. The aim should always be to reduce the risks as much as is ‘reasonably practicable’.
The term ‘reasonably practicable’ seems to me to be somewhat open to interpretation. Could you elaborate on what it means?
The concept of ‘reasonably practicable’ is at the heart of the UK’s health and safety system. It is a legal term that means employers must balance the cost of steps that they could take to reduce a risk against the degree of risk presented.
It’s all about taking appropriate measures that realistically reflect the level of risk. For example, to spend £1m to prevent two members of staff suffering from bruised knees is grossly disproportionate. However, spending the same amount on preventing an explosion that could kill or maim 150 people would be reasonable.
I’ve seen the words hazard and risk used a lot. What’s the difference?
This is a good point. Broadly speaking, a hazard is anything with the potential to cause harm – electricity, hazardous substances and noise are good examples. On the other hand, risk is measured by the likelihood that damage, loss or injury will be caused by a hazard and how severe the outcome may be.
Who can carry out a fire risk assessment and is it better to use the services of an outside fire professional?
A ‘responsible person’, as defined by the RRFSO, should understand the principles of fire safety, the causes of fire and the means for prevention. They must also have knowledge of the design of fire protection measures and an understanding of the behaviour of people in a fire situation.
However, if the responsible person does not have the knowledge to carry out a fire risk assessment on their own, it will be necessary to call on an outside fire risk assessor – someone who is suitably experienced and has a qualification such the BRE BTEC Professional Diploma in Fire Risk Assessment.
If you’re concerned about any aspect of a fire risk assessment, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) will be able to advise.
I’ve just completed a fire risk assessment and carried out the appropriate measures. What should I do next?
It is necessary to formally record your findings and once this is completed the next steps are to prepare an emergency plan and provide training information to employees and other people on the premises.
It is also important to remember to review and update the fire risk assessment regularly – at least annually – or as soon as changes are made in the workplace which have an effect on the fire risk or people at risk.
What are the potential consequences of a poorly performed risk assessment?
Death is the worst-case scenario. In 2007 at the Penhallow Hotel in Newquay a blaze killed three people and was described as the most deadly hotel fire in the UK for nearly 40 years. The owners were fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £62,000 costs for failing to meet fire safety standards and not maintaining the building’s fire detection system.
The HSE can also carry out spot checks to see whether a premises has carried out a risk assessment and its doing all it can to minimise danger to occupants. Those convicted of not doing so will experience the full weight of the law – minor penalties include a fine of up to £5,000 for breaching Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, while major penalties can mean unlimited fines and up to two years in prison.
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