Len Manning

Technical Manager, Hochiki Europe

Author Bio ▼

Len Manning is the Technical Manager for Hochiki Europe (UK) Ltd. He is responsible for all aspects of R&D for all UK-designed Hochiki products. He has 20 years' experience in FD&A design and manufacture and currently sits on two working groups within the FIA: WG3 (Fire detectors) and WG27 (Alarm Devices). He was also a member of the joint FIA/BRE task group which produced CoP 0001, the Code of Practice for visual alarm devices used for fire warning. Len is the main Hochiki representative on GETAWAY, an EU funded research project for Generating simulations to Enable Testing of Alternative routes to improve WAYfinding in evacuation of over-ground and underground terminals.
September 30, 2015

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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.

Business man balancing on the rope

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.

Free Download: A Technical Guide to Fire Detection and Alarm Systems

Fire legislation, which is written for the purpose of life safety, requires duty holders in non-domestic premises to assess fire risks and put in place arrangements for the prevention of fire and to protect people from fire when it occurs. This guide provides an overview of the need to know information for fire detection and alarm systems and your legal requirements, key actions, key terms and more.

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10 Comments on "How To Conduct Fire Risk Assessments"

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Simon Ince
For best practice advice on selecting a fire risk assessor read the industry written guide ‘Selecting a competent fire risk assessor’ you can search for it or follow this link to the Fire Sector Federation website. http://firesectorfederation.co.uk/update/resources/1364504366-a-guide-to-choosing-a-competent-fire-risk-assessor-v1-1-02-13.pdf The guide recommends independent and accredited third party certification schemes for fire risk assessors as the best assurance of quality when selecting a fire risk assessment service provider. We will have on our stand at Firex R720, a new guide called ‘Fire Safety and Due Diligence’ this explains in detail the value of third party schemes in helping assure fire safety compliance. The… Read more »

I Take issue with the bit reproduced below in the context to which you have written the article – i.e. pertaining to the RRFSO 2005:

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.

The body with responsibility for enforcing the RRFSO 2005 (in the vast majority of cases) is the local fire and rescue service and not the HSE (Article 25).

The HSE only have authority in respect of those premises listed in Article 25(b) of the RRFSO 2005.

I applied to BRE and was accepted onto the BTEC diploma mentioned in the article – approx 5 months in advance of the course being held as they generly only do two a year. It was cancelled at the 11th hour due to insufficient interest – only I had applied. Seeing as the course is over £2600 + VAT, it would seem that, although a fundamental requirement, being able to prove competency, also has it’s price and many people aren’t prepared to pay it – especially as third party accreditation or similar is still not mandatory in this industry. Until… Read more »
AJFS_2005 : There is a real issue in regards to defining ‘competency’. I have long held the view that a piece of paper and time doing the job is a poor yardstick for measuring competency. In some regulated professions, a paper qualification is an essential requirement. That is not the case where the RRFSO is concerned.  The RRFSO defines competency in terms of ‘training’ and ‘experience’. Personally speaking, I do not believe that it would be helpful to regulate the profession and demand paper qualifications. All that would serve to do would be to line the pockets of (sometimes dubious)… Read more »

The other qualities a fire risk assessor needs, is the ability to know their limitation regarding risks, sadly not all do and we are all aware of what can be the outcome of an “assumption” .

Another great quality is common sense, fire risk assessments like all other risk assessments are not rocket science, like John mentioned below experience is the most trusted quality if you have not seen the outcome then you will not appreciate “reasonably practicable”

Stuart Smith
Fire Safety Advisor
Oxford University Colleges

OUCFAstuart I could not agree more strongly, Stuart!  You pick out two essential attributes – both of which, I think, will fall under the ‘…and other qualities’ mentioned in Article 18(5) definition of ‘competence’. Common sense is absolutely essential: as is, I think, maturity and strength of character (for example, to challenge management who might want to influence the results of a risk assessment). You are also absolutely correct about the process not being ‘rocket science’ – some people (with a vested interest in doing so) will try to argue that it is more difficult and technical than it actually… Read more »
Simon Ince
The practical competence of a fire risk assessor needs to be independently assessed i.e. can they do the job they are claiming they can do; to the industry standard. A qualification is a starting point but it actually means very little in the way of demonstrating practical competence. You can have a qualification in fire risk assessment, but to be honest the format and methodology behind academic study in many sectors does not provide for long term monitoring and evaluation of practical performance of those who are practitioners. If we take education as a model everyone needs a degree in… Read more »
Simon Ince Simon: your statement here is interesting: The practical competence of a fire risk assessor needs to be independently assessed i.e. can they do the job they are claiming they can do… But you then go on and say that the starting point is ‘a qualification’ – how so?  Why is the starting point a qualification if all we are concerned with is whether or not the person can actually ‘do the job’? You actually undermine your argument for paper qualifications further on by comparing somebody with a first class degree with somebody holding a 2:2, and stating that… Read more »
Simon Ince
It actually reads ‘a’ starting point by which I meant there are others and therefore I agree with you. That is why we made our third party scheme the same for every single applicant no matter what experince qualifications or background. It is a practical assessment of the ability to deliver. Nearly every fire risk assessor out there who is plying their trade in an open market is going to tell their potential client they are competent. By the very nature of most people who need to appoint a fire risk assessor they aren’t going to know who is telling… Read more »
Simon Ince Sorry, Simon, I understand your angle better now. I see now that you were not arguing for a qualification as an essential pre-requisite; but by saying that it was a ‘starting point’, I thought you were suggesting that competence was impossible without that piece of paper. Forgive me. I think that the agreed competency framework and 3rd-party accreditation scheme is a very positive thing, but I think, absent a central government mandate to make it a regulated profession (which would probably demand a paper qualification as an essential pre-requisite: seems to be the case with all other regulated… Read more »