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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
February 28, 2022

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Fire Risk Assessment guide: What is it and how do you get one?

As a process of identifying fire hazards and evaluating the risks to people, property and assets, a fire risk assessment carried out by a competent person is a crucial part of ensuring a premises takes as many precautions as possible to prevent the risk of fire. Here, IFSEC Global in association with fire, security, risk and resilience consultancy firm BB7, provides a beginner’s guide to what you need to know about fire risk assessments and the duties of the responsible person and fire risk assessor undertaking them. 

What is a fire risk assessment?

FireRiskAssessment-21A fire risk assessment is a process of identifying fire hazards and evaluating the risks to people, property, assets and environment arising from them. It takes into account the adequacy of existing fire precautions, and helps the assessor decide whether or not the fire risk is acceptable without further fire precautions.

What is a fire risk assessor?

A fire risk assessor is a person who carries out and documents the significant findings of a fire risk assessment. They are required to have sufficient knowledge, training and experience which enables them to be competent within this role.

Why do you need a fire risk assessment?

In virtually all non-domestic premises, there is a legal requirement to undertake a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales. Similar legislation is in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland (Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 respectively). It is a requirement that the person undertaking the assessment must be competent i.e. has the required knowledge, training and experience to do so.

In 2021 the Fire Safety Act was given Royal Assent. The act widened and clarified the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to include the external walls of residential buildings and flat entrance doors to dwellings, and this may require specialist knowledge.

Who is responsible for carrying out a fire risk assessment?

Responsibility for ensuring a fire risk assessment Is carried out by an appropriately qualified professional rests with the ‘responsible person’. In practice, the responsible person is usually the owner or occupier of the premises – often an organisation or employer rather than an individual. They may delegate tasks to a person nominated to monitor or control the management of fire safety, but the ultimate responsibility rests with them. If there is more than one responsible person in any type of premises – for example, a multi-occupied complex – all parties must take reasonable steps to cooperate and coordinate with each other.

Where can I obtain more information about fire risk assessments under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order?

The Government has produced general and building use specific guides on undertaking fire risk assessments – you can read them here.

Where can I obtain the services of a competent fire risk assessor?

We recommend using a third party certificated provider. BAFE manages and maintains a scheme called BAFE SP205, which covers life safety fire risk assessment. This scheme exists to deliver quality, independent evidence that providers (from sole traders through to larger organisations with appointed fire risk assessors) are competent to deliver quality fire risk assessment services. You can search for a registered company here.

There is also the Fire Risk Assessors Certification Scheme (FRACS), which certifies the competence of individuals and companies carrying out fire risk assessments. Check the FRACS database of companies or the database of individual fire risk assessors. Other providers of individual accredited fire risk assessors include the Institution of Fire Engineers Fire Risk Assessors Register and the Institute of Fire Safety Managers (IFSM) Tiered Fire Risk Assessment Register.

What does a fire risk assessment include?

A fire risk assessment must identify the hazards present within the premises. These include sources of ignition, such as naked flames, heaters and cooking equipment, sources of fuel and sources of oxygen. Other considerations can be structural features such as ducts and flues, penetrations of fire compartments, open roof spaces and excessively long escape routes.

A risk assessment must identify people who may be at risk from a fire within the premises such as employees, members of the public, or anyone entering to conduct work (for example, tradespeople working on the premises).

It must evaluate, remove, or reduce the risks that have been identified, creating actions for the responsible person to undertake to ensure this is complied with. An example of this would be ensuring combustible materials are stored away from any ignition sources, conducting regular checks of the escape routes ensuring they are kept clear of obstructions, and ensuring staff are adequately trained on what to do in the event of a fire.

What does a fire risk assessor need to do?

The fire risk assessor must record their findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training for anyone expected to take some sort of action in the event of a fire. A record of these findings should be shared with any relevant persons (e.g. the responsible person or building safety managers) and a copy kept on site. This is often referred to as an ‘action plan’, by which the responsible person can address the actions raised, knowing that the risk begins to reduce as the actions are completed.

The fire risk assessment must be reviewed and updated regularly. There is no set frequency by which this must be done, but it is recommended that fire risk assessments are reviewed annually, or at any time there has been a significant change to the premises or the activities taking place on it. In addition to annual or regular reviews, it is also recommended that a new fire risk assessment is undertaken every five years.

What is the structure and methodology of an assessment?

Fire risk assessments usually follow a set structure as documented in PAS 79. There are two parts to PAS 79: Part 1 – Premises other than housing, and Part 2 – Housing. Please note, however, that PAS 79 Part 2 has been withdrawn and is being reviewed with the aim of converting it into a fully-fledged BSI standard, in response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and the Government’s response.

PAS 79 provides a methodology to undertake a fire risk assessment to ensure a uniformed approach across the industry for assessors. PAS 79 is specifically aimed at ensuring that all necessary information relating to the fire risk assessment and its findings are recorded. It sets out one way to carry out a fire risk assessment, and the aim is the production of a simple qualitative assessment of the risk from fire using nine specific steps:

  1. Obtain relevant information about the premises
  2. Identify the fire hazards
  3. Make an objective assessment of the likelihood of fire
  4. Determine the physical fire protection measures required which are relevant to the protection of people in the event of a fire
  5. Determine relevant information about the fire safety management of the premises
  6. Make an objective assessment of the likely consequences to occupants in the event of a fire
  7. Assess the fire risk and decide if it is tolerable. The fire risk is assessed by combining the likelihood of fire and the consequences of fire
  8. Formulate an action plan
  9. Determine a time frame in which the need to revisit the fire risk assessment should be made (assuming that earlier review is not necessitated by changes to the premises and that there is no reason to suspect that the fire risk assessment is no longer valid)

In 2021, BSI released PAS 9980 – Assessing the external wall fire risk in multi-occupied residential buildings. This standard emphasises the importance of including the external wall materials of a building within the assessment. It provides a methodology for the fire risk appraisal of external wall construction and cladding of existing multistorey and multi-occupied residential buildings.

A fire risk assessment is an essential exercise to identify and assess the fire hazards in a building, ensure the fire precautions in place are deemed suitable considering the risks posed, and document the findings. It should be undertaken by someone who has the necessary knowledge and experience (i.e. a competent person).

Guidance documentation and new legislation are being introduced in the wake of the Grenfell Inquiry. These include updates and clarification on the fire risk associated with external walls, checking of fire doors for flats, and fire risk assessor competency. What will remain in place, however, is the requirement to undertake a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment by a competent person.

This article was originally posted in 2016, and has since been updated to reflect changing requirements and legislation. 

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richard woodward
January 22, 2016 3:49 pm

Thanks – A good explanation of the “whys and wherefores” around fire risk assessments.  It is also worth pointing out that the assessment is to quantify the risk to life to relevant persons in or around buildings or other places.  I would also point out that with regard to “who can carry an assessment out” that the duty to do the fire risk assessment lies with the Responsible Person only and nobody else.  It does not state in the FSO anywhere that a competent person should carry one out which is somewhat strange.  The best course of action is always to procure a third party accredited life safety… Read more »

Ian Malone
Ian Malone
September 28, 2017 9:15 pm

How do the questions get asked , when 3rd party assessors who don’t know a building or the habits of its inhabitants , lie detectors could not beat the truth from some. Facts are never simple , buildings are more complex than any drawing can show , people are more ???? than can be written . A judgement can only be made on what can be seen using experience from previous events, but. a responsible person is an individual who is not all seeing and knowing, just a person hi lighted by the Fire Service and the insurance world to… Read more »

Millie Hue
Millie Hue
August 15, 2018 3:26 am

I like that you mentioned that having the property assessed will assure you that it is complying with the regulations and safety insurance needs. With that in mind, I will be having our property assessed as soon as possible so that there will be no issues in the future. We just bought a commercial establishment to open up a coffee shop soon. This has helped me understand the importance of this procedure. Thanks! http://www.whitegloveinspections.com/

trevor dunbar
trevor dunbar
November 7, 2018 7:44 am

Is the first part about Who not a bit misleading?

John Smith
John Smith
November 7, 2018 4:03 pm

Is this advertising BAFE?
I would recommend a risk assessor on the Institution of Fire Engineers list.

Ian Robertson
Ian Robertson
November 8, 2018 9:46 am

Big concern is for the RP who has an internal fire safety manager is determining if he is competent, being sent on a paid for in house training course where almost 100% pass does not ensure competence. Being a registered fire risk assessor with a body you are a member of is not 3rd Party Accreditation, as you are an existing member hence it will not be an approved UKAS scheme. It must be an independent body such as BAFE or Warrington Certification. BAFE only provide a company scheme the individual is not certified only Warrington Certification provide individuals UKAS… Read more »

Celine Hobson-Garcia
Celine Hobson-Garcia
January 30, 2019 8:09 pm
Reply to  Ian Robertson

RIchard, I think you are correct. Here in the Caribbean we did IOSH managing Safely for some fire departments and the older chaps retired and the younger ones need training in Risk Assessment because as Ian said its competence. I think that Fire need more effort and training to keep them on the Ball. You will be surprise how many industries dont have a Fire Policy, they refer to the HSE Policy in the Caribbean.

Nice work. Thanks

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