Posted June 21, 2014

A fire risk assessment is a legal obligation if you own premises, are a landlord or employ people. If you employ more than 5 people, or your premises are licensed, you must record the fire risk assessment formally clearly identifying the result of the assessment, any actions to be taken following the assessment, and details of any people particularly at risk.

If the authorities who inspect your premises find that the fire risk assessment has not been completed correctly, they are entitled to issue an enforcement notice, or even in extreme cases restrict the use of certain areas of your building so it is essential that you know how to perform a good fire risk assessment.

Let’s put this into perspective. A fire risk assessment starts with a common sense approach. It is there in order to protect premises and people and consists of 3 essential elements:

  • 1. Reduce the likelihood of a fire starting
  • 2. If a fire does occur, it should be able to be controlled or contained quickly
  • 3. If a fire does occur, people can escape to a place of safety quickly and easily

A fire risk assessment is a technique used to look around your premises and identify fire hazards, reduce the risk of those hazards and to decide what fire precautions and management arrangements are necessary to ensure peoples’ safety.

Here is our step by step process on how to adequately perform a fire risk assessment at your premises:

  • 1. Read the guides available online. They contain valuable background information, are provided by the government and can be found by clicking here.
  • 2. Walk around your building(s) in a systematic manner, going from one specific area to another so as not to avoid any one area. This includes any outdoor spaces. If you have larger premises you may find it useful to use a schematic layout of the building to ensure all areas have been included.
  • 3. Involve your staff. The operational staff are more likely to know of any particular risks or hazards so it is always good to get them involved at the outset.
  • 4. Appoint one or more competent persons to to carry out any preventative and protective measures outlined in your fire risk assessment. This could be you or someone who has been trained to undertake such duties.
  • 5. Identify fire hazards. A fire needs 3 things – ignition, fuel and oxygen. Putting in measures to stop these three things coming into contact with each other will reduce the chances of a fire starting. When you are looking through areas in your premises, consider any items which could get hot enough to ignite a fire and seek to reduce that risk.
  • 6. Identify sources of fuel. You are looking for anything with a propensity to burn – for example paper, fabric, wood. Keep it away from heat, and put in systems to ensure that they are stored adequately.
  • 7. Identify sources of oxygen. This could include open windows, air ducts and air conditioning systems.
  • 8. Ensure your fire risk assessment includes all “people at risk” ie relevant people, including disabled people or children. Try to consider everyone who could have access to your building and look at the fire hazards from their perspectives.

Once you have done these basic checks you will then be able to:

  • 1. Evaluate the risk of a fire occurring. Look at your premises and try to identify any accidents waiting to happen or any elements which could lead to a fire starting.
  • 2. Evaluate the risk to people. Consider where smoke and fire could go and how fast it could spread. Factors such as how well the building is insulated, any holes or gaps in walls, ducting or cabling can all impact on the speed of the fire so be thorough and check all possibilities.
  • 3. Consider the exit routes in case of fire. The aim is to ensure that everyone, regardless of who they are or where they are in the building, can escape quickly and safely. Where you already have existing precautionary measures, ensure they are working correctly.
  • 4. Remove or reduce the hazards. Ideally remove them, but if not take all measures necessary to reduce them. Consider removing or minimising the risk of the 3 “ingredients” of a fire – ignition, fuel and oxygen. For example, introduce a no smoking policy or introduce a smoking area which is well away from potential fuel items. Ensure that any electrical items are not at risk of overheating by getting them checked regularly. Store chemicals away from heat sources, and ensure that all staff are trained on how to minimise risk, identify hazards and have a clear communication route to the person responsible for fire safety.
  • 5. Remove or reduce sources of oxygen. This could be as simple as closing doors or installing fire doors. Ensure that windows are closed before the premises are shut and have air vents and air conditioning units maintained.
  • 6. Ensure your fire protection measures are adequate and operational. If you need expert help then call a fire prevention company such as SS Systems and they will perform regular maintenance for you and make sure your systems are up to date and effective.
  • 7. Install adequate fire detection and warning systems. Remember to ensure that all areas are covered and that they are maintained regularly. It can be useful to map out the evacuation procedures and have regular training sessions and tests to ensure that all staff know what to do in the case of a fire, regardless of where they are in the building. Adequate fire signs and notices should be installed to ensure that people can quickly and clearly see where to exit in case of fire and where the fire fighting and fire alarms are located.
  • 8. Install fire fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers or sprinkler systems where applicable, and ensure that there are staff in all areas who are fully trained on how to use them.
  • 9. It can be helpful to “walk out” evacuation routes regularly to ensure there are no hazards along the way, and that the exit times remain short.
  • 10. The evacuation routes need to be able to cope with the level of traffic so ensure there are enough exit routes and that a certain number of people could use them at one time.

With regards to how often you should perform a fire risk assessment, the HSE recommend the following but the exact frequency will depend on your premises and particular requirements:

  • Daily checks – ensure fire exits remain clear from obstruction, that the fire control panel is active and operational, that fire safety notices can be clearly seen and that doors can be easily opened and are in good repair.
  • Weekly checks – test the fire alarms, smoke alarms and warning systems, that fire extinguishers are correctly located and that torches work.
  • Monthly tests and checks – emergency lighting (where practical) and exit routes
  • Six monthly/annual tests – a “competent person” (usually a qualified or trained person) should test the fire detection equipment, warning system and emergency lighting.

Remember that all the above should be recorded and the records kept. Ensure also that your employees and other personnel who may be in the building are aware of how to prevent fires, and what they need to do if a fire breaks out. This could be in the form of staff training or documentation on arrival onto the premises or visible notifications around the building.

At the end of the day, it is your responsibility to familiarise yourself with your obligations and to perform regular fire risk assessments. If you would like further advice or would like to talk to us about fire protection at your premises please call us.