Fire Risk Assessments

1. The legislation

Fire Risk AssessmentThe Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, applicable in England and Wales, requires that a fire risk assessment is made and recorded for each occupied building except small houses. Similar arrangements apply in Scotland. In the common parts of certain residential property the Housing Act 2004 also applies.

2. Factors affecting the fire risk assessment

The factors that affect fire risk – people, building and contents – need to be monitored and remedied continuously, from the time that construction begins on site, through the useful life of the building, to the time that demolition takes place. Appropriate safety systems should be put in place to reduce the fire hazards to an acceptable level and be maintained so that occupants of the building are in reasonable safety and so that the building (fabric and structure of the building and its contents ) does not get severely damaged should fire occur. The results of a risk assessment will be of interest to the building owner, occupier, designer, insurer, employees, trade union-appointed health and safety representatives, enforcing authorities and, if a disastrous fire occurs, legal professionals. If the organisation employs five or more people the significant findings of the risk assessment must be recorded. At least one competent person in the organisation must be appointed to carry out the preventative and protective measures needed. There are many other requirements under the Fire Safety Order.

3. Fire risk assessment related documentation

The risk assessor, preferably a suitably qualified fire engineer, rarely begins the assessment with a blank sheet of paper. There are often records of the safety precautions in the building whether the building is old or new. If the building is old there may be a fire certificate (prepared by the local authority fire service) if the building was regulated by the now repealed Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act or, if the building is industrial, under the Health and Safety at Work Act. If the building is new the designer is now legally required, under current building regulations, to produce a written record (a fire safety manual) of the building design which includes a description of the fire safety strategy, how the fire safety systems work and how evacuation is achieved. This manual will be helpful when formal risk assessments becomes due.

It is possible that these records will not be available to the risk assessor. However, if these records are not available, or it is likely that the building, contents and usage has changed since the record was prepared, or that the fire risk assessment covers a greater scope, then it will be necessary to make the assessment taking little for granted.

4. Guides to fire risk assessment

To assist in the assessment process the government (DCLG) has produced a series of guides for risk assessment for different occupancies i.e.

  • Offices and shops
  • Factories and warehouses
  • Sleeping accommodation
  • Residential care premises
  • Educational premises
  • Small and medium places of assembly
  • Large places of assembly
  • Theatres, cinemas and similar premises
  • Open air events and venues
  • Healthcare premises
  • Transport premises and facilities

These guides assume that ‘hazard’ means anything that has the potential to cause harm and ‘risk’ means the chance of that harm occurring. The guides can be freely downloaded from the government website.

5. The five steps in the DCLG guides

The DCLG guides suggest that five steps are necessary to make the assessment:

  • Step 1 Identify fire hazards
    Identify sources of ignition, sources of fuel, and sources of oxygen
  • Step 2 Identify people at risk
    Identify people in and around the premises, and people especially at risk
  • Step 3 Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect from risk
    Evaluate risk of a fire occurring; evaluate the risk to people from fire; remove or reduce fire hazards; remove or reduce the risks to people, taking account of detection and warning, fire-fighting, escape routes, lighting, signs and notices, maintenance
  • Step 4. Record, plan, inform, instruct and train
    Record significant findings and action taken, prepare an emergency plan, inform and instruct relevant people, co-operate and co-ordinate with others, and provide training
  • Step 5. Review
    Keep assessment under review, revise where necessary

6. Additional guidance

In addition to these guides a new British Standard (BS 9999) is available which, though intended to assist in the design of new buildings, provides much useful information on fire risk assessment, and introduces some new concepts and data (data on occupancy characteristics and risk profiles in tabular form for example). There is also a BSI Publicly Available Specification ‘Fire Strategies’ which takes a more strategic view of risk assessment and another BSI Publicly Available Specification PAS 79: 2007 Fire Risk Assessment: guidance and a recemmended methodology, which has a nine steps approach. There is also a guide for the workplace – BS 18004: 2008 Guide to achieving effective occupational health and safety performance.

in the commmon parts of existing residential property (HMO’s, flats, maisonettes and some sheltered accommodation) the Housing Act 2004 also applies. ‘Housing – Fire Safety’ is a recent guide produced by LACORS which is helpful in this context.

In addition, the Local Government Group has published guidance ‘Fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats’ which is intended to complement the DCLG ‘Sleeping Accommodation’ guide mentioned in head 4 above. The application of the FSO to blocks of flats has proved problematic and has led to widely varying outcomes; also there has beeen confusion as to the application of the FSO to the individual flats and this new guide describes three Types of fire risk assessment.

7. How I can help

If the building is small and simple in plan, and the fire hazards are small and the means of escape are good, then the owner or occupier may undertake the risk assessment his/her self without using the services of a professional, but this option should be chosen with care.
I have made many risk assessments in small and large buildings – see ‘My Fire Safety Projects‘. I can make a fire risk assessment and provide a written report with conclusions and recommendations. This requires a visit to the building and, preferably before that, access to the building documentation if any is available.

8. Example fines for non-compliance

The Fire Safety Order permits fines of up to £5000 and to unlimited fines and two years imprisonment. Some examples are as follows:

  • £400,000 fine and £140,000 costs. High street retailer in Oxford Street, London had a fire on 26 April 2007 which required attendance of 150 firefighters. 450 people from the store and neighbouring property were evacuated and the store was subsequently demolished. London Fire Brigade brought legal proceedings. Fire alarm was inadequate, staff were not adequately trained, evacuation directions were inadequate, etc.
  • £1000 fine each for two housing managers in Peterborough. Fire safety devices were removed or disabled.
  • £10,250 fine, £3000 costs for private landlord of a three-storey house with six bedrooms in Norwich. Fire safety facilities were disabled and maintenance was poor.
  • £31,000 fine and costs for factory owner who allowed 10 breaches of fire safety precautions, East Ham, London. Inadequate structural precautions, poor means of escape and badly maintained fire alarm system.
  • £18,000 and £1,750 costs. Pub manager in Lancashirehad not made a fire risk assessment which came to light after a dangerous fire. Several inadequacies existed.
  • £21,000 fine and costs for owner of hotel in Bayswater, London. Fire officer found several problems including and inadequate fire alarm/detection system, defective fire doors and means of escape. Prior to the fire the owner had a fire risk assessment done but failed to act on the findings.
  • £16,000 fine and costs for the landllord of a pub in Hillingdon, Middlesex for many contraventions of the FSO including failure to have a fire risk assessment, have fire extinguishers, and adequate signage. The fire officer served a prohibition order prohibiting the use of the upper floor by staff or guests.
  • £15,000 fine and costs for the management company responsible for a pub in Chippenham, Wiltshire. The inadequacies included fire doors screwed shut or propped open, obstructed escape routes, poor maintenace of fire protection systems, and absence of a fire risk assessment.
  • £10,000 including costs for the manager of a pub in Broughton, Greater Manchester for breaching a prohibition order and giving false information.

9. Views on the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

The Chief Fire Officers Association has produced guidance intended to be of use to the enforcers. It is available on the web and is entitledl ‘Collected Perceived Insights Into and Application of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 For the Benefit of Enforcing Authorities’. It may be of use also to others seeking clarification on the intentions of the Order.