Fire Risk Assessments
The responsible person must carry out, or appoint a competent person to carry out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment of the risks of fire to their employees and others who may be affected by their work or business. Those who employ five or more employees should keep a formal record of any significant findings and remedial measures which have, or may need to be, taken.
A Fire Risk Assessment helps you identify all the fire hazards and risks in your premises. You can then decide whether any risks identified are acceptable or whether you need to do something to reduce or control them.
A risk assessment should be carried out by someone who has had sufficient training, and has good experience or knowledge of fire safety.
The competent person or fire risk assessor need not possess any specific academic qualifications but should:
- understand the relevant fire safety legislation;
- have appropriate education, training, knowledge and experience in the principles of fire safety;
- have an understanding of fire development and the behavior of people in fire;
- understand the fire hazards, fire risks and relevant factors associated with occupants at special risk within the buildings of the type in question, and
- have appropriate training and/or experience in carrying out fire risk assessments.
Suitable and sufficient
Whilst the legislation does not define suitable and sufficient it is generally considered that a risk assessment should do the following:
- Identify the fire hazards
- Identify people at risk
- Evaluating the risks
- Record your findings
- Review and revise
Here is the first of five steps to carrying out a fire risk assessment in the workplace.
Step 1 of 5 - Identifying the fire hazards
For fire to occur there must be a source of ignition, fuel and oxygen. If all three are present, and in close proximity to each other, then the fire risk could increase as a result.
In the average premises fire hazards will fall into the first two categories, while the oxygen will be present in the air in the surrounding space. Occasionally oxygen can be found in chemical form (oxidising agents) or as a gas in cylinders or piped systems.
Potential sources of ignition could include:
- Naked flames: smokers materials, matches, pilot lights, gas/oil heaters, gas welding, cookers etc.
- Hot surfaces: heaters, engines, boilers, machinery, lighting (for example, halogen lamps), electrical equipment etc.
- Hot work: welding, grinding, flame cutting.
- Friction: drive belts, worn bearings etc.
- Sparks: static electricity, metal impact, grinding, electrical contacts/switches etc.
- Arson, for example, deliberate ignition.
Potential sources of fuel: anything that burns is a potential fuel, examples include:
- Solids: textiles, wood, paper, card, plastics, rubber, PU foam, furniture, fixtures/fittings, packaging, waste materials etc.
- Liquids: solvents (petrol, white spirit, methylated spirits, paraffin, thinners etc), paints, varnish, adhesives etc.
- Gases: LPG, acetylene.
Potential sources of oxygen could include:
- Oxygen cylinders
- Chemical processes producing oxygen as a by-product
- Piped oxygen in Care Premises
Your risk assessment should list the potential sources of ignition and fuels that are present in your premises.
Step 2 of 5 - Identifying people at risk
If there is a fire, the greatest danger to people is the spread of the fire, heat and smoke through the premises which can very quickly incapacitate those escaping.
If a premise does not have adequate means of escape or if a fire can grow to an appreciable size before it is noticed, then people may become trapped or overcome by heat and smoke before they can evacuate.
Your assessment of identifying people at risk should include:
- People working near to fire dangers
- People working alone or in isolated areas (such as roof spaces, storerooms etc)
- Children or parents with babies
- The elderly or infirm and people with disabilities.
Step 3 of 5 Evaluate, remove, reduce, and protect from risk
Once the hazards and the people at risk have been identified, you must assess the effect of any particular hazards, taking account of any existing control measures that are already in place. Once this has been done, you must decide if any further control measures are needed in order to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.
Further control measures may:
- Act to reduce the possibility of ignition.
- Minimise the potential fuel load in the premises.
- Assist people to escape from the effects of a fire, should it occur.
They may fall into a number of different categories, such as:
- Fire safety management systems.
- Means of escape.
- Staff training.
- Fire warning systems.
- Means of fighting fire.
Different control measures can be applied to reduce the risk to an acceptable level. For example, if the risk is the possibility of a fast growing fire, potential control measures could include one or any combination of the following:
- Changing the process to use a slower burning fuel.
- Removing or reducing possible ignition sources.
- Moving the hazard to an area that affects the minimum number of people, for example, outside the premises.
- Providing an additional exit/protected route to speed up the escape of the occupants.
- Providing a fire detection and alarm system to warn people of the fire in its early stages.
- Training staff to reduce the possibility of a fire occurring, for example, housekeeping/safe working practices.
- Providing appropriate firefighting equipment / fixed installation, for example, a sprinkler system.
While this list is not exhaustive and applies to one area of risk only, it can be seen that there may be a number of different solutions depending on the nature of the situation.
If any areas of inadequacy are identified, an action plan must be included to show how the problem is being addressed. This should include timescales for achieving the required level of control and specify who is responsible for the action.
If your premises are situated in a relatively modern building it should already incorporate important control measures that were installed to meet the requirements of the building regulations, for example, fire escape staircases, fire lobbies, fire doors, emergency lighting etc.
Many of these measures will also be found in older buildings. If your building was issued with a fire certificate under the Fire Precautions Act, details of existing control measures will be detailed in that document.
You should include details of these existing control measures in your fire risk assessment. Remember, a full understanding and evaluation of the existing control measures is essential - it is your starting point for deciding if any further action is necessary.
You should plan, control, monitor and review all the fire safety arrangements.
Step 4 of 5 Record, plan, inform, instruct and train.
You must record the significant findings of your risk assessment, together with details of any people that are at particular risk, where:
- A licence under an enactment is in force.
- An Alterations Notice under the Fire Safety Order requires it.
- You are an employer and have five or more employees.
More importantly, the record must show whether the existing control measures are adequate and, if not, what further action is required to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.
Remember to make sure any control measures identified or introduced remain effective by testing and maintaining them regularly. For larger premises you are encouraged to include a simple floor plan in your fire risk assessment. You can use the plan to record fire hazards and control measures in a simple format that is easily understood.
Step 5 of 5 - Reviewing and revising the risk assessment
It is important to remember that fire risk assessment is a continuous process and as such must be monitored and audited. New and existing control measures should be maintained to make sure they are still working effectively.
However, if you introduce changes into your premises your original risk assessment may not address any new hazards or risk arising from them. For this reason it is also important to review and revise your assessment regularly.
This doesn't mean that it is necessary to amend your assessment for every trivial change that occurs, but the impact of any significant change should be considered. For example:
- A new work process may introduce additional fuels or ignition sources.
- Changes to furniture layout or internal partitions could affect the ability for occupants to see a fire and escape in time.
- Increasing the number of people may mean that a fire exit is now too small to cope with their escape within a safe period.
- Occupying another floor of the building may mean that an electrical fire warning system is now necessary.
The above list is not exhaustive and any change that could lead to new hazards or risks should be considered.
For further and more detailed guidance Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) have produced a suite of Fire Safety Risk Assessment Guides to assist all Responsible Persons.
Fire Safety Risk Assessment Guides
1. Animal Premises & Stables
2. Means of escape
for Disabled Persons (Supplementary Guide)
Offices and Shops
Sleeping and Accomodation
Residential care premises
Small and Medium Places of Assembly
Large Places of Assembly
Theatres and Cinemas
Safety Guides Table
Assessment Check List
Short Guide to Making your Premises Safe
14. Open Air events & Venues
16. Transport Premises
A small entry-level guide is also being produced and is available
on our website along with links to all of the guides.