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Everything you need to know about fire risk assessments

Every year around 20,000 businesses are affected by fire. For many, this marks the end for them as the damage caused and the consequences make it impossible to continue. 

11/10/2021

Every year around 20,000 businesses are affected by fire. For many, this marks the end for them as the damage caused and the consequences make it impossible to continue. 

A number of these events could be prevented by carrying out better fire risk assessments and being more prepared.

What is a fire risk assessment?

As the name suggests, a fire risk assessment is a thorough audit of a premises to examine the measures in place to stop fires from starting and, if one does, how effectively it might be controlled. It not only looks at the premises themselves but also takes into account the people who may be present in them at any given time. The overall objective is to ensure that as much as possible is being done to minimise the potential damage and danger to life that a fire could cause.

Why have one?

The first, and arguably most important, reason to have a fire risk assessment is to care for the safety of the people who live or work in a building. As the responsible person, you need to take all the steps possible not just to avoid fires starting but also to inform and train people about what to do if one does break out.

We’ve already mentioned that many businesses struggle to recover after a serious fire. So preventing one is also very important for this reason.

Finally, it is a legal requirement that all business premises or multi-occupancy buildings have a fire safety assessment carried out, ideally every year but also when there is any change to the working practices, staff numbers or layout of a premises. At a time when many offices are starting to be used again after staying virtually empty throughout the Covid pandemic, this is also a good time to assess fire safety anew.

Who needs one?

It is the law that anyone who is responsible for any building, except for a single private home, must arrange for a properly qualified and competent person to carry out a fire risk assessment. This covers employers, owners and occupiers as appropriate. It’s also their duty to take appropriate action to remedy anything that is highlighted in the assessment.

If five or more people work at a premises then the fire risk assessment needs to be a written record. This is also the case if there is a licence under enactment in force such as in premises licenced to serve alcohol.

Even if a business is one of several in a building, it is their responsibility to have their own risk assessment and to comply with any findings.

What does it involve?

There are a number of specific areas that a fire risk assessment will examine. The legal requirement is expressed as follows:

‘The responsible person must make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons are exposed for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed on him by or under this Order.’ In practical terms this means examining:

Fire hazards and the potential for a fire starting

The assessor will carry out a full examination of the premises to investigate potential fire hazards and the likelihood of one breaking out. This may include examining the amount of electrical equipment in use, the amount of flammable material being stored and the general layout of the premises.

The people who may be at risk

An assessment will also examine who works or lives in the premises in question to determine whether they may be at risk if fire breaks out. Different parts of a building may pose a greater risk than others, for example kitchens with a great deal of electrical equipment or storage areas with a great deal of flammable material. So the assessment will examine who works or lives near or in these areas and estimate the level of risk.

The fire training employees have received

It’s an employer’s responsibility to give staff fire safety training. This ranges from advising on how to prevent fires from starting to having a clear set of instructions about what to do if fire does break out. For example, everyone must know about the evacuation procedure to be carried out when an alarm sounds. The evacuation procedure itself will also be assessed to make sure that it is practical and safe to carry out.

The controls in place for identifying a fire and alerting occupants

The alarm system that will be triggered when fire is detected is also examined to make sure that it’s in good working order and will be effective when it is used. This means being audible in all parts of the building as well as having other warning methods if any of the building’s occupants are hearing impaired.

The measures to both stop the spread of the fire and extinguish it

Naturally, there will also be a thorough examination of the number and kind of fire extinguishers present as well as any other systems like sprinklers that may be in the building. Fire doors will also be checked to ensure that they are present, and kept shut at all times.

Who carries out an assessment?

For relatively small buildings it is possible to carry out your own assessment, but probably not advisable. Because this is such an important part of a duty of care, it’s far better to have an assessment carried out by a qualified expert who can then write a comprehensive report as well as advising on steps to make premises as safe as they can possibly be.

At Sentient, all of our assessors are National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) Qualified and hold a Fire Risk Assessment Qualification from the Fire Protection Association. We are highly experienced in carrying out assessments more all kinds of clients in all kinds of sectors and like to think we have helped to make countless buildings, and the people who work or live in them, safer through our services.

So, to find out more and to discuss your particular fire risk assessment needs, why not contact Sentient today?

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