What is the legal requirement for fire risk assessments?

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For a fire to start, three elements are required; an ignition source, fuel and oxygen. A fire cannot start if one of these is missing. Therefore, it is important that steps are taken to prevent all three elements coming together. Fire safety is so important because simply put, fire kills. There are also the humanitarian costs, which can be both moral and financial. Financial costs relate to material and structural damage to buildings, business loss and potential legal costs. The economic cost of fire within England and Wales runs into billions of pounds each year.

Risk Assessment

What is a fire risk assessment?

A fire risk assessment is a method to help determine the chance of a fire occurring in the workplace. This is accomplished by looking at the factors in your work activities and workplace which could cause harm. From this assessment precautions can be determined to ensure that risks are reduced to prevent fire from occurring.
 
1. Identify any fire hazards, including any sources of ignition, fuel and any work processes, which may be potential fire hazards.

2. Decide who, such as employees and visitors, may be in danger during a fire in the workplace or while they are trying to escape.

3. Evaluate the risks from the identified hazards and decide whether the existing precautions are adequate. During this stage of evaluation decisions should be made on whether action is required to remove the hazard completely, if practicable, or to control and manage the risks more effectively.

4. Record the findings and detail the actions taken, and inform all employees of these actions.

5. Review the risk assessment at regular intervals or when a change occurs in the workplace or work activities.

Who should carry out the fire risk assessment?

It is essential that the person conducting the risk assessment is competent to carry out the task and has access to relevant information and support. A competent person would be regarded as someone who is trained, experienced and skilled. If you do not feel confident that there is someone within your organisation that meets the criteria above, then you should seek help from someone with professional expertise in the field of fire risk assessments.

However, it is always worth ascertaining whether the company is independent, i.e. could they be using the risk assessment to sell additional products or services? Using an independent company to conduct your risk assessment will ensure that you receive unbiased results.

How can fire risks be reduced?

There are many ways in which the risk of fire can be reduced, from simple methods such as appropriate storage of flammable materials, to maintenance of equipment. It is also important that adequate fire detection and warning systems are in place as well as appropriate means of escape. All staff should be informed, instructed, supervised and trained in fire procedures and evacuation. Reducing fire risks ultimately requires good management.

Assurity Consulting is the UK's leading independent compliance consultancy specialising in workplace health, safety and environmental solutions. We have over 30 years' experience of helping customers of all sizes, from across all sectors, manage their compliance responsibilities, making sure that their organisation is compliant, their employees are safe, their processes are cost effective and their management team is in control.

This guide is of a general nature; specific advice can be obtained from Assurity Consulting by calling tel. 01403 269375 or by email info@assurityconsulting.co.uk

Fire safety management FAQs

    What are the maintenance requirements and frequencies for electrical vehicle charging units?

    As with all electrical equipment, it is important to make sure that regular maintenance and servicing is carried out in line with the manufacturer’s/ installer’s recommendations. In most cases it is recommended that at least annual maintenance and servicing is carried out by a competent contractor. If the electrical vehicle charging unit/s are being used frequently, then increased maintenance and servicing regimes may need to be adopted.

    In addition to regular maintenance and servicing, PAS 79-1:2020states that electrical vehicle charging units should be subject to periodic inspection and testing, like all other fixed electrical installations. This should take place on your electrical vehicle charging unit/s every 5 years.

    As the electrical vehicle charging unit is likely to have parts that are regularly moved around, this piece of equipment should receive regular portable appliance testing (PAT) in line with your organisations policy for managing electrical equipment. It is suggested that annual PAT is suitable for this type of equipment.

    Most electrical vehicle charging units have an RCD button fitted. This should be tested every 6 months, It is similar to an emergency light flick test. 

    It is good practice to carry out regular visual inspections (daily/weekly – dependent on usage, number of units and potential likelihood of damage) of your electrical vehicle charging unit/s. This will make sure that the unit is in good condition and that it is working correctly, and allow you to identify any potential faults and proactively manage them, before they become an issue.

    All maintenance tasks, tests and visual inspections should be formally documented.

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    Where should I place fire extinguishers in my building?

    Fire extinguishers play a vital role in any fire protection plan in all environments. They are a first aid response to fire and can help to prevent catastrophic damage to property and loss of life. The siting of fire extinguishers is therefore extremely important.

    Fire extinguishers must be always available for immediate use. They should be permanently mounted on suitable brackets; floor stands or in extinguisher cabinets. They must be sited in visible places so that they can be easily seen by those following escape routes; this could be near to corridors, room exits, lobbies, stairwells, and landings. They are often also located near fire alarm call points so that someone can raise the alarm and use the extinguisher should a fire obstruct their safe escape from the building.

    You must also consider suitable instructional signage. This signage will ensure that if someone is going to use an extinguisher, that they are aware of the type of fire that the extinguisher is suitable for and how they should use it.

    Typically, we would find carbon dioxide and water fire extinguishers in office workplaces, however if you have more complex systems (for example a laboratory or a kitchen) in your building, you may consider other types of fire extinguishers. Specialist extinguishers such as wet chemical and powder extinguishers must be sited within easy reach of the specific hazard, for example a deep fat fryer.

    In conclusion, the minimum number of fire extinguishers provided should be one water and one carbon dioxide for every 200 meters of floor area, positioned close to any high-risk areas, in line of sight with an exit and positioned adjacent to fire alarm call points.

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    I have had a Fire Safety Certificate carried out for my premises in the past, is it still valid, and do I still need to have a fire risk assessment completed?

    Under the Fire Precautions Act 1971, the Fire Brigade or Local Authority would inspect certain types of premises and issue a Fire Safety Certificate. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RR(FS)O) came into force on 1st October 2006. It simplified and reformed several pieces of previous fire safety related legislations. As part of this reform, the need to have Fire Safety Certificates was repealed. The Fire Safety Certificates that were created, are no longer valid and no longer have any legal status. However, they are still a very useful source of information.  

    Yes, a Fire Risk Assessment still needs to be carried out for your premises. The current legislation, the RR(F)SO), stipulated under Article 9 that it is a legal requirement for all non-domestic premises to have a Fire Risk Assessment performed by a competent person to identify, manage and reduce the risk of fire. It is recommended that any old Fire Safety Certificates are kept, as they may contain useful information such as how a building fire would be tackled and may hold information to assist in the creation of a Fire Risk Assessment.

    The historic approach of compiling Fire Safety Certificates was a reactive way of managing fire safety and considering how a building fire would be tackled. In comparison, the modern approach of conducting Fire Risk Assessments is a proactive way of managing fire safety and reducing the chance of a fire occurring in the first place.

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    What can I do to make sure of a quick and safe evacuation for staff with a disability in my building?

    It is the responsibility of the appointed responsible person, under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, for the building to provide a fire risk assessment that includes reference to any vulnerable persons on site.

    The responsible person should also have a separate emergency evacuation plan for all people likely to be in the premises. This should include any persons who require assistance in the form of a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP). This type of evacuation plan should be specific to the individual and provide a suitable plan for the safe evacuation of this persons whilst not relying upon the intervention of the Fire and Rescue Service to make it work. You should have a PEEP template available, even if not currently applicable, should this situation change, or a person were to visit your building which this would apply to.

    There may be individuals with visual or hearing impairments for which the common sounders or audible alarm systems may not be a sufficient means of raising the alarm. In this circumstance further aids such as personal trembler alarms for visual impairments or flashing beacons for hearing impairments may be required. 

    A buddy system is also an effective means of raising the alarm and aiding with evacuation in which another member of staff is allocated the task of helping the vulnerable individual. Tactile/braille signs may also be used so long as the person can easily locate the signage to read the braille, though these are less common.

    Personnel with mobility impairments may require further assistance for safe evacuation and temporary PEEPs may need to be implemented for staff with non-permanent impairments, such as a person with a broken leg, or expectant mothers for example. Evacuation lifts that will remain in operation once the fire alarm has been raised are a common means, as are evacuation chairs.

    Refuge points are also popular in buildings whereby the individual can wait safely in a fire protected area (up to 30-minute protection) which offer a temporary place of relative safety for the individual to await assistance. Again, the support of a buddy system will be the best way to achieve safe evacuation.

    It is important to note that a refuge point is NOT a place where a vulnerable person should be left to be rescued by the Fire & Rescue service as it is their duty to preserve life and property. The fire risk assessment/emergency evacuation plan should be sufficient enough for ALL people to be safely evacuated from the premises.

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    What is a fire strategy and should I have one?

    A fire strategy is a document that sets the basis for fire safety control measures from the design of a building. It demonstrates compliance with Building Regulations, covering means of fire detection, warning and escape, the internal fire spread (linings and structure), the external fire spread as well as accessibility and facilities provided for the fire service. Typically, a fire strategy will be produced at the design stage in conjunction with architectural plans and is required as part of a building control submission. The document will also provide details of occupancy levels permitted within the building against the provision of horizontal and vertical means of escape and levels of compartmentation.

    The requirement for a fire strategy is not only applicable to new-builds, but they can also be produced for existing buildings. These are often known as ‘retrospective fire strategies’. Fire strategies of this kind are often carried out in accordance with PAS 911. This document provides guidance on the recommended process to follow and provides guidance on property protection, environmental factors, the safety of life and business continuity.

    A fire strategy document forms an essential basis on which to conduct the Fire Risk Assessment. This will allow the ‘responsible person’ to plan, manage and co-ordinate the appropriate fire safety precautions to minimise the risk of fire and ensure the safety of occupants.

    Fire strategies can only be produced by qualified and competent fire engineers. Further detail can be found on The Institute of Fire Engineers (IFE) website under ‘find a UK fire engineer’ directory.

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    How often should fire evacuation drills be carried out?

    The guidance states that fire drills should be carried out at least annually to make sure that all occupants are aware of building evacuation procedures. However, should you have staff within the building working of a night, you will need to carry out fire drills to make sure that all shift patterns are covered at least annually.

    For example, if the 4th floor worked on night shift patterns of 06:00-12:00 and 12:00-06:00, then more frequent fire drills will need to be carried out to capture the staff working in each shift at least annually. A fire drill during the day will also need to be carried out (at least annually) to capture staff working in normal core working hours.

    Do I have to review my fire risk assessment and how often?

    The Health and Safety at Work Act section 2(3) and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 article 9, both require employers with 5 or more employees to provide a written risk assessment for significant risks and review them those risks.

    The responsible person for the premises (the individual identified as having control over part or all of the premises) must regularly review and keep it up to date.

    Your fire risk assessment must be reviewed if:

    • It may no longer be valid.
    • There have been changes made to the area/s under your control e.g. structural changes, new installations.
    • You have had a fire or near miss.
    • Findings from a fire evacuation drill identify the need for a change.

    There has been a change to the type of work being done on the premises that may affect areas under your control e.g. introduced a manufacturing process to an office environment.

    Changes to the types of persons employed, you are now employing workers with disabilities or young workers e.g. introduced staff covered under the equality act.

    Your independent fire risk assessor would advise a review date. It is good practice to fully review a Fire Risk Assessment every two years if this has not needed to be done in the interim.

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    As a responsible person, how do I manage fire safety within the workplace?

    Effective management alongside appropriate staff training is fundamental in fire safety.

    The responsible person’s duty is not only ensuring that a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment is implemented, but also that there are adequate fire safety measures in place. Examples of this include having suitable evacuation procedures, control measures for those more likely to be at risk in the event of a fire, to maintaining fire detection and alarm systems as well as fire fighting equipment i.e. fire extinguishers, sprinklers, suppression systems etc.

    The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO) imposes extensive duties which can only be effectively discharged by means of a comprehensive fire safety management system. This should include arrangements for planning, organising, control, monitoring and review of your fire systems in place.

    As the responsible person, it is your duty to ensure that all employees have undergone sufficient training. All staff members, including temporary/part-time, contractors and visitors must be familiar with the actions to be taken in the event of a fire or if the fire alarm were to sound. This can be done through inductions, training courses and fire evacuation drills. It is important that individuals are aware of their part to play, should it be calling the fire services, assisting others to evacuate, making sure all those in their area have safely evacuated, managing the assembly point, to making sure no-one re-enters the property until it is safe to do so.  Delegation of roles is key to managing fire safety. 

    Pro-active management, such as frequent inspections and checks of the workplace, demonstrates good fire safety control. Early identification of fire doors being propped open, defects in fire fighting equipment, or regular storage of combustibles within fire escape routes will also reduce the risk of fire and/or fire spread within the workplace.

    It is important that all current policies and procedures in place are regularly reviewed to meet any changes in circumstances but also to implement improvements.

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    How do I review my fire risk assessment?

    The first step to reviewing your fire risk assessment is to look at your current document and think about these questions: 

    • Is it still applicable to my organisation? 

    • Am I doing anything different that could have changed the fire risk of my building since the document was produced?

    • Have the occupancy levels or building layout changed?

    • What are my fire management inspections, checks and maintenance works telling me?

    • Are there any aspects of your current arrangements you would like to change?

    If any changes have occurred, you need to satisfy yourself that either they do not materially affect your current fire management, or if they do, what effect they have. 

    We offer our customers a full fire risk assessment review, which provides them with an independent view of what actions they need to take to comply with legislation and reduce the chance, and impact, of any fires that may occur.

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    What fire safety training should be provided for staff?

    It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that their staff have had adequate training in order to ensure they know what they need to do in the event of a fire. Training should be provided on the first day of the induction stage with further training given throughout the length of employment to ensure that knowledge is refreshed and the information is correct. This is outlined in the British Standard BS9999:2017 Annex Q. Refresher training should be at least annually but if there is a higher turnover of staff or the risk of fire is more significant this frequency should be increased.

    The level of training required should be dependant on the occupant's roles and responsibility. For example, a fire safety officer and fire warden would require more training than general office staff as they have greater fire responsibilities in the event of an evacuation. Fire evacuation drill’s training may potentially be considered sufficient refresher training for general office staff and fire wardens depending on the risk profile.       

    Things to include in fire awareness training should include the following: 

    • What to do when a fire is discovered
    • How to raise the alarm
    • What to do if you hear the fire alarm
    • Where the assembly points are located
    • Who contacts the emergency services
    • Firefighting policy
    • How to know it is safe to re-enter the building

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