Fire Risk Assessments & Regulations
What is a fire risk assessment?
A fire risk assessment is the systematic process of identifying and evaluating potential fire hazards and the risk of harm that may occur. This includes sources of ignition, structural features and any people at risk. It also takes into account any existing safety precautions and gives the assessor the chance to decide whether the current fire risk is acceptable without any further safety measures in place.
The risk assessment is carried out by a trained assessor who is responsible for documenting any significant findings, preparing an emergency plan and providing training to anyone expected to take action in the event of a fire. Findings should be shared with any relevant people and a hard copy should be kept on site. Fire risk assessments should be updated and reviewed regularly, it is recommended annually, or when significant changes are made to the premises.
Responsibility for ensuring fire risk assessments are carried out by a qualified professional lies with the ‘responsible person’, usually the owner/occupier of the premises. Risk assessments are a legal requirement for all non-domestic premises and for businesses with 5 or more employees the findings must be documented in writing.
A recent survey suggests that 38% of businesses don’t have suitable fire risk assessments in place and over 80% don’t have written regulations against false fire alarms in their company handbooks. Businesses should provide training to employees on how to prevent and respond to false fire alarms and ensure regular maintenance of alarms.
What does a risk assessment consist of?
Fire risk assessments usually follow the structure documented in PAS 79 which outlines a specific method to ensure all potential risks of fire are identified and recorded. PAS 79, which stands for Publicly Available Specification, was introduced in 2005 by the British Standards Institution and offers guidance to ensure a uniformed process for fire risk assessment across the country. There are 9 specific steps set out in the PAS 79 for conducting a thorough fire risk assessment:
- Obtain relevant information and data about the building
- Identify fire hazards and how to control and eliminate them
- Assess the likelihood of any fire occurring
- Determine any fire protection measures available
- Obtain any information about fire safety management of the premises
- Assess the most likely consequences for any individuals in the event of a fire
- Assess overall risk of fire by combining likelihood and severity
- Formulate and document an action plan
- Set a review date to revisit the fire risk assessment
Fire hazards can include sources of ignition, sources of fuel and sources of oxygen, which when combined, increase the risk of fire. Other fire hazards involve things that can increase the likelihood of fire spreading quickly. Some common hazards include:
- Cooking equipment
- Electrical equipment
- Smokers’ materials
- Packaging materials
- Untested fire alarms
- Negligence / arson
- Blocked fire doors
- Overloading power sockets
New legislations and updates were introduced following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. BSI released PAS 9980 which focused on external wall fire risk in multi occupational buildings and emphasised the importance of including this in fire risk assessments. New planning requirements came into force in August 2021 that ensured high-rise developments considered fire safety in the earliest stages of planning. Planning permission would not be granted unless it could be demonstrated that the design was created with fire safety in consideration, which should help to ensure the safety and protection of people.
Further reforms were introduced in May of 2022 to strengthen fire services and put the majority of recommendations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry into law.