A fire risk assessment is a legal requirement. Employers, owners and occupants of commercial premises and landlords of houses in multiple occupations (HMOs), or anyone else responsible for a building that is not a single private dwelling, are required under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to appoint a suitably competent person to undertake a fire risk assessment. A fire risk assessment aims to identify fire risks and hazards within a specific premise so that appropriate action can be taken to minimise them. Also, so that a suitable emergency plan can be drawn up for everyone to be made clear on what to do in the case of fire breaking out. Where five or more people work within a building, the premises are licensed or an Alterations Notice under the Fire Safety Order requires it, then the fire risk assessment must be a written record. Fire risk assessments must be regularly reviewed, and a fresh assessment should be undertaken if there are any significant changes that would impact upon it.
Why are fire risk assessments so important?As well as a legal requirement, fire risk assessments are important because they are the only way to properly understand the specific risks that a building faces. Many businesses find it very difficult, if not impossible, to recover following a fire. A risk assessment is the first step towards good fire safety. If there is a fire, and there is evidence that legal duties have not been met, then those responsible for the building could face a fine or even a prison sentence. Recently it was reported that almost 4,000 schools in the United Kingdom (that is about 1 in 6 schools) have been judged by surveyors as being in need of immediate restoration work, with many more found not to have all the necessary documentation required by law, including fire risk assessments. The data, collected through the Department for Education’s school condition data collection (CDC) programme, revealed that 13 per cent (2,717) of the 21,796 schools for which information was released did not have a fire risk assessment. Asbestos management plans, gas safety test reports and electrical test certificates were also missing in some cases. These are clearly shocking findings which must be addressed to ensure the safety of all who use the schools.
What happens when there is no fire risk assessment?As well as undertaking a fire risk assessment, it is also vitally important to act upon the findings. Considering it simply a regulatory box ticked and then filing the assessment away is not just unacceptable by law, it is also completely nonsensical. In March 2019, a housing association was found guilty of breaching the Fire Safety Order when it was found to have failed to follow-up on issues highlighted by the fire risk assessment. In June 2018, the owner of a wedding venue received a 20-month prison sentence due to his failure to take general fire precautions to ensure the safety of the public and employees. The venue owner was accused of, amongst other things, failing to review fire risk assessments following a decision to convert the second floor of the building’s main hall into sleeping accommodation. As well as the prison sentence, the owner was ordered to pay fines and costs of almost £24,000. A 2019 study charting 200 cases brought under the Fire Safety Order since it came into force in 2006 revealed the total handed out in fines was over £1.2 million, with the average fine £27,519. Government statistics state that there were 560 prosecutions under the Fire Safety Order between October 2013 and October 2018.
What does a fire risk assessment involve?The objective of a fire risk assessment is to identify the hazards and people at risk and to remove or reduce the risk of those hazards causing harm to as low as is reasonably practicable. In addition, the fire risk assessment aims to determine the fire safety measures and management processes that are required to ensure the safety of everyone in the building should a fire break out. In summary, fire risk assessments aim to:
- Identify the fire hazards
- Identify any people at risk
- Evaluate, remove or reduce the risks
- Record the findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training
- Review and update the fire risk assessment on a regular basis, or when anything significant changes