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.
Five steps to carrying out a risk assessment:
1. Identify 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, 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 such as smokers materials, matches, pilot lights, gas/oil heaters, gas welding, cookers etc.
- hot surfaces such as heaters, engines, boilers, machinery, lighting (for example, halogen lamps), electrical equipment etc.
- hot work such as welding, grinding, flame cutting.
- friction from drive belts, worn bearings etc.
- sparks from static electricity, metal impact, grinding, electrical contacts/switches etc.
- arson, eg deliberate ignition.
Potential sources of fuel means anything that could burn or could support a fire, examples include:
- solids such as textiles, wood, paper, card, plastics, rubber, PU foam, furniture, fixtures/fittings, packaging, waste materials etc.
- liquids like solvents (petrol, white spirit, methylated spirits, paraffin, thinners etc), paints, varnish, adhesives etc.
- gases such as liquid petroleum Gas (LPG), acetylene.
Your risk assessment should list the potential sources of ignition and fuels present in your premises.
2. Identify the people at risk
If there is a fire, the greatest danger is the spread of the fire, heat and smoke through the premises. If this happens, the main risk to people is from the smoke and products of combustion, which can very quickly incapacitate those escaping.
If a premises 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 risk to people should include:
- the likely speed of growth and spread of any fire, and associated heat and smoke (remember some fuels burn much faster and produce more toxic products than others do).
- the number of people in the area including employees, contractors, visitors, members of the public (‘relevant persons’ as defined by the Fire Safety Order).
- arrangements for giving warning to people if a fire occurs ie will any outbreak be conspicuous or will some form of fire detection and alarm system be required.
- how they will make their escape (can they make their way out quickly, easily and safely?).
3. Evaluate the risks
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 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, eg 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, eg housekeeping/safe working practices.
- providing appropriate firefighting equipment / fixed installation, eg sprinkler system.
While this list is not exhaustive and applies to one area of risk only, it can be seen 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, eg 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.
4. Record your findings
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.
5. Review and revise
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 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 a fire exit is now too small to cope with their escape within a safe period.
- occupying another floor of the building may mean an electrical fire warning system is now necessary.
The above list is not exhaustive and any change could lead to new hazards, so risks should be considered.