Safest People, Safest Places

Key Documents and Information

What is A Fire Risk Assessment?

Article 9 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires that a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment is carried out. The following information may give you guidance under Article 9 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. It is without prejudice to anything which may be required by an enforcing authority.

A fire risk assessment is an organised and methodical look at your premises, the activities carried on there and the likelihood that a fire could start and cause harm to those in and around the premises. The aims of the fire risk assessment are:

  • To identify the fire hazards.
  • To reduce the risk of those hazards causing harm to as low as reasonably practicable.
  • To decide what physical fire precautions and management arrangements are necessary to ensure the safety of people in your premises if a fire does start.

If your organisation employs five or more people, or your premises are licensed or an alterations notice requiring it is in force, then the significant findings of the fire risk assessment, including the actions to be taken as a result of the assessment and details of anyone especially at risk, must be recorded. You will probably find it helpful to keep a record of the significant findings of your fire risk assessment even if you are not required to do so.

To assist you in carrying out your fire safety risk assessment there is a link to a proforma below. You can download the guidance and forms separately or the whole document as one. There is also a proforma for simple premises. For advice on which one to use please contact your local fire safety officer.

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How Do You Carry Out A Fire Risk Assessment?

A fire risk assessment will help you determine the chances of a fire starting and the dangers from fire that your premises present for the people who use them and any person in the immediate vicinity. The 5 step assessment method suggested shares the same approach as that used in general health and safety legislation and can be carried out either as part of a more general risk assessment or as a separate exercise.

  • Step 1 - Identify Fire Hazards
  • Step 2 - Identify People at Risk
  • Step 3 - Evaluate, Remove, Reduce and Protect From Risk
  • Step 4 - Record, Plan, Inform, Instruct and Train
  • Step 5 - Review

Step 1 - Identify Fire Hazards

For a fire to start, three things are needed:-

  • a source of ignition;
  • fuel; and
  • oxygen.

If any one of these is missing, a fire cannot start. Taking measures to avoid the three coming together will therefore reduce the chances of a fire occurring. The remainder of this step will advise on how to identify potential ignition sources, the materials that might fuel a fire and the oxygen supplies that will help it burn.

1.1 Identify sources of ignition

You can identify the potential ignition sources in your premises by looking for possible sources of heat which could get hot enough to ignite material found in your premises. These sources could include:
smokers’ material, e.g. cigarettes, matches and lighters;

  • naked flames, e.g. candles or gas or liquid-fuelled open-flame equipment;
  • electrical, gas or oil-fired heaters (fixed or portable);
  • hot processes, e.g. welding by contractors or shrink wrapping;
  • cooking equipment;
  • faulty or misused electrical equipment;
  • lighting equipment, e.g. halogen lamps or display lighting too close to stored products;
  • hot surfaces and obstruction of equipment ventilation, e.g. office equipment; and
  • arson.

Indications of ‘near-misses’, such as scorch marks on furniture or fittings, discoloured or charred electrical plugs and sockets, cigarette burns etc., can help you identify hazards which you may not otherwise notice.

1.2 Identify sources of fuel

Anything that burns is fuel for a fire. You need to look for the things that will burn reasonably easily and are in enough quantity to provide fuel for a fire or cause it to spread to another fuel source. Some of the most common ‘fuels’ found in offices and shops are:

  • flammable-liquid-based products, such as paints, varnishes, thinners and adhesives;
  • flammable liquids and solvents, such as white spirit, methylated spirit, cooking oils and disposable cigarette lighters;
  • flammable chemicals, such as certain cleaning products, photocopier chemicals and dry cleaning that uses hydrocarbon solvents;
  • packaging materials, stationery, advertising material and decorations;
  • plastics and rubber, such as video tapes, polyurethane foam-filled furniture and polystyrene-based display materials;
  • textiles and soft furnishings, such as hanging curtains and clothing displays;
  • waste products, particularly finely divided items such as shredded paper and wood shavings, off cuts, and dust; and
  • flammable gases such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

You should also consider the materials used to line walls and ceilings, e.g. polystyrene or carpet tiles, the fixtures and fittings, and how they might contribute to the spread of fire.

1.3 Identify sources of oxygen

The main source of oxygen for a fire is in the air around us. In an enclosed building this is provided by the ventilation system in use. This generally falls into one of two categories: natural airflow through doors, windows and other openings; or mechanical air conditioning systems and air handling systems. In many buildings there will be a combination of systems, which will be capable of introducing/extracting air to and from the building.

Additional sources of oxygen can sometimes be found in materials used or stored at premises such as:

  • some chemicals (oxidising materials), which can provide a fire with additional oxygen and so help it burn. These chemicals should be identified on their container (and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health data sheet, see Figure 4) by the manufacturer or supplier who can advise as to their safe use and storage;
  • oxygen supplies from cylinder storage and piped systems, e.g. oxygen used in welding processes; and
  • pyrotechnics (fireworks), which contain oxidising materials and need to be treated with great care.

Step 2 - Identify People at Risk

As part of your fire risk assessment, you need to identify those at risk if there is a fire. To do this you need to identify where you have people working, either at permanent workstations or at occasional locations around the premises, and to consider who else may be at risk, such as customers, visiting contractors etc., and where these people are likely to be found.

You must consider all the people who use the premises but you should pay particular attention to people who may be especially at risk such as:

  • employees who work alone and/or in isolated areas, e.g. cleaners, security staff;
  • people who are unfamiliar with the premises, e.g. seasonal workers, contractors, visitors and customers;
  • people with disabilities* or those who may have some other reason for not being able to leave the premises quickly, e.g. elderly customers or parents with children;
  • other persons in the immediate vicinity of the premises; and
  • people with language difficulties.

In evaluating the risk to people with disabilities you may need to discuss their individual needs with them. In larger buildings used extensively by the public you may need to seek professional advice.

Step 3 - Evaluate, Remove, Reduce and Protect From Risk

The management of the premises and the way people use it will have an effect on your evaluation of risk. Management may be your responsibility alone or there may be others, such as the building owners or managing agents, who also have responsibilities. In multi-occupied buildings all those with some control must co-operate and you need to consider the risk generated by others in the building.

3.1 Evaluate the risk of a fire occurring

The chances of a fire starting will be low if your premises have few ignition sources and combustible materials are kept away from them. In general, fires start in one of three ways:

  • accidentally, such as when smoking materials are not properly extinguished or when lighting displays are knocked over;
  • by act or omission, such as when electrical office equipment is not properly maintained, or when waste packaging is allowed to accumulate near to a heat source; and
  • deliberately, such as an arson attack involving setting fire to external rubbish bins placed too close to the building.

Look critically at your premises and try to identify any accidents waiting to happen and any acts or omissions which might allow a fire to start. You should also look for any situation that may present an opportunity for an arsonist.

3.2 Evaluate the risk to people

In Step 2 you identified the people likely to be at risk should a fire start anywhere in the premises and earlier in Step 3 you identified the chances of a fire occurring. It is unlikely that you will have concluded that there is no chance of a fire starting anywhere in your premises so you now need to evaluate the actual risk to those people should a fire start and spread from the various locations that you have identified. While determining the possible incidents, you should also consider the likelihood of any particular incident; but be aware that some very unlikely incidents can put many people at risk.

In evaluating this risk to people you will need to consider situations such as:

  • fire starting on a lower floor affecting the only escape route for people on upper floors or the only escape route for people with disabilities;
  • fire developing in an unoccupied space that people have to pass by to escape from the building;
  • fire or smoke spreading through a building via routes such as vertical shafts, service ducts, ventilation systems, poorly installed, poorly maintained or damaged walls, partitions and ceilings affecting people in remote areas;
  • fire starting in a service room and affecting hazardous materials;
  • fire spreading rapidly through the building because of combustible structural elements and/or large quantities of combustible goods;
  • rapid vertical fire spread in racked displays;
  • fire and smoke spreading through a building due to poor installation of fire precautions, e.g. incorrectly installed fire doors or incorrectly installed services penetrating fire walls; and
  • fire and smoke spreading through the building due to poorly maintained and damaged fire doors or fire doors being wedged open.

3.3 Remove or reduce the hazards

Having identified the fire hazards in Step 1, you now need to remove those hazards if reasonably practicable to do so. If you cannot remove the hazards, you need to take reasonable steps to reduce them if you can. This is an essential part of fire risk assessment and as a priority this must take place before any other actions. Ensure that any actions you take to remove or reduce fire hazards or risk are not substituted by other hazards or risks. For example, if you replace a flammable substance with a toxic or corrosive one, you must consider whether this might cause harm to people in other ways.

3.4 Remove or reduce the risks to people

Having evaluated and addressed the risk of fire occurring and the risk to people (preventative measures) it is unlikely that you will be able to conclude that no risk remains of fire starting and presenting a risk to people in your premises.

You now need to reduce any remaining fire risk to people to as low as reasonably practicable, by ensuring that adequate fire precautions are in place to warn people in the event of a fire and allow them to safely escape.

The rest of this step describes the fire protection measures you may wish to adopt to reduce the remaining fire risk to people.

The level of fire protection you need to provide will depend on the level of risk that remains in the premises after you have removed or reduced the hazards and risks.

3.5 Flexibility of fire protection measures

Flexibility will be required when applying this guidance, the level of fire protection should be proportional to the risk posed to the safety of the people in the premises. Therefore, the objective should be to reduce the remaining risk to a level as low as reasonably practicable. The higher the risk of fire and risk to life, the higher the standards of fire protection will need to be.

Your premises may not exactly fit the solutions suggested in this guide and they may need to be applied in a flexible manner without compromising the safety of the occupants. For example, if the travel distance is in excess of the norm for the level of risk you have determined it may be necessary to do any one or a combination of the following to compensate:

  • Provide earlier warning of fire using automatic fire detection.
  • Revise the layout to reduce travel distances.
  • Reduce the fire risk by removing or reducing combustible materials and/or ignition sources.
  • Control the number of people in the premises.
  • Limit the area to trained staff only (no public).
  • Increase staff training and awareness.

Note: The above list is not exhaustive and is only used to illustrate some examples of trade-offs to provide safe premises.

Step 4 - Record, Plan, Inform, Instruct and Train

In Step 4 there are four further elements of the risk assessment you should focus on to address the management of fire safety in your premises. In smaller premises this could be done as part of the day-to-day management, however, as the premises or the organisation get larger it may be necessary for a formal structure and written policy to be developed.

If you or your organisation employ five or more people, your premises are licensed, or an alterations notice requiring you to do so is in force, you must record the significant findings of your fire risk assessment and the actions you have taken. Significant findings should include details of:

  • The fire hazards you have identified
  • The actions you have taken or will take to remove or reduce the chance of a fire occurring (preventive measures).
  • Persons who may be at risk, particularly those at greatest risk.
  • The actions you have taken or will take to reduce the risk to people from the spread of fire and smoke (protective measures).
  • The actions people need to take in case of fire including details of any persons nominated to carry out a particular function (your emergency plan).
  • The information, instruction and training you have identified that people need and how it will be given.

Fire risk assessment

In some very small premises, record keeping may be no more than a few sheets of paper (possibly forming part of a health and safety folder), containing details of significant findings, any action taken and a copy of the emergency plan. The record could take the form of a simple list which may be supported by a simple plan of the premises.

In more complex premises, it is best to keep a dedicated record including details of significant findings, any action taken, a copy of the emergency plan, maintenance of fire-protection equipment and training. There is no one ‘correct’ format specified for this.

You must be able to satisfy the enforcing authority, if called upon to do so, that you have carried out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment.

Keeping records will help you do this and will also form the basis of your subsequent reviews. If you keep records, you do not need to record all the details, only those that are significant and the action you have taken. It can be helpful to include a simple line drawing to illustrate your fire precautions (as above). This can also help you check your precautions as part of your ongoing review.

The findings of your fire risk assessment will help you to develop your emergency plan, the instruction, information and training you need to provide, the co-operation and co-ordination arrangements you may need to have with other responsible people and the arrangements for maintenance and testing of the fire precautions. If you are required to record the significant findings of your fire risk assessment then these arrangements must also be recorded.

4.1 Fire Emergency Plan

You need to have an emergency plan for dealing with any fire situation. The purpose of an emergency plan is to ensure that the people in your premises know what to do if there is a fire and that the premises can be safely evacuated.

If you or your organisation employ five or more people or your premises are licensed or an alterations notice requiring it is in force, then details of your emergency plan must be recorded. Even if it is not required, it is good practice to keep a record.

Your emergency plan should be based on the outcome of your fire risk assessment and be available for your employees, their representatives (where appointed) and the enforcing authority.

4.2 Inform, Instruct, Co-Operate and Co-Ordinate

You must give clear and relevant information and appropriate instructions to your staff and the employers of other people working in your premises, such as contractors, about how to prevent fires and what they should do if there is a fire. Any other relevant persons should be given information about the fire safety arrangements as soon as possible.

If you intend to employ a child, you must inform the parents of the significant risks you have identified and the precautions you have taken. You must also co-operate and co-ordinate with other responsible people who use any part of the premises. It is unlikely that your emergency plan will work without this.

The information and instruction you give should be based on your emergency plan and should include:

  • what to do on discovering a fire;
  • how to raise the alarm and what happens then;
  • what to do upon hearing the fire alarm;
  • the procedures for alerting members of the public and visitors including, where appropriate, directing them to exits;
  • the arrangements for calling the fire and rescue service;
  • the evacuation procedures for everyone in your office or shop to reach an assembly point at a place of total safety;
  • the location and, when appropriate, the use of fire fighting equipment;
  • the location of escape routes, especially those not in regular use;
  • how to open all emergency exit doors;
  • the importance of keeping fire doors closed to prevent the spread of fire, heat and smoke;
  • where appropriate, how to stop machines and processes and isolate power supplies in the event of a fire;
  • the reason for not using lifts (except those specifically installed or nominated, following a suitable fire risk assessment, for the evacuation of people with a disability);
  • the safe use of and risks from storing or working with highly flammable and explosive substances; and
  • the importance of general fire safety, which includes good housekeeping.

In premises that are not multi-occupied you are likely to be solely responsible. However, in buildings owned by someone else, or where there is more than one occupier, and others are responsible for different parts of the building, it is important that you liaise with them and inform them of any significant risks that you have identified. By liaising you can co-ordinate your resources to ensure that your actions and working practices do not place others at risk if there is a fire, and a co-ordinated emergency plan operates effectively.

Where two or more responsible persons share premises in which an explosive atmosphere may occur, the responsible person with overall responsibility for the premises must co-ordinate any measures necessary to protect everyone from any risk that may arise. Employees also have a responsibility to co-operate with their employer so far as it is necessary to help the employer comply with any legal duty.

Step 5 - Review

You should constantly monitor what you are doing to implement the fire risk assessment to assess how effectively the risk is being controlled.

If you have any reason to suspect that your fire risk assessment is no longer valid or there has been a significant change in your premises that has affected your fire precautions, you will need to review your assessment and if necessary revise it.

Reasons for review could include:

  • changes to work processes or the way that you organise them, including the introduction of new equipment;
  • alterations to the building, including the internal layout;
  • substantial changes to furniture and fixings;
  • the introduction, change of use or increase in the storage of hazardous substances;
  • the failure of fire precautions, e.g. fire-detection systems and alarm systems, life safety sprinklers or ventilation systems;
  • significant changes to displays or quantities of stock;
  • a significant increase in the number of people present; and
  • the presence of people with some form of disability.

You should consider the potential risk of any significant change before it is introduced. It is usually more effective to minimise a risk by, for example, ensuring adequate, appropriate storage space for an item before introducing it to your premises.

5.1 Alterations Notices

If you have been served with an ‘alterations notice’ check it to see whether you need to notify the enforcing authority about any changes you propose to make as a result of your review. If these changes include building work, you should also consult a building control body.

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