What is a Fire Risk Assessment?

Fire Safety By Matthew Coombes

A fire risk assessment is a review of fire safety within the workplace that aims to provide information on the current risks to fire safety, so that they can be reviewed and improved to control the risk.

Scope of the fire risk assessment

While conducting a fire risk assessment, a consideration must be made for the scope of the area being assessed. While smaller, lower risk organisations may be able to conduct a fire risk assessment of an entire site, the larger the site being assessed gets and the higher the risks involved, the more specific the risk assessments may need to be.
For example, a large factory site with a kitchen, office and factory floor, may choose to assess each of these areas independently.
Additionally, high risk tasks may need to be individually assessed, and high-risk workplaces may use multiple assessors and multiple assessments to ensure all risks are identified and controlled.

Capturing information with a fire risk assessment

In the UK, there is no set or enforced standardised fire risk assessment form for you to complete. This means that from employer to employer, and on an individual level, what is covered by the risk assessment can differ. The aim of the fire risk assessment is to provide information which can be acted upon to ensure compliance with relevant legislation.
This means that the risk assessment should aim to cover as much relevant information as possible. Typically, this will include:

  • Who conducted the assessment
  • When the assessment was conducted
  • Who is responsible for the site/area
  • What the site/area is used for and occupancy hours
  • Maximum occupancy (all buildings have a maximum occupancy under Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Act 2005)
  • Where the site is, or the scope of the area covered including relevant details on construction materials, the layout, the square footage

All of the above information provides necessary context to the document that will help those that need to read the document to understand what has been looked at. This can mean managers, senior leadership teams, health and safety professionals, the fire service authority, and future fire safety assessors looking back at what has previously been covered and addressed.

The body of the fire risk assessment

The main body of your fire risk assessment needs to include information that can identify a wide range of hazards and information on the current status of control over that hazard. Those that have completed the NEBOSH Certificate in Fire Safety will have access to the template fire risk assessment produced by NEBOSH based on the PAS-79 standard. This risk assessment template is designed to assist learners in understanding best practice and can be a great resource for those conducting risk assessments.

Summary actions

It is often a good idea to select three to five significant risks and propose immediate actions that can be taken to reduce these risks. This helps to provide management and anyone that needs to read the risk assessment with some immediate areas of concern or where improvements can be made.

Review and monitoring

It’s essential that any risk assessment is continually referred to, and that progress in implementing the controls and addressing the risks identified by the document is maintained. This means referring to any time periods that you’ve set for control measures and reviewing progress later on in the year. Additionally, a new risk assessment should be conducted 1 year after the prior assessment.

Who completes a fire risk assessment?

Not just anyone can complete a fire risk assessment. Due to the significant risk that fire poses to property and people, any fire risk assessment should only be conducted by a competent professional with appropriate understanding of fire safety, hazard identification and risk management.
Even a person with good intentions completing a fire risk assessment, may inadvertently make fire safety worse.

  • By failing to identify fire risks properly, people can become complacent and think that there is little to no risk
  • Suggesting impractical or improper controls to risks identified can easily lead to a waste of resources
  • If controls do not fully control a risk, there may be a significant risk to life or property
  • A failure in fire safety or failure of a control can lead to management and senior leadership not trusting future suggestions to control risks later, reducing the fire safety culture

Conducting fire safety risk assessments for life risk workplaces

Fire safety is split between ‘risk to property’ and ‘risk to life’.
What constitutes as risk to life?
A risk to life arises when persons on the site may not be able to escape in the event of a fire quickly or without assistance. This may be due to mobility or health issues, because they are asleep or intoxicated, because they have or are small children, or they may have disabilities that can increase the time it takes to escape. Some common examples of life risk are:

  • Hotels – Can have people sleeping at all hours of operation, people can be intoxicated
  • Hospitals, care homes, assisted living – People may be less mobile or immobile without help
  • Schools – Children may not understand the severity of a dangerous situation, may not be aware of evacuation procedures or may be too young to understand what’s happening

Any life risk organisation should always ensure the competency of the fire risk assessor. If you are unsure on the competency of someone carrying out fire risk assessments in a life risk workplace, employ the assistance of a competent and respected professional or contractor.
The bottom line is:
Property can be replaced, but life cannot.

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