Fire safety 2: Fire risk assessment

Since 1 December, 1999, all employers have been under a legal duty to carry out a risk assessment related to fire.

With effect from 1st October, 2006, the previous complex fire safety regime was replaced by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This left the risk assessment regime in place but removed the previous requirements for Fire Certificates.

The Government have produced detailed guidance for employers and other duty holders on how to ensure fire safety is adequately provided. These guides can be found on the Communities web site.

5 steps to risk assessment

The risk assessment approach mirrors that recommended more generally by HSE - a 5 steps approach:

  • Identify fire hazards;
  • Identify people at risk;
  • Evaluate, remove or reduce, and protect from risk;
  • Record, plan, inform, instruct and train;
  • Review

Issues to be covered

A detailed assessment will have to address the issues identified in Fire Guide 1  as well as issues related to the construction of the building concerned.

Construction

Modern construction approaches seek to create a series of 'fire compartments' within any building.

These are areas within which any fire will be contained for a minimum period of time, due to the construction of walls, ceilings, floors and doorways. The creation of these compartments allows people within the building sufficient time to safely evacuate and also aims to minimize damage from fire.

Although these compartments are controlled by Building Regulations, it is important for duty holders to review the systems by which they ensure that such construction safeguards are not jeopardized by subsequent alterations to the building fabric.

There are strict controls laid down in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order to ensure that competent authorities are consulted before any work that could damage or otherwise compromise this construction-based fire safety regime is permitted.

Safety Reps will want to ensure that any such building work is properly controlled and that previous alterations have been adequately scrutinized to ensure that they meet with regulatory requirements for fire safety.

Enforcement

The same Fire Authorities are responsible for this legislation as for the 1971 Fire Precautions Act.

It is not yet clear how enforcement action will be initiated - but Safety reps who are concerned that fire precautions in their workplace are inadequate should contact the Fire Authority for advice.

Fire authorities

For the majority of premises, the Fire Authority is the local authority fire service. Premises occupied by Crown employers or owned by the Crown are not covered by the local Brigades, but by HM Fire Service Inspectorate. The MoD Fire Service covers all Ministry of Defence premises.

Certain high risk premises are covered by the Health & Safety Executive, who issue certificates under the Fire Certificates (Special Premises) Regulations 1976. This covers large storage and manufacturing plants for explosives, flammable liquids and gas and certain chemicals.

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