What is a fire risk assessment?
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2006 (FSO) is no longer a new piece of legislation. There is no excuse for everyone not to be aware of their responsibilities and duties under the legislation, especially if they are in the position of being the Responsible Person (RP). Although most organisations have carried out some form of suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment (FRA), or contracted someone to carry one out, these are still not always reviewed at regular intervals, when additional building work is carried out, renovations occur, or with major changes of personnel.
There are many ways for the assessor to generate a FRA – quantitative, qualitative, narrative, the 7 steps to FRA, PAS 79, local Fire Service developed audit documents; to name but a few. What I have found in the past when dealing with the local compliance Fire Officers is they are looking to check you have considered all the factors involved with the fire safety of the premises – people, procedures, hazards, equipment; and any other items that come under the umbrella of fire safety.
The more structured the FRA document, the easier it is for the compliance officer from the Fire Service to see you have complied with all areas they expect, but it also gives a structure for the findings to be set out for Senior Managers or the Board. Having a clearly set out document gives confidence to those who have requested the FRA to be carried out.
The three main areas generally covered in the FRA document are: 1. Legislative information. 2. The audit and findings section. 3. The action plan.
The legislative section can vary dependant on type of building, if the assessment was carried out in house or externally, and what level of depth the assessor believes the person who will finally read the FRA cares about. People who work in the fire safety sector or within health and safety generally have a much greater level of interest regarding British Standards and legislation, than perhaps the MD of an organisation. They may only want to know whether they comply or not.
The audit and finding section is the main area the local compliance fire officer will check. This is to ensure firstly that the questions they expect to be asked are there, and that there are appropriate answers. The Fire Service will also check that the findings from their compliance audits carried out have been covered within the FRA. This area is generally the one with the most detail as it will cover all the categories of fire safety applicable to that premises. It is an area where narrative is useful to increase the information for the RP or their representatives.
The third section is the action plan. This should identify where the fire safety can be improved to protect life, protect property, and comply with the FSO and other relevant legislation. When the FRA is carried out internally within an organisation, the assessor will be able to identify who should be carrying out any actions identified. It is often harder for an external assessor to accurately identify this, which is why many FRAs put down the RP as the named person to carry out the tasks as they are ultimately accountable.
The actions are often split into different priority levels – high, medium, low; red, amber green; 1 month, three months, six months, etc. This is important so that the order of works required can be prioritised. Categorising the actions to identify which are breaches of legislation, which are dangers to life, which are dangers to the property, where the organisation is not following current British Standards or current guidance documents, is an important practice.
All organisations have limited finance, and prioritising works which need to be done is an important part of the FRA. Most organisations have an annual budget allocated to premises work, or training, or replacement of equipment. Just because an assessor comes along and tells an organisation they don’t comply, doesn’t mean they will be able to carry out all actions identified instantly to ensure total compliance. The Fire and Rescue Services across the UK are aware of these constraints and as long as the organisation has a plan in place to work towards full compliance, they will be fair. Where areas are so bad as to warrant compliance notices from the Fire and Rescue Service, this is different as they are the enforcers – Fire Risk Assessors do not have that jurisdiction.
Some FRAs do have time limits put on them by the assessors in which to carry out the actions identified. This often just isn’t practical for the organisations. If an organisation has 75 premises and undertakes FRAs on them all, even if only one high priority action is identified on each and is written as being needed to be carried out in three months, that would be a huge drain on the financial resources of the organisation. It is not practical at all. That type of financial planning can only be carried out by the organisation being assessed. The FRAs can be used to prioritise the works required but not always to that level of detail.
In conclusion, if a FRA has been carried out, it is fair to say that you are on the right track to compliance with regard to fire safety. Once the FRA has been carried out and the actions that require completion been identified, a plan must be created to carry out the works. This can be in relation to cost or ease of carrying out the actions. Timescales can be flexible to a certain extent based on financial restrictions. Once the FRA is completed, questions on the actions identified can always be raised, and clarity requested on certain actions. If an external assessor has been used, use them for information and guidance, even after the assessment has been carried out. They can advise and assist in areas of fire safety that can help you and your organisation stay safe.
For more information call Rowans Fire Ltd on 0800 1488345 or visit www.rowansfhs.com
Published October 2015