Fire Safety Risk Assessment Guide
Fire safety is an important issue. Creating an effective fire prevention strategy should be a top priority for all UK-based business owners, and conducting a risk assessment is a key part of this.
Thorough and far-reaching risk assessments often form the backbone of an effective fire safety strategy. They help companies to build the systematic processes that are needed to spot emerging hazards and correct any significant risk factors before they can cause an accidental fire.
To help you produce your own fire safety risk assessment, we’ve put together this brief guide, which walks you through the risk assessment step-by-step.
Your fire safety risk assessment is a hugely important component of health and safety policy. It’s one of the first things you should do whenever planning out your strategy to ensure your employees are safe while they’re at work.
In principle, a fire safety risk assessment is just an examination of:
Fire safety risk assessments also need to include an evaluation of risk factors and plans to reduce or remove any fire hazards present in the workplace.
A fire safety risk assessment is what informs the rest of your fire safety procedures. Without it, you would not be able to put in place the right policies, such as evacuation routes, fire safety equipment and other considerations.
The UK fire law Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires businesses to carry out risk assessments, and with good reason. Part Two of the law states that there must be “a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons are exposed for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions he [the employer] needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed on him”.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) all employers have a legal obligation to “adopt behaviours procedures and plans” that:
This means investing in safety equipment, taking precautions to ensure that flammable materials are handled correctly and performing regular fire safety risk assessments.
You also have a legal obligation to record your risk assessments, which means you’ll want to create written documentation for all of the above points and make a note of your thoughts and findings during every step of the process. These notes don’t have to be written in a specific way, but they should be thorough and legible.
According to the terms of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all UK businesses have a responsibility to conduct regular risk assessments. The law outlines the duties of a ‘responsible person’ who is defined as “the employer, if the workplace is to any extent under his control”, “the person who has control of the premises” or “the owner” of a building.
If you meet the requirements of being the ‘responsible person’ you have a legal obligation to comply with fire risk assessment regulations. Section 9 of the regulations outlines the necessary fire safety risk assessment steps, which include the requirement to record the assessment and regularly review it.
A fire risk assessment should include each of the sections we have outlined below.
The first step of a fire risk assessment will be to identify all of the potential fire hazards that you can find in the premises you’re responsible for. In order to do this, it’s always worth familiarising yourself with how fires start.
Fires require three things; oxygen, fuel and a source of ignition. There’s very little you can do about oxygen, so you will therefore be looking for points at which fuel (anything that might burn) could come into contact with a source of heat (which is the ignition).
Go around the premises. Have you found anything that you believe to be a significant risk of being fuel for a fire? This could be rubbish, stores, stacked boxes of paper or anything else. Note anything you see down.
Next, you’ll want to identify any potential sources of heat. Cigarettes are one of the most common causes of fire, but any kind of naked flame or significant heat could potentially start a fire. Record all of them that you’re concerned about and include notes on potential sources of ignition and potential fuel sources.
To complete the first stage of a risk assessment, set aside some time to think about the materials you use in your business and the potential hazards posed by keeping these materials close to heat sources. Try to consider all possible fire hazards, including everyday items like cleaning chemicals, furnishings or combustible textiles.
Once you have a better understanding of what might cause a fire, you need to consider who might be at risk if a fire does start. As a general rule, everyone in the premises is going to be at risk, which includes visitors as well as employees.
However, it’s important to remember that some people may be more at risk than others. Those who are working alone for example might be in a more dangerous situation if a fire breaks out and is not discovered quickly. You need to note these people down.
Similarly, some people will find evacuation more difficult, such as the elderly, children, and those with disabilities. This also includes customers, employees and temporary contractors.
These groups of people will need special consideration when it comes to planning escape routes and the escape procedure. Make sure you make a note of any staff members with disabilities or staff members that may be more vulnerable during an accidental fire, so that you can ensure their safety in your plan.
Once you’ve identified the fire hazards in the workplace and the people that could be harmed by them, the next step of a risk assessment is to evaluate these risks and develop a strategy for removing or reducing them.
Using the information you’ve gathered in the first two steps of the checklist, evaluate the likelihood of the risks that you’ve found and how serious their impact would be. This gives you a list of priorities to work through, with the most likely and most dangerous hazards needing to be addressed first.
It’s far better to take steps to prevent a fire than plan for when one occurs. Therefore, you should always aim to remove the likelihood of a fire risk from a work environment entirely, or put measures in place to reduce the impact that this risk could have as much as possible. This could include upgrading equipment, moving fuel sources away from sources of ignition or training staff to act in a way that minimises the risk of an accidental fire or explosion.
Include details of any testing/maintenance carried out on your equipment as part of your risk prevention procedures. It’s important to remember that emergency lighting, fire doors and notices/signs all count as fire safety equipment, so don’t make the mistake of just documenting your alarms and sprinklers.
Go through your checklist of hazards and ensure you’ve considered each one, and go through the individuals at risk too. Have you thought about how to keep them safe?
The fourth stage of a fire safety risk assessment is to make sure that all of the information you find is recorded and document your responses to potential fire hazards and how you’re going to control them. This will help you to build a more robust plan, which will reduce the chances of a fire happening in the first place, as well as help to develop things as time goes on and situations change.
Include details of all access points, your emergency protocols and the advice that you’ve given to staff.
As part of recording and planning, you must also make sure that everyone is aware of the information identified and the policy created as a result of the fire risk assessment. provide everyone with fire safety training and keep important information such as escape routes publicly visible.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, in-depth and detailed fire safety risk assessments are always preferable. Instead of just writing down that your boiler represents a fire risk (for example) you might want to make a note of the fact that your boiler might represent a fire risk if combustible materials are left in close proximity to the intake, or regular maintenance isn’t scheduled and a fault develops.
The final stage of a fire risk assessment is something that you’ll need to keep coming back to, and that’s the review. In order for a risk assessment to continually keep people safe, it needs to be regularly reviewed and updated so that it’s representative of current risks and risk management procedures in place.
Set a date to regularly look at your assessment checklist and decide if anything has changed which means you need to update the plan. Has the building changed in any way? Has the workforce changed significantly? Have any new hazards appeared? Has there been an incident that needs to be taken into account?
You should also review your fire safety risk assessment if a fire takes place or a new fire hazard has been discovered. If you make a significant change to an internal procedure that introduces a new hazard or disrupts a fire prevention procedure, the risk assessment should be conducted again and updated.
There are generally considered to be five main steps that make up a risk assessment. These are: identify the fire hazards, identify who is at risk of harm from fire hazards, evaluate risks and implement preventative measures, record the risk assessment and regularly review the risk assessment.
If you conduct a fire risk assessment yourself, it should only cost several hours of your time, plus the cost of any preventative measures you need to put in place. However, some people prefer to hire a specialist to complete a fire safety risk assessment in the workplace to ensure that an expert has considered all the possible hazards.
The cost of a fire risk assessment will depend on the person you employ, the size of your organisation and the level of fire risk that is present in your workplace. On average, you can expect to pay between £200 and £1,200, according to Check a Trade.
A fire risk assessment should be reviewed if it is no longer valid and a fire has taken place, or if significant internal changes are made to procedures and equipment. The former situation requires a new risk assessment to identify new hazards and create a more effective fire prevention plan, whilst the latter situation means that new hazards need to be identified that are linked to the new procedures and/or equipment.
A fire safety risk assessment in the workplace is your first line of defence against fires as it allows you to identify risks and control them before anything dangerous has happened. By following all of the steps in fire safety risk assessment, you can ensure that you’ve done all you can to reduce the risks of fire at work and keep your employees safe.
If you’d like to learn more about fire safety assessments or feel that you’d benefit from additional training, you may be interested in our ‘Fire Safety for Fire Marshals and Wardens’ online training package, which includes in-depth information on conducting fire safety risk assessments.