Fire risk assessments are necessary for many reasons. As a rule, any non-domestic property needs to have, by law, a fire risk assessment. Businesses such as shops, offices, restaurants and nightclubs, and other businesses, all fall under the requirements of a fire risk assessment. They are designed to minimise the probability of the event of a fire by identifying the potential hazards and fire risks within a building. While the law dictates the need for an assessment, the lives of those in any given business should be given top priority to be safe from fire.

A fire risk assessment doesn’t just examine the building as a structure; it takes into consideration the layout, the contents, the number of people in the building at any given time, escape routes, and the use of the building for employees and visitors. The legislation behind fire risk assessments also lays out who can do a fire risk assessment, who is responsible in the event of a fire, procedures for serious and imminent danger and for danger areas, what provision of information should be given to employees, as well as how the Order is enforced. Failure to comply can result in large fines and, in some cases, prison sentences.

The legislation states that “The responsible person must make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons are exposed for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed on him by or under this Order.” An assessment both ‘suitable’ and ‘sufficient’ leaves a bit of interpretation. This is why it is important to tailor the fire risk assessment to each specific premises, and to update and review the assessment as and when any changes occur, such as when a room is repurposed, the people in the building change (particularly if they are children or disabled or have any other impairment), or the usage of the building changes (for example if a shop converts to being open 24hrs or the building is converted in some manner).

Getting a fire risk assessment correct from the beginning is half the battle. Even if a person is considered ‘competent’, they may not have the experience that a professional would have. The Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 was designed to replace all previous pieces of legislation regarding fire safety, streamlining the requirements within England and Wales.  It is recommended that employers and other responsible persons such as housing associations, schools, hospitals, and landlords familiarise themselves with the legislation so that they understand the requirements. Understanding the requirements is essential, even if you hire a risk assessor.

A verified and certified fire risk assessor is the best route to go. This trend for certified fire risk assessors is a trend that is following the footsteps of the installation market: more and more installers of fire alarm systems across the UK are now certified (over 800 companies, in fact), so this is a trend that is likely to continue in the industry for risk assessment companies too. Hiring a risk assessor doesn’t mean you don’t need to know the regulations. Being the responsible person means just that. The responsible person should be up to date on the requirements and should deal directly with any risk assessors hired so that they can learn what to be on the lookout for to be proactive in fire safety.