A piece of paper – that’s what many might think of a fire risk assessment. It’s just part of the bureaucratic red tape, they say, my place of business is fine. Well, there’s a reason why a fire risk assessment is mandatory by UK law. The first reason being that people wouldn’t do one if they didn’t have to.

For any business or public building such as shops, nightclubs, cafes, restaurants, offices, churches, and even bus and train stations, a fire risk assessment is required.  This list of buildings is not exhaustive, of course, but as a rule, all non-domestic properties need to have a fire risk assessment in place. 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.

Having been present during a fire risk assessment, one will gain the understanding of the broad nature of it and its importance. Understanding the legislation and what it is asking for is the first step in making your fire risk assessment a useful tool. While many may think that their business or shop is not in danger of a fire, a fire risk assessment will open their eyes to the possibilities of a fire.

It is often best to hire a fire risk assessor if you are conducting your first assessment. The legislation outlines 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.  It is important to understand that failure to comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 could result in prosecution resulting in fines that could be tens of thousands of pounds, depending on the number of breaches.  In some cases, guilty parties end up with a prison sentence.

Since there is a ‘responsible person’ who is named as the person who is capable of carrying out a fire risk assessment, that person will want to know exactly what their responsibilities are. Having a service such as the Fire and Safety Management (UK) Ltd do your initial assessment, the responsible person can learn how the assessment is done and make notes for doing them in the future. This assessment must be reviewed regularly by the responsible person and they need to know what to look for and to know if any changes have taken place in the workplace in case more dangers have become apparent.

It is important to note that the legislation calls for the risk assessment to be both ‘suitable’ and ‘sufficient’.  The problem with this is that it seems that there is a level of interpretation here: what might be suitable for one property certainly won’t be suitable for another.  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).

Anyone can conduct a fire risk assessment, so long as they are deemed ‘competent’, but a recent investigation uncovered that many business owners lack the skills or knowledge in order to complete a risk assessment unaided. The problem arises when the person carrying out the fire risk assessment does not have the years of experience and ability to fully analyse the risks – what if risks or hazards are missed?  It’s best to have an assessment done by a professional the first time and, perhaps, every few years so that you know it has been done right.