Fire Risk Assessment: How to Identify & Control Fire Risks

A fire risk assessment is a process that identifies potential fire hazards in a structure or area. This assessment can help to identify the risks associated with each hazard and determine whether any specific measures need to be taken to mitigate those risks. In this blog post, we will discuss what a fire risk assessment is and how you can go about completing one for your business.

A fire risk assessment should be conducted on a regular basis, as fire hazards can change over time. If you have never conducted a fire risk assessment before, or if it has been some time since the last one was done, you may want to consider hiring a professional company to complete the assessment for you. However, if you are comfortable doing the assessment yourself, there are a few things you will need to keep in mind.

Importance Of Fire Risk Assessment

A fire risk assessment is a process that helps identify potential fire hazards in the workplace and determine what measures need to be put in place to control the risks. It is a legal requirement for all commercial premises in the UK and should be carried out by a competent person.

The main aim of a fire risk assessment is to protect people from the risk of fire. It should identify any potential fire hazards and assess the risks posed to employees, customers and visitors. It should also identify what needs to be done to control the risks and ensure people are safe.

A fire risk assessment is an important part of fire safety management. It can help reduce the likelihood of a fire happening and the severity of any fire that does occur. It can also help to ensure that people know what to do in the event of a fire and can evacuate safely.

If you own or manage commercial premises, then you have a legal responsibility to carry out a fire risk assessment. If you don’t, you could put people at risk and face prosecution.

If you’re unsure how to carry out a fire risk assessment, or if you need help with anything else related to fire safety, you can get in touch with a professional fire safety consultant. They will be able to advise you on everything you need to do to keep people safe from fire and can help you put together a fire safety plan for your premises.

Fire Risk Assessment Process

Fire Risk Assessment Process

Fire risk assessments come under the RRFSO and not under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. A fire risk assessment will indicate what fire precautions are needed. There are numerous ways of carrying out a fire risk assessment. The one described below is based on the method contained within Fire Safety Guides published by the Department of Communities and Local Government. A systematic approach, considered in five simple stages, is generally the best practical method.

Stage 1 – Identify Fire Hazards

There are five main hazards produced by fire that should be considered when assessing the level of risk:

  • oxygen depletion;
  • flames and heat;
  • smoke;
  • gaseous combustion products;
  • structural failure of buildings.

Of these, smoke and other gaseous combustion products are the most common cause of death in fires. For a fire to occur, it needs sources of heat and fuel. If these hazards can be kept apart, removed or reduced, then the risks to people and businesses are minimized. Identifying fire hazards in the workplace is the first stage as follows:

Identify any combustibles

Most workplaces contain combustible materials. Usually, the presence of normal stock in trade should not cause concern, provided the materials are used safely and stored away from ignition sources. Good housekeeping standards are essential to minimize the risk of a fire starting or spreading quickly. The combustible material in a workplace should be kept as low as reasonably practicable. Materials should not be stored in gangways, corridors or stairways or where they may obstruct exit doors and routes. Fires often start and are assisted spreading by the combustible waste in the workplace. Such waste should be collected frequently and removed from the workplace, particularly where processes create large quantities of it.

Some combustible materials, such as flammable liquids, gases or plastic foams, ignite more readily than others and quickly produce large quantities of heat and/or dense toxic smoke. Ideally, such materials should be stored away from the workplace or in fire-resisting stores. The quantity of these materials kept or used in the workplace should be as small as possible, normally no more than half a day’s supply. 

Identify any sources of heat

All workplaces will contain heat/ignition sources; some will be obvious such as cooking sources, heaters, boilers, engines, smoking materials or heat from processes, whether in normal use or through carelessness or accidental failure. Others may be less obvious, such as heat from chemical processes or electrical circuits and equipment.

Where possible, ignition sources should be removed from the workplace or replaced with safer forms. Where this cannot be done, the ignition source should be kept well away from combustible materials or made the subject of management controls.

Particular care should be taken in areas where portable heaters are used or where smoking is permitted (now banned inside premises). Where heat is used as part of a process, it should be used carefully to reduce the chance of a fire as much as possible. Good security inside and outside the workplace will help combat the risk of arson.

Under smoke-free legislation, smoking is not permitted in enclosed or significantly enclosed areas. Outside, safe areas should be provided for those who still wish to smoke. The smoking rules should be rigorously enforced.

Demolition work can involve a high risk of fire and explosion. In particular:

  • Dismantling tank structures can cause the ignition of flammable residues. This is especially dangerous if hot methods are used to dismantle tanks before residues are thoroughly cleaned out. The work should only be done by specialists.
  • Disruption and ignition of buried gas and electrical services is a common problems. It should always be assumed that buried services are present unless it is positively confirmed that the area is clear. A survey using service detection equipment must be carried out by a competent person to identify any services. The services should then be marked, competently purged or made dead before any further work is done. A permit to excavate or dig is the normal formal procedure to cover buried services.

Identify any unsafe acts

Persons undertaking unsafe acts such as smoking next to combustible materials, etc

Identify any unsafe conditions

These are hazards that may assist a fire is spreading in the workplace, for example, if there are large areas of hardboard or polystyrene tiles, etc. or open stairs that can enable a fire to spread quickly, trapping people and engulfing the whole building.

Stage 2 – Identify Persons Who Are At Significant Risk

Consider the risk to any people who may be present. In many instances, and particularly for most small workplaces, the risk(s) identified will not be significant, and specific measures for persons in this category will not be required. There will, however, be some occasions when certain people may be especially at risk from the fire because of their specific role, disability, sleeping, location or workplace activity.

Special consideration is needed if:

  • sleeping accommodation is provided;
  • persons are physically, visually or mentally challenged;
  • people are unable to react quickly;
  • persons are isolated.

People, such as visitors, the public or other workers, may come into the workplace from outside. The assessor must decide whether the current arrangements are satisfactory or if changes are needed. 

Because fire is a dynamic event, which, if unchecked, will spread throughout the workplace, all people present will eventually be at risk if a fire occurs. Where people are at risk, adequate means of escape from fire should be provided together with arrangements for detecting and giving warning of fire. Fire-fighting equipment suitable for the hazards in the workplace should be provided.

Some people may be at significant risk because they work in areas where the fire is more likely or where rapid fire growth can be anticipated. Where possible, the hazards creating a high level of risk should be reduced. Specific steps should be taken to ensure that people affected are made aware of the danger and the action they should take to ensure their safety and the safety of others. Young persons may not be employed unless risks to young persons have been addressed in the risk assessment.

Stage 3 – Evaluate And Reduce The Risks

Suppose the building has been built and maintained in accordance with Building Regulations and is being put to its designed use. In that case, the means of escape provisions will likely either be adequate, or it will be easy to decide what is required in relation to the risk. Having identified the hazards and the persons at risk, the next stage is to reduce the chance of a fire occurring and spreading, thereby minimizing the chance of harm to persons in the workplace. The principles of prevention laid down in the RRFSO should be followed at this stage. These are based on EC Directive requirements and are therefore the same as those used in the Management Regulations Regulation 4.

Evaluate the risks 

Attempt to classify each area as ‘high,’ ‘normal,’ or ‘low risk.’ If ‘high risk,’ it may be necessary to reconsider the principles of prevention, otherwise, additional compensatory measures will be required. 

  • Low risk – Areas where there is minimal risk to persons’ lives; where the risk of fire occurring is low; or the potential for fire, heat and smoke spreading is negligible, and people would have plenty of time to react to an alert of fire.
  • Normal risk – Such areas will account for nearly all parts of most workplaces, where an outbreak of fire is likely to remain confined or spread slowly, with an effective fire warning allowing persons to escape to a place of safety.
  • High risk – areas where the available time needed to evacuate the area is reduced by the speed of development of a fire, for example, highly flammable or explosive materials stored or used (other than small quantities under controlled conditions); also where the reaction time to the fire alarm is slower because of the type of person present or the activity in the workplace, for example, the infirm and elderly or persons sleeping on the premises.

Determine if the existing arrangements are adequate or need improvement.

Matters that will have to be considered are:

  • Means for detecting and giving warning in case of fire – can it be heard by all occupants?
  • Means of escape – are they adequate in size, number, location, well-lit, unobstructed, safe to use, etc.?
  • Signs – for exits, fire routines, etc.
  • Fire-fighting arrangements – wall-mounted or in a cradle on fire exit routes, suitable types for hazards present and sufficient in number?
Fire Risk Assessment

Stage 4 – The Findings

The assessment findings and actions (including maintenance) arising from it should be recorded. If five or more people are employed, or an Alterations Notice is required, a formal record of the significant findings and any measures proposed to deal with them must be recorded.

The record should indicate:

  • the date the assessment was made;
  • the hazards identified;
  • any staff and other people especially at risk;
  • what action needs to be taken, and by when (action plan);
  • the conclusions arising.

The above guidelines are to be used with caution. Each part of the workplace must be looked at and a decision made on how quickly persons would react to an alert of fire in each area. Adequate safety measures will be required if persons are identified as being at risk. Extra fire safety precautions will be needed when maximum travel distances cannot be achieved.

Where persons are at risk or an unacceptable hazard still exists, additional fire safety precautions will be required to compensate for this, or alternatively repeat previous stages to manage risk to an acceptable level. 

Stage 5 – Monitor And Review On A Regular Basis

The fire risk assessment is not a one-off procedure. It should be continually monitored to ensure that the existing fire safety arrangements and fire risk assessment remain realistic. The assessment should be reviewed if there is a significant change in the occupancy, work activity, the materials used or stored when building works are proposed, or when it is no longer considered valid.

Structural Features

The workplace may contain features that could promote the rapid spread of fire, heat or smoke and affect escape routes. These features may include ducts or flues, openings in floors or walls, or combustible wall or ceiling linings. Where people are put at risk from these features, appropriate steps should be taken to reduce the potential for rapid fire spread by, for example, non-combustible automatic dampers fitted in ducts or to provide an early warning of fire so that people can leave the workplace before their escape routes become unusable.

Combustible wall or ceiling linings should not be used on escape routes, and large areas should be removed wherever they are found. Other holes in fire-resisting floors, walls or ceilings should be filled in with fire-resisting material to prevent the passage of smoke, heat and flames.

Temporary Workplaces, Maintenance And Refurbishment

Temporary workplaces such as construction sites, temporary buildings, festivals and fêtes all have requirements for fire precautions and means of escape in case of fire. The scale of the temporary workplace will dictate the requirements, which will depend on:

  • The number of persons working or visiting the site at any one time;
  • The nature of the materials used to construct the workplace or used in the workplace. Are they flammable or highly flammable?
  • height above or below the ground floor and how far it is to a place of safety;
  • the location, whether in a remote area or close to water supplies and/or fire and rescue services; 
  • the size of the premises and whether audible warnings can be heard.

Risk assessments will be needed to determine the level of precautions necessary. Guidance has been given in Fire Safety in Construction 2nd Edition HSG 168 HSE Books downloadable at pubns/ books/hsg168.htm

Sources of heat or combustible materials may be introduced into the workplace during periods of maintenance or refurbishment. Where the work involves introducing heat, such as welding, this should be carefully controlled by a safe system of work, for example, Hot Work Permit (see Chapter 4 for details). All materials brought into the workplace in connection with the work being carried out should be stored away from heat sources and not obstruct exit routes.

Fire Plans 

Fire plans should be produced and attached to the fire risk assessment. A copy should be posted in the workplace. A single-line plan of the area or floor should be produced, or an existing plan should be used, which needs to show:

  • escape routes, numbers of exits, number of stairs, fire-resisting doors, fire-resisting walls and partitions, places of safety, and the like;
  • fire safety signs and notices, including pictorial fire exit signs and fire action notices;
  • the location of fire warning call points and sounders or rotary gongs;
  • the location of emergency lights;
  • the location and type of fire-fighting equipment. 

What Should A Fire Risk Assessment Cover?

A fire risk assessment should cover all potential fire hazards and risks in your workplace. It should identify what could cause a fire to start, how it could spread, and who would be at risk. The assessment should also identify what you need to do to prevent a fire from starting and what you need to do to keep people safe if a fire does start.

If you have a large or complex workplace, you may need to hire a professional fire risk assessor to help you identify all the potential risks and hazards. But even if your workplace is small and simple, it’s still a good idea to do your own assessment. This way, you can be sure that you haven’t missed anything.

Here are some of the things you should look for when doing a fire risk assessment:

  • potential fire hazards, such as electrical equipment, flammable liquids, or combustible materials
  • sources of ignition, such as heaters, sparks from welding equipment, or smoking
  • areas where a fire could spread quickly, such as stairwells, corridors, or doorways
  • people who might be at risk in a fire, such as those with disabilities, young children, or the elderly
  • things that could make it difficult to evacuate the premises quickly, such as blocked exits or heavy smoke

Once you’ve identified all the potential risks and hazards, you need to decide what you need to do to reduce or eliminate the risks. This might involve changing the way you do things, such as using less flammable materials, or it might mean installing new equipment, such as smoke detectors or sprinklers.

You should also put together an emergency plan, so everyone knows what to do if a fire breaks out. This should include things like the location of fire exits, the designated meeting point outside the building, and who to contact in an emergency.

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