Fire Risk Assessment Overview
From 1st October 2006 The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires the Responsible Person (RP) of any non domestic premises to carry out a fire risk assessment, including measures to reduce or eliminate the risk of fire, and identify persons at risk. Where there are 5 or more employees, a record must be kept of significant findings and a definition of a Responsible Person is contained in the above Order.
There are official guidance documents on www.gov.uk which will assist you in conducting a fire risk assessment.
Where the RP does not have control of all parts of the building and it is shared with other persons, they should be informed of significant risks identified. The person who does have control (landlord, owner, or other employer etc.) has a responsibility to make sure the regulations are complied with, in the parts they control. This may require communication and cooperation between parties to ensure coordination of fire safety provisions, fire fighting measures, evacuation procedures etc.
Knowledge and experience required
Each RP must consider his or her own circumstances and capabilities in respect of the risk assessment process. Nobody knows as much about the business/activities as the RP but if the RP is not confident in his or her own ability to complete their fire safety risk assessment then they can arrange for a suitably qualified or experienced person to complete the assessment on their behalf.
Concept of Fire Hazard
When considering fire risk assessment it is useful to understand the definition of fire hazard. A fire hazard has two components balanced against each other, one is the possibility of a fire occurring and the other the magnitude of consequences of that fire. For example a metal fabrication workshop has a high possibility of a fire due to the cutting and welding equipment. But providing the house keeping is good and no combustible substances are present, then a fire is not likely to to spread, so the consequence is low, therefore the risk can be considered to be normal or even low.
In the case of a cellulose paint spray booth an occurrence is highly likely because of the products used and the equipment required for the process. The consequences are also very high because any fire would have a rapid development, consequently it would have to be considered a very high risk.
These risks can be reduced to acceptable levels by various methods including good housekeeping, specially designed electric apparatus, equipment located away from the risk and have compressed gasses used in the processes, piped to the risk from a bulk storage or centrally located position.
When evaluating the measures needed or proposed and deciding what would be acceptable then the principle of ALARP (as low as reasonably possible) should be used and information on this subject can be found on the HSE website.
To assist in these decisions a simple matrix below can be used to estimate the level of fire risk.
Objective of a Risk Assessment.
The principles contained in the fire safety order is to use a risk assessment approach, which is goal based and flexible. The RP generates the risks in the workplace, therefore, to safeguard the safety of employees, the RP must :
- Identify fire hazards and people at risk and to remove or reduce the risk of those hazards causing harm to as low as is reasonably practicable; and
to determine what fire safety measures and management policies are necessary to ensure the safety of people in the building should fire occur;by
- Reducing the probability of a fire starting.
- Ensuring that all occupants are alerted and can leave the premises safely its the event of a fire.
- Limiting the effects should a fire occur.
Providing the premises have been built and maintained in accordance with building regulations and is of normal risk or lower, this should be a simple matter without significant expenditure. However if the premises are not in accordance with the building regulations, further guidance and action will be necessary, depending on the complexity, size, occupancy and consequential risks.
The RP can enlist the help of other persons who have the necessary experience or skills to assist him and is known as a competent person. The competent person does not have to be an expert to assist the RP, but he/she needs to have sufficient experience or training with regard to the problems they are assisting with. However a risk assessment on a small premises like the news agent shown in the following example, may be undertaken by the R P following the simple guidance in this document. Free fire risk assessment forms are readily available on the internet.
A single lined scaled drawing of the premises is highly desirable and drawn to a scale of 1:50 or 1:100 would be considered ideal. Super impose, using a coloured pencil, any fire safety features and take notes of any relevant information useful to the risk assessment.
Note. The Responsible Person always remains responsible for the outcome This is worth remembering, should you require help with your risk assessment.
The possible actions required when conducting a Fire Risk Assessment.
The following provides an overview of fire risk assessment and how you might go about it. Fire risk assessment should be the foundation for all the fire precautions in your premises. It is essential to read and understand the guidance documentsthat apply to your premises. Initially a simple single line drawing of the premises to scale, could be drawn, showing any relevant structural features and the use of particular areas e.g. production, storage, office accommodation, storage and plant, etc. A copy of the plan will be useful should you have a fire at your premises, to give to the fire service when they arrive to assist them in fire fighting operations. The plan can then be used to indicate hazards, and persons especially at risk. It will assist you to identify where combustibles and ignition sources come together, or are in close proximity, and the action to be taken. In very small premises a simple naught and crosses system can be used; red circles for combustibles and blue crosses for heat/ignition sources.
Identifying fire hazards and possible sources of ignition.
A knowledge of the fire tetrahedron and the most common causes of fire will assist you in identifying potential fire situations. For a fire to occur it needs a source of ignition, (heat or flame) and a potential source of fuel and oxygen. If the ignition sources and fuel can be kept apart, removed, eliminated or reduced, then the risks to people and your business is minimised. In order to do this you must first identify possible sources of ignition, fuel and oxygen in your workplace.
Identify any sources of ignition, (heat or flame). All workplaces will contain heat/ignition sources, some will be obvious such as cooking equipment or open flames (heating or process). Others maybe less obvious such as heat from chemical processes or electrical equipment.
Possible sources of ignition are:-
- Defective electrical fittings and defective or misuse of electrical apparatus – light bulbs and fluorescent tubes too close to combustible materials, misuse or defective electrical extension leads and adapters, faulty or damaged wiring.
- Matches, Lighters, Candles and Smoking materials.
- Flame or sparks from a work process such as welding, cutting, grinding or the use of a hot air gun.
- Sources of frictional heat.
- Electrostatic discharges.
- Ovens, kilns, open hearths, furnaces or incinerators.
- Boilers, engines and other oil burning equipment.
- Portable heaters.
- Cooking equipment, including deep fat fryers.
- The threat of arson must not be overlooked and the malicious firing of combustible materials.
Potential sources of fuel and unsafe situations:-
- Any combustibles – These can be divided into two main groups; combustible fuels such as paper, wood, cardboard, etc.; and highly combustible fuels such as thinners, solvents, polyurethane foam, etc.
- Any unsafe procedures or acts – Persons undertaking unsafe acts such as smoking next to combustible materials.
- Any unsafe conditions – These are hazards that may assist a fire to spread in your workplace, e.g. if there are large areas of hardboard or polystyrene tiles etc., or open stairs that can cause a fire to spread quickly, trapping people and involving the whole building.
- One hazard that is often overlooked is bad housekeeping and is the easiest to correct. It is responsible for many small fires either starting or certainly spreading and involving far more of the premises than was necessary.
The above list is by no means exhaustive and is provided merely as a guide.