All business premises and every block of flats must have a Fire Safety Assessment by law, yet not everyone understands this important fire safety measure.
We are often asked the question what is a fire safety assessment? The fact is, your fire safety assessment should be the cornerstone of your fire safety plans for your specific building. Unfortunately, fire safety assessments are often overlooked, which can lead to buildings being exposed unnecessarily to fire risk, sometimes with the potential for loss of life.
So, what is a fire safety assessment?
At the most basic level, it is a review taken of a building to assess it for fire risk, and to provide recommendations to make it safer if need be. A fire safety assessment does not have to be written down if there are fewer than 5 regular occupants in a building, so it is not necessarily a document.
However, we would always recommend having a fire safety assessment written down, as this is the simplest way to communicate the findings and to make sure that the recommendations have been carried out.
What are the legal guidelines around a fire safety assessment?
There are some specific guidelines concerning fire safety assessments:
It must be reviewed regularly. We recommend reviewing as follows:
– At 12 monthly intervals following the original assessment
– A brand new assessment should be carried out every 5 years
– If the fabric of the building has changed e.g. the layout has altered
– If the purpose of the building has altered substantially
– If the nature of the occupants has changed considerably
Changes in the layout of the building, the use of it, or the type of occupant can make a big difference to your fire safety plans, so it’s important to conduct a Fire Risk Assessment review if any of these take place.
It must be written down if there are 5 or more regular occupants.
If your business premises or block of flat usually has more than 4 residents at any one time, then you must legally document your fire safety assessment. However, as already mentioned, we would always recommend having your assessment written down whatever the size of your premises.
There are a couple of other circumstances in which your fire safety assessment must be written down even if you have fewer than 5 regular occupants. These are:
- If the premises need a licence or
- The fire brigade has instructed you to (following a visit, for example)
It must record the main findings and the actions to be taken
Whether written down or not, there are 2 parts to a fire safety assessment that must be produced. One is the review itself, which will assess the fire safety of the premises against a number of points. The other is the list of recommendations which should be acted on for the building to be fire safety compliant. It is so important to act on these recommendations because ultimately this is what will keep your building safe.
What gets reviewed in a fire safety assessment?
Fire safety assessments should be comprehensive and take into account many different fire risk factors.
The level of detail in an individual review will depend to a large extent on the complexity of the building. For example, a ‘single-compartment’ building, such as a small shop or kiosk, will have far less to review than a large office block or even a block of flats.
Whilst every fire safety assessment is different, you should be checking the following fire risk and fire prevention factors as a matter of course:
- The use, layout, and construction of the building
- The number and nature of occupants, including any vulnerable occupants
- Whether there is any history of fire loss in the building
- Electrical equipment on site which could be a source of ignition
- Smoking areas and measures taken to prevent smoking causing fires
- Defence against arson
- Portable and installed heating devices which may trigger fires
- Protection against fires caused by lightning
- General housekeeping & keeping key areas clear of combustible materials
- Any fire hazards introduced by building works or outside contractors
- The storage arrangements for any dangerous/flammable liquids
- The configuration of escape routes and how they are maintained
- Measures in place to limit fire spread, such as compartmentalisation
- That emergency lighting is installed correctly & is in working order
- The correct use and locations of fire safety signs
- There is adequate means of raising the alarm in case of fire
- The right fire extinguishers are in the right locations
- The correct installation and maintenance of other devices, such as sprinklers
- Who manages fire safety for the building, and how well
- Whether there is regular fire safety training & evacuation drills
- Correct maintenance and testing procedures of fire safety systems are in place
- That correct documentation and records of fire safety measures are being kept
What is the penalty for not having a fire safety assessment?
The penalty for not having a fire safety assessment and, in particular, not having implemented the correct fire safety precautions, is prosecution resulting in severe fines, or in cases of extreme negligence, a prison sentence.