Last Updated on 9 March 2023.
As a business owner, you’ve got many priorities. Having an up-to-date Fire Risk Assessment is one of them.
The law changed in 2005 regarding Fire Risk Assessments. Before that time, the friendly fire officer would come round and tell you what to do, and as long as you followed their advice, you would have been issued with a fire certificate.
Today, the law states that you have to carry out a Fire Risk Assessment and provide the design of a fire alarm that will be compliant with the legal requirements as stipulated in BS 5839-1:2017. This might sound a bit heavy, but don’t worry, we’ll explain it all. By the end of this article, you’ll be a Fire Risk Assessment know-it-all!
Have a look at the below video with ex-firefighter and fire risk assessor, Paul Blacketer, explaining why it’s so important to keep an up-to-date Fire Risk Assessment.
So, what exactly is a Fire Risk Assessment?
If your premises accommodates 5 or more people, you must have a written record of a Fire Risk Assessment.
British Fire Safety Law dictates that you must have an up-to-date Fire Risk Assessment for your premises. This is an evaluation of your building’s current state, with a report outlining fire risk factors and the provisions already in place to detect and protect both the building and its inhabitants.
It also, essentially, provides a to-do list of things you must implement in order to be safe and legal, with a priority rating next to it of ‘high’, ‘medium’ or ‘low’.
Carrying out these recommendations is as important as having the assessment in the first place.
The decision of whether or not you decide to carry out the necessary changes lies with you; however you will want to know at that point that you are effectively taking legal liability.
The word ‘liability’ is something that conjures up an immediate fight-or-flight-response, as no one likes it when it feels as though there’s a finger pointing at them. Albeit, it’s important to remember that if you’ve taken all of the necessary steps and can prove you have, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about!
Who is responsible for making sure a Fire Risk Assessment is carried out?
It is the ‘Responsible Person’ for a commercial premises who must make sure a Fire Risk Assessment is carried out, and that all necessary recommendations are completed to ensure safety and legal compliance.
In short, you are the ‘Responsible Person’ if you are any of the following:
- Building owner or landlord
- Anyone else with control over the premises, such as a managing agent or site manager
The responsibility may fall on just one of these people to carry out the Fire Risk Assessment of their premises or many who work together.
If you are the occupier of a premises you lease, you may have an agreement with your landlord that you will carry out the Fire Risk Assessment but if you are not sure you need to ask them and make it explicitly clear who will be undertaking this.
Please be aware, however, that even if your assessment is carried out by your landlord, as the occupier you will have day-to-day responsibilities to meet your insurance requirements, and have a duty of care to your people (such as employees and customers) to keep it safe.
So, things like your weekly fire alarm testing must be carried out by a designated individual on-site. Again, this is something which must be made explicitly clear so responsibilities are not missed or forgotten.
What does a Fire Risk Assessment look at?
A Fire Risk Assessment looks at fire hazards, people at risk, the procedures to reduce or remove risk, as well as your emergency plan and the training your people on site have in fire safety.
It’s an entirely visual assessment, which typically isn’t invasive, and looks at the following:
- Emergency routes, exits and signage
- How you remove dangerous substances
- Firefighting equipment, such as extinguishers
- The training your people undertake in fire safety
- Breaches of fire safety, such as propping open fire doors
- Fire detection and warning systems, like your fire alarm
- The needs of vulnerable people, like the elderly or those with a disability
As well as all of this, your Fire Risk Assessment will also look at whether your electrics are checked when they should be (e.g. every 5 years for your fixed wire testing, unless it is required more frequently) as this can be a fire safety threat if things like faults or overheating (which is invisible!) are left undetected.
How often must I have a Fire Risk Assessment?
Fire safety experts, such as ourselves, recommend having a Fire Risk Assessment on an annual basis. Above all, what’s important to consider is whether the assessment is up-to-date.
That is, does the assessment evaluate and report the building as it currently stands?
The report must mirror the premises, otherwise it’s essentially invalid.
Below are 5 typical reasons why you’d need to have a Fire Risk Assessment in addition to your yearly review:
For instance, you might have had a Fire Risk Assessment a few months ago but then soon after you redecorated, whereby structural changes were made to the building.
You’d then need another Fire Risk Assessment to evaluate the building in its new condition, as it might mean you need more/less detectors or other fire safety consideration to be addressed.
If you’re planning a large-scale refurbishment, it’s a good idea to have a Fire Risk Assessment before you start the work in addition to having one afterwards.
This is because if your project is set to last for a prolonged period, you will want to protect the building and those working within it during this time. It might be that a temporary alarm ought to be fitted or a Hot Works Permit is needed.
Change of ownership
If your property has changed hands then you will need a Fire Risk Assessment, even if the building is structurally the same as when you had your last assessment.
This is because the ‘Responsible Person’ for the building will have changed as a result of the new ownership, and therefore liability will change should there ever be a fire. It’ll be you that’s asked for the most recent assessment report and asked if you carried out the recommended works, not your predecessor.
If your premises is deemed by your insurer to be a ‘high-risk’ environment in relation to fire safety – for instance you might be high-risk if you’re a care home or a factory involved in the production of flammable materials – then you will most likely be required by your insurers to carry out a risk assessment on an annual basis.
If you’re ever unsure, you can always ask your insurer what they expect you to do in order to meet their criteria for legality reasons, and to keep your inhabitants safe.
A fire-related incident has occurred
If a fire-related incident has occurred at your site, it’s likely some of your fire safety equipment might be damaged and need of a replacement.
Plus, you may want to investigate the risks that could have been overlooked, to better prepare you for the future.
Fires and recovering from a fire costs businesses dearly, so if you’re refurbishing following a fire, you’ll want a Fire Risk Assessment to help you avoid it happening again in future.
An increase in staff members
If you’ve had (or are about to have) a noticeable increase in staff members (typically 10-15% and above) then you’ll want a Fire Risk Assessment as you’ll have more people within your jurisdiction to protect.
If any of these staff members also have a physical or sensory disability, you will need an assessment to determine if you’re equipped to safely evacuate them and if there are any hazards which affect them.
You need a new fire alarm installed
If you’ve moved to a new premises which doesn’t have a fire alarm, you’ll want to get one installed and the very first thing to do before committing to buying a fire alarm is to have a Fire Risk Assessment.
This will tell you the level of fire protection you need, thereby giving your fire alarm designer a basis to work from.
If you’re planning on having a system upgrade or like-for-like replacement, and don’t need a brand new installation, then it’s a good opportunity to evaluate your overall fire safety procedures anyway to make sure you’ll still be compliant with British Fire Safety Law.
Can I carry out a Fire Risk Assessment myself?
Yes, you are allowed to carry these out yourself, and there are downloadable templates from the Internet and Government website to do this.
But – and it’s a big but – we highly recommend you get a specialist in to do this for you. This is because a Fire Risk Assessor will share the liability of identified risks in your building; if a fire-related incident happens and it’s because something wasn’t highlighted in the Fire Risk Assessment, the assessor is liable. (But if they suggest remedial work which you then ignore, you are liable.)
The whole point of this is to assess, identify, limit and mitigate risk and hazards within your premises. So, risk assessors have a key role to play, and this leads nicely on to the next vital reason, which is knowing what to look out for.
As risk assessors are liable and sign their name on your risk assessment certificate – and also because this is their every day so they are highly experienced – they know exactly what to look out for. They’re highly educated in fire safety and know can see potential threats a mile off.
Lastly, fire risk assessors are impartial and are there to identify risks and the potency of those risks to help keep you safe and legally compliant. They aren’t interested in making you look better than you are and won’t rush this because they’ve got a million-and-one other day-to-day duties in running the building.
If you’re a site manager who is well-versed in doing these fire risk assessments and are confident having done a few yourself, and are happy to take full responsibility and liability for it, then you can do this yourself.
Similarly, if your premises is small and low-risk, and you’re confident in what you’re doing, you may want to do this yourself.
But if you’ve never done one before or don’t feel wholly confident in doing this, or have a larger premises, it’s better not to take the chance and leave it to a professional.
Can the Fire Brigade do my Fire Risk Assessment?
Unfortunately, not. The Fire Brigade are a huge advocate and support network for fire safety (obviously) but carrying out Fire Risk Assessment is not something they do for you.
They do carry out spot checks and, if they do, they will ask you if you’ve got an up-to-date Fire Risk Assessment.
So, whilst they won’t do this for you, they do still hold commercial premises accountable if they don’t have one. If you’ve not had one but your premises is pretty squeaky clean and on-top of its health and safety requirements then you’ll probably just be given a slap on the wrist and a recommendation to have one.
If you’ve not got an up-to-date one but you’re breaching a lot of fire safety regulations then you can be temporarily shut down until you’ve had an assessment and carried out the necessary recommendations.
The worst case scenario is that you are investigated following a fire-related incident and either found to have had a Fire Risk Assessment where you’ve ignored high risk recommendations or haven’t had one at all!
Do I have to prepare for a Fire Risk Assessment?
The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’ – a bit tricky, I know! Your preparation should really be already done in terms of what you’ve already done and continue to do day-to-day to mitigate and reduce the risk of fire, and protect your people and building in the event there is one.
The idea of your Fire Risk Assessment is to evaluate your premises and procedures in its natural, current state so that you can be given an accurate report telling you where you’re going right and what needs to be improved in priority order.
So, it is in your interest to give the assessor a real picture of what your premises is like.
It’s not a test as such, and it is designed to help you, so there’s no need to dread it. We’ve carried out hundreds, if not thousands, of Fire Risk Assessments and are used to helping people put their fire safety right in their building.
You may find you’re doing everything right and no recommendations are needed! So, if you’re concerned about how the report will come out, don’t worry at all and definitely don’t delay because of this.
Where do I keep my Fire Risk Assessment report?
Your report will hold the answers and feedback from your Fire Risk Assessment, so it’s hugely important you keep this safe as it’s your reference point and evidence to show you’ve done your duty in carrying it out.
Many people opt to keep it by their fire alarm panel along with other documents such as your log book (which is where it should be to refer to and record your weekly fire alarm test).
Alternatively, you may like to keep this together with insurance policies or keep a scanned digital version so if it’s lost you still have a copy. (We will also keep a copy for you should you need it.) However, it is always good to have a physical version to hand.
The main thing is, wherever you put it, you remember where it is and more than one person knows this so there’s no embarrassing rummaging around to find it or seeing that someone’s draw is locked which you can’t get into.
How do I get a Fire Risk Assessment?
If you’ve opted to get your Fire Risk Assessment done by a professional (wise idea!) then you simply need to contact a provider who can help (i.e. us!).
It is always best to check that whoever you use is accredited, experienced and trustworthy.
The London Fire Brigade offers the following advice when choosing a Fire Risk Assessor:
- Make sure they are on a professional register (e.g. the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) and/or the British Approvals for Fire Equipment (BAFE))
- Check that they have experience in carrying out Fire Risk Assessments for your kind of premises
- Don’t be afraid to ask for references from previous clients
What happens after my Fire Risk Assessment?
Following your assessment visit, we’ll get your report back within 1-2 days following the assessment, PLUS our fire safety experts are on-hand to help you with any remedial work should you need it.
If you have breached fire safety regulations significantly and/or had a visit from the Fire Brigade, you may be spot checked again in the future to see if you have carried out a Fire Risk Assessment and rectified any of the issues highlighted.
If nothing’s needed then you can keep your report safe as evidence you’ve carried it out, and we’ll remind you when you’re next due your assessment!