Ensuring appropriate action is taken to minimise risk in the workplace may seem like a daunting prospect for those responsible for fire safety.
However, its important to remember that while the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 states that a ‘suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks’ must be made, the responsible person can seek help and support from professionals where they feel they are not suitably qualified.
Image courtesy of FPA
Those responsible for building safety are often juggling many responsibilities, and fire safety can be a complex addition to the mix, so it’s important to remember that you are not expected to know all the answers. By using accredited, competent contractors and products, the responsible person can ensure they are working within industry best practice, and minimising the risk to employees, the business and the local community. One of the major issues when it comes to competency however is that there is no consistent legal definition. The debate around who qualifies as a ‘competent’ person gained momentum following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, although was one that the fire sector has been lobbying government to distinguish for many years. The subsequent Hackitt Review into building regulations identified a significant lack of skills, knowledge and experience within the building and construction industry in relation to fire.
Despite this lack of clarity however, those responsible for fire safety within a building may still be liable in the event of a fire if they cannot evidence that the fire risk assessment has been carried out by a competent person. Seeking help from an accredited third party is therefore the best way for businesses to better identify and assess fire risks, and ultimately limit their impact. Below, we identify some of the areas in which a certified third party can help you to become fire secure.
Receiving the right training
Approved training is an important and established way to ensure that building managers and owners understand exactly what their responsibilities are, and the impact their decisions could have in the event of a fire. Legally, a responsible person (normally the owner or managing occupier of the premises) must make a ‘suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks’. If they choose not to use an accredited company or individual, then it is of paramount importance that they seek training, which provides them with a third party stamp of approval to undertake this work. This is the only way they can get a better understanding of the potential challenges caused by fire, as well as guidance on conducting the fire risk assessment itself and implementing the findings.
This type of knowledge and skillset is not achieved overnight, and depending on the complexity of the premises it may take many hours of practice and assessment to reach a standard that meets competency levels.
Another key consideration is ensuring an appropriate evacuation strategy is in place. The building’s fire risk assessment should consider the specific people at risk, where they are in the building and the risks that cannot be removed or reduced any further. This may prove difficult for those with limited experience in fire strategy, as the evacuation approach often differs based on the building size, use and occupancy, meaning a single staged or phased evacuation may be required.
Training of all staff and evacuation drills are vital to ensure that procedures are embedded and that risks are minimised. While few buildings have large numbers of fires each year, many have an unnecessary number of evacuations due to false alarms and poor control over contractor work. Having competent, well trained responders can quickly eradicate the problem at hand with minimal disruption.
Putting a thorough fire strategy in place
The British Standards Institution’s guidance document, PAS 911, refers to a fire strategy as providing ‘a clear set of measures encompassing fire precautions, management of fire safety and fire protection.’ This includes the development and implementation of systems, policies and procedures that address relevant risks in line with specific business objectives - with an aim to reduce life risk while also protecting business procedures and assets.
However, in our experience businesses don’t always take a robust and holistic approach to fire strategy. For health and safety managers, an important first step is understanding that their fire strategy will vary per building, and is based on their individual requirements and specifications. This includes:
building descriptions, including layouts and materials
fire compartmentation, including protection for escape routes
fire detection and alarm arrangements, emergency lighting and fire safety signage
smoke ventilation and fire suppression
fire safety management arrangements including staff training, inspection and review requirements
Alongside the obvious risk to life, a fire can have a prolonged impact on a business resulting from factors including loss of income, damaged equipment and stock, and many others. The harsh reality is that some companies may not recover from a major fire. Building managers and owners, and all others responsible for fire safety, should therefore take the action necessary to minimise the risks, which could include partnering with an accredited third party.