Fire Risk Assessments and The Role of “Responsible Persons” In The U.K.
The person responsible for fire safety must recognize their role in mitigating fire risks.
- By Kevin Gratton
- May 13, 2022
It can be challenging to keep up with ever changing fire safety issues and protocols. Fire risk assessments are essential to ensuring that buildings are up-to-date with the latest fire safety regulations and occupants and property are protected in the event of a fire. Even more, it is critical that the person responsible for fire safety in a building or premises understand their obligation to undertake fire risk assessments and recognize their role in managing and mitigating fire risks.
Fire Risk Assessments
Fire risk assessments are undertaken to identify potential fire hazards and determine actions that will reduce risks and ensure the safety of everyone on the premises. In addition to being a regulatory requirement in the U.K., fire risk assessments provide peace of mind that a building meets the highest level of fire safety standards. Thus, fire risk assessments should be carried out regularly by qualified individuals who have sufficient training and knowledge in fire safety.
Five essential steps are involved in performing a fire risk assessment:
- Identifying fire hazards, including potential sources of ignition, fuel and oxygen.
- Identifying people at risk, including those inside and outside the premises as well as those with special considerations that put them at greater risk.
- Evaluating, removing, and reducing the risk of fire occurrence and risks to people. This involves evaluating the adequacy, accessibility, and suitability of fire safety and detection measures, means of escape, testing, and maintenance.
- Recording significant findings and action taken. Assessment findings and actions performed to reduce risk need to be recorded and available for inspection by the enforcing authority. Preparing an emergency plan, instructing relevant people, and providing training are also part of this step.
- Reviewing and revising. In addition to regular reviews, fire risk assessments should be reviewed and revised when the assessment is no longer valid or a significant change in the premises occurs.
Effectively executing a fire risk assessment also requires that the assessor understand the building’s use and occupancy type. To help determine this, many documents provide guidance on the types of buildings or premises that require fire risk assessments. For example, some high-rise residential buildings traditionally had a defend in place - or “stay put” - strategy, which relies on passive fire protection and compartmentation to stop a fire from spreading.
The Role of the “Responsible Person”
The U.K.’s Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) defines the person responsible for a fire risk assessment (“Responsible Person”) as the person who is control of the premises. This includes employers, owners, landlords, or facilities and building managers (among others) and extends to various occupancies, such as commercial businesses, offices, factories, schools, restaurants, hotels, and common areas of multi-family housing units.
Under the FSO, Responsible Persons must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of fire and make sure all occupants, including residents, employees, and visitors, can safely escape a fire. Article 9 of the FSO specifically states:
The responsible person must make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons are exposed for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed on him by or under this Order.
In other words, the Responsible Person is accountable for all aspects of fire safety management for the premises. In addition to carrying out and reviewing fire risk assessments on a regular basis, they are obligated to notify staff about identified risks, enact and maintain appropriate fire safety measures, create emergency response plans, and provide staff with fire safety instruction and training.
The Fire Safety Act of 2021 further extends the duties of the Responsible Person by establishing a new role for the “accountable person.” Since the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London, which took the lives of 72 people, there has been a major shift in building safety in the U.K. and greater scrutiny of roles and responsibilities. The Act ultimately extends provisions of the FSO and clarifies that the Responsible Person for multi-occupied, residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire for:
- the structure and external walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows.
- entrance doors to individual flats that open into common parts.
This clarification also means that Fire and Rescue Authorities can now better identify the Responsible Person for these parts clearing the way for prosecution of any Responsible Person who fails to comply with the FSO.
Appointing a Competent Fire Assessor
While the Responsible Person can certainly carry out their own fire risk assessment utilizing official guidance from professional and governmental resources, it is probably inadvisable for them to do so. Most will not have not have an appropriate level of fire safety knowledge to comply effectively with requirements nor the comfort level, time or resources to invest in the task. Under those circumstances, the Responsible Person would then be obligated appoint a fire safety specialist to complete the assessment.
Understandably, great emphasis should be placed on the competency of a fire risk assessor. This means ensuring that they have the correct level of skill, knowledge, experience, and training to undertake the task. Competency is best demonstrated through professional body registration schemes or certification through a UKAS accredited body. The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council recommends the use of fire risk assessment companies, including sole traders, which are third-party certified to appropriate schemes operated by certification bodies.
In addition to being properly trained and certified, the fire risk assessor should have significant experience undertaking fire risk assessments and be well-versed in performing assessments for the client’s type of business and premises. Assessors should provide references from previous clients in similar premises, have proof of indemnity and liability insurance, and agree to the scope of work in writing.
Fire safety is paramount. It is therefore necessary to establish the persons responsible for managing fire safety and carrying out fire risk assessments for a building or premises. Additionally, competent execution of a fire risk assessment is crucial to safeguarding occupants and protecting the property from significant losses. Hiring the most knowledgeable, experienced, and qualified fire safety specialist will ensure that a fire risk assessment is completed accurately, appropriately, and efficiently.