fire risk assessments
Have you ever been involved in a fire risk assessment in any capacity? Perhaps you’ve completed one, asked somebody to do one on your behalf or contributed by answering questions?  If so, you may be familiar with the HSE’s 5 step approach for assessing risks in your workplace:
  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Decide who might be harmed and how
  3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
  4. Record your significant findings
  5. Review your assessment and update if necessary
It’s an excellent framework to use. But while a good fire risk assessment format does prompt the right thought process, it’s worth taking a moment to consider whether it’s always applied as well as it could be in your business.   What’s your priority when it comes to fire protection? Building or people? Let’s be blunt here. Most of the time buildings are insured. Equipment can be replaced. No company wants to be investigated by the enforcing authorities. And some businesses can be wiped out by fire and we’re certainly not downplaying the devastation caused by a blaze that destroys a building. But there is no comparison to a fire that leads to serious injuries and fatalities. In the experience of our associate fire risk assessor Lesley Corroboy, many businesses could better protect themselves, their employees and anyone else in or near their workplace by spending more time reflecting on the HSE’s step 2 - decide who might be harmed and how. It’s undoubtedly easiest to base your fire risk assessment on what you see. That’s an important part of it. But it needs to go beyond that.   As an assessor are you asking the right people the right questions? You don’t necessarily need a vast cross section of people offering their opinion. But you do need to talk to the right people to fully understand all the hazards that exist and to help you identify the right management responses. It might be tempting to direct questions towards the person who’s in charge of an area or who’s been handed the liaison role. But can they give you the complete picture of all the potential fire hazards and how they might affect individuals on site? You obviously need to consider employees but are there other groups of people, like contractors or visitors, who could also be exposed to fire risks? (This consideration applies if you’re answering an assessor’s questions too.) Make sure you take into account all other relevant people; only then can you assess whether the existing controls are sufficient and give potentially crucial advice and solutions.   Are you taking enough time? Physically inspecting the area and having relevant conversations are critical to the process. But so is reflecting properly on what you’ve seen and heard by devoting time to carefully considering what the potential implications are. You need to go through every possible scenario. What happens if the main route out of a building is blocked? Would people know the other routes? What happens if they can’t use the only lift in the building to evacuate but there’s a visitor on the top floor who’s a wheelchair user? What’s plan B? And C and D and probably E because every scenario needs to be covered and that includes the absolute worst case scenario. Ensure the details entered in the report make clear precisely where any areas of concern are. You may have seen hazards that site management has missed due to over-familiarity with the location.   Are you as accurate as possible? If you’re trying to do several fire risk assessments you’ll be keen to complete them quite efficiently. But sometimes ‘efficiently’ becomes ‘slightly rushed’ and that can become a recipe for omissions and errors. Recording the details of the assessment as you’re doing it, rather than writing it up later, can help overcome this. If possible, complete the assessment before moving to the next one to avoid confusion over the precise details later.   Are you keeping your fire risk assessments up to date? All fire risk assessments must be reviewed but once you (or the person responsible) set the review date it can create a perception that no further action is required until then. That’s not the case. Fire risk assessments – in fact, any risk assessments – must be dynamic. The value doesn’t come from simply ‘ticking the box’ to say the document’s created, filed and available. It comes from the outcomes and actions generated from the assessment that could ultimately save lives. Situations change, office layouts change, equipment changes, employees change and personal circumstances change. Your fire risk assessment needs to constantly reflect that. You must always remain alert to anything that might create new hazards or affect risk levels. The primary intention of every fire risk assessment created, without exception, should be to protect people. Continually emphasise the importance of your assessments. Develop a safety culture where people are comfortable asking questions and raising issues and concerns; fire risk assessments must be owned by the people they apply to.  It’s essential your fire risk assessments are as thorough as possible so if you need any further help and advice please do get in touch.   Cheshire Fire & Rescue’s advice on Fire Risk Assessments: