Are you the owner, landlord or occupier of a business or other non-domestic premises? In that case, you’re responsible for fire safety and you might already have come across the HSE’s 5 step approach for assessing risks. Identify the hazards. Decide who might be harmed and how. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions. Record your significant findings. Then keep on reviewing your assessment and update it if necessary.
It’s an excellent framework to use as your starting point. But it’s not always applied as thoroughly as it could be in some circumstances. So here are a few suggestions about how you can make sure you’re getting the most from your fire risk assessments.
1. Think beyond the physical hazards
Many people tend to base their risk assessments around what they see. While that’s an important part of it, we’d also suggest you need to spend time reflecting on step 2 – decide who might be harmed and how. In other words, how might those physical hazards impact on the kinds of people that will be in the area? What activities will they be doing? Do they have any particular vulnerabilities that need to be factored in?
2. Are you asking the right people the right questions?
You need to talk to a cross section of people to get the complete picture of all the potential fire hazards and how they might affect individuals in the building.
In the workplace it might be tempting to just talk to a supervisor or team leader – but that’s unlikely to give you a complete understanding of all the issues. Getting a few perspectives is key; other people may be aware of potential hazards that site managers miss due to over-familiarity with the location.
This doesn’t mean you need to spend hours talking to everyone who might be in the area covered by the risk assessment. But you do need to talk to a good cross section of people to identify all the hazards that exist. It’ll also help you identify who could be exposed to them (bearing in mind you need to include some of the ‘less obvious’ people like visitors and members of the public for example) so you can work out how to best manage the risk.
3. Take your time
Experience tells us people try to complete their fire risk assessments quickly. If you can do that and complete them accurately and comprehensively then that’s ok but unfortunately for the majority of people it’ll end up with omissions and errors.
We’d always recommend you record the details of the assessment as you’re doing it, rather than afterwards. And if you’ve a few to do, we’d also advise that multitasking doesn’t work! Complete one assessment at a time otherwise it’ll become confusing and your assessment will be far less effective.
But even though we’d suggest you record the details as you find them, you also need time afterwards to reflect on your findings. Carefully consider what the potential implications are of what you’ve seen and heard. And that includes going through every possible scenario that could arise – including the worst case one.
Always remember you need alternative plans to meet all these scenarios.
Yes, it does require time. But whenever it feels heavy going, remember that what you’re doing could save lives. And don’t forget, you always have the option of calling on us to help you with your fire risk assessments if you could do with some support.
4. Review it constantly
And finally, don’t forget that you need to keep reviewing your assessments. Set a review date by all means but a plea from us – don’t regard that date as the next time you need to think about fire risks.
Circumstances change all the time and you need to remain alert to anything that might create new hazards or affect risk levels. That could easily be before the date you’ve set – so don’t get into that ‘box ticked until next year’ mindset …