Fire Risk Assessments

fire warden kitIn many UK businesses fire wardens are appointed, given training and perhaps given a high-vis vest .. but should they get more.

Fire Warden Kits are a great idea and becoming very popular. The idea being that you would have a clearly marked drawstring bag containing a few essentials should the worst happen. The bag is then hung by the final exit and often by the fire alarm panel.

In a kit are such things as a high vis vest labelled 'Fire Warden', a torch, a whistle or air horn, first aid kit etc.

There are many varieties of kit with different contents and a range of prices.
However all though some are very expensive they don't have to be and some of the contents are not that useful.

This particular kit we like, it's affordable and has good, useful contents 'Fire Warden Kit'.


Fire Risk Assessors are not the Fire Police
A fire risk assessment is a legal requirement - YES .... However it should not be just another tick in the health and safety box, just another drain on your resources that you could do without ..... NO! 

A fire risk assessment keeps you and your staff safe and protects your business. A well carried out assessment offers you great protection and peace-of-mind. However everybody has to understand the importance of fire-safety planning. All too often risk assessors come across staff who think they are the Fire Police. Many staff think they are towing the company line and give assessors the answer they think they should give rather than just simply the truth. This approach is a waste of everybody's time and money and quite frankly can be dangerous.

Here is an all too typical scenario:

Assessor: "Does your company provide you with fire extinguisher training?"

Staff member: "Yes, absolutely"

Assessor: "Good' so if this computer went on fire which of these extinguishers would you use?"

Staff member: "Ermm... Er....Em..... Foam?"

Fire risk assessors are not the fire authority but they are there to ensure you keep on the right side of that authority. This can only happen if you are open and honest. It doesn't matter where you are now but where you will be after the assessment has been carried out and the significant findings have been applied.

There is one word within the fire safety legislation (RRO 2005) that is particularly significant - 'Responsibility'. Ultimately the business owner / MD is 'The Responsible Person' but responsibility cascades and has legal ramifications.

So if you want to keep safe and legal treat fire risk assessments with the respect they deserve and give helpful, open and honest responses.

Risk assessors are safety consultants and definitely not the Fire Police!

Fire Safety Order 2005On the 1st of October 2006 the Regulatory Reforms (Fire Safety) Order came into place and repealed a multitude of previous fire-safety legislation. Yet it is estimated that over 60% of UK businesses are not fully compliant under the act. However pointing to a neighbouring business should a fire or a near miss hit you will not help - ignorance is no plea in the British judicial system.
If you are a business owner then the buck stops with you. Not meeting all the fire-safety regulations has been likened to driving a car with no tax (the inference being you’re okay if you don’t get caught) but it’s a poor analogy as rarely does driving with no tax end up with loss of human life.

There are many more questions but can you answer these core questions in the affirmative?

Have you carried out and documented a sufficient fire-risk assessment?

Have you put in place adequate fire-protection measures?

Has your staff received appropriate fire safety training?

Are all the above updated frequently?

There are a number of reasons your business could receive a visit from a fire-officer: someone reported fire-safety concerns regarding your business, randomly picked for an inspection, a fire or a near-miss event. Times are indeed tough but avoiding faire-safety legislation can have perilous consequences.
It doesn’t have to cost the earth, start by taking advantage of our free fire safety resources.

fire alarm design often undervalued

When it comes to fire alarm design it is amazing how many trades, professions and professionals just don’t get it. Firstly there is the misconception that the designer will choose the category of the system – Wrong! It’s not their job. The choice of system category is ultimately that of ‘the responsible person’. They may have help and guidance from other stakeholders e.g. fire risk assessor or insurer. Occasionally they will be given a category by an enforcing authority such as the Fire Brigade or Building Control. Once the category has been chosen it is the job of the designer to ensure the specification meets the category entirely.
Being the official designer brings a lot of legal responsibility. A person remains ‘the designer’ in perpetuity (unless wholesale changes or re-design takes place) even if a different maintaining company takes over the system in the future. Therefore a designer will not cut corners. In a commercial, competitive environment ultimately they will provide a design to your specification but the category on the certificate will reflect that. Indeed if the design meets no specific category this too will be noted on the design certificate.
Many building contractors give designers a schematic with devices already in position. However they often don’t quite realise this means legally they are now the official designer. A fire-alarm designer will be completely unwilling to certificate somebody else’s poor design, and why should they? Many architects, consultants, builders and electrical contractors completely misunderstand and underestimate the design process. It involves understanding detectors, coverage patterns and spacing. They need to know how different structures, particularly ceilings, affect detector coverage and spacing. They have to understand how to incorporate loop calculations, battery calculations control-panel design software etc. etc.
Often it is at the end of a contract when the trouble starts. This when the Fire Authority, or more likely building control, will require all the correct certification before they sign the building off. Often because nobody understood or perhaps were unwilling to pay for the design element problems now ensue. A finished building, a Building Control official who won’t sign it off and a designer who won’t certificate someone else’s poor design.
The design process can take days and cost hundreds of pounds and all too often this is not factored in. However skimping on design can be very costly in the long run.

What are Fire Risk Assessments?

Although the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) order has been in place since October 2006 it is amazing how many UK business owners pose the question "What are fire risk assessments?"
Many people remain blissfully unaware of their legal responsibility to carry out a fire risk assessment or undertake an insufficient assessment. One of the most common failings sited in prosecutions is that of 'an insufficient fire-risk assessment'.
Many members of staff find themsleves being delegated the responsibility yet lack the knowledge or expertise to undertake an assessment to a reasonable and compliant standard.
In law it is perfectly acceptable to undertake your own assessment if you acknowledge your limitations and seek knowledge and advice to supplement this need. With this in mind I have written 'The Ultimate Fire Risk Assessment Guide.' The publication is free and will be updated annually. 
Having read the publication you will know where your business fits within the Fire Safety Order and how it specifically applies to you. There are many free guides including the government's own guides. However they contain advice such as - "Ensure you have adequate fire protection measures (alarms, extinguishers etc.)" - very helpful. How do you know what is sufficient?
This free book takes you beyond the obvious and fleshes out the general statements to help you determine exactly what measures you should put in place to ensure you meet current fire-safety legislation.

You can order your free copy at

comptent fire risk assessorThe ‘Fire Safety Order’ requires that commercial premises carry out a fire risk assessment to determine the risk to people from fire. Legislation also requires that measures are taken to keep people safe from fire whilst on those premises.

In simple premises it is quite likely and practical that the owner or duty holder carries out the assessment. In more complex buildings however it is wise to consider employing a professional consultant.

In fact, in England and Wales, Government guidance suggests that where buildings are more than four storeys high then the duty holder should seek the advice of a competent person.

As this requirement becomes more and more in demand this year saw the setting up of ‘The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council’.
Their advice to duty holders carrying out their own assessment in simple places is as follows:

The following attributes of a fire risk assessor might be sufficient in conjunction with a study of suitable guidance documents. Even in such a simple building, the fire risk assessor will need:-

a) An understanding of relevant current best fire safety practices in buildings of the type in question;

b) An awareness of the limitations of the fire risk assessor's own experience and knowledge;

c) A willingness and ability to supplement existing experience and knowledge, when necessary, by obtaining external help and advice

In order to help in this regard we are putting on a series of workshops. The first being held in Harrogate on Tuesday July 19th, 2011.

For more details click [Free Fire Safety Training]


Staggered risers a boon to fire safetyI can hear every architect, surveyor, plumber, electrician, and comms provider shouting ‘What a stupid idea!” And as an ex-fire alarm engineer I can fully understand that viewpoint.
Utilities would take a deal longer to install if risers were not placed inline on every floor. Cables and pipes would have to snake across floors before reaching the next riser; both the original installation and future remedial work would be more difficult – Yes… but it could save lives.
Risers are essentially a flue-like construction – We’re building chimneys in multiple locations around high-rise buildings. Risers, should compartmenting between floors be breached, would rapidly draw smoke and flames between floors.
“Well compartmenting must be in place!”, shouts the plumber. True, but how many buildings, that are no longer new, have breached compartments in risers? In our experience it’s as high as 70 to 80%.
Retrofit work is rarely checked and often only on a fire-risk assessment is the problem discovered. Breaching of compartmentation in risers is widespread – fact! So if risers were not inline and didn’t form a flue the problem would be much less severe.
Is a longer install and more awkward retrofit a reasonable price to pay for vastly increased fire safety? Money no-object I think everyone would answer ‘Yes’. But money is an object isn’t it? So it’s highly unlikely to happen.
Tell us your thoughts – good idea or totally unworkable?

Fires caused by smoking in UK businessesSince the introduction of the smoking ban in 2007 most UK businesses think that the potential of fires due to smoking has been snuffed out. However our research shows that the vast majority of businesses have poor or no provision for employees who want to smoke.

Did the smoking ban magically encourage employees to stop smoking? Is it fair to say that, on the whole, those who smoked before the ban still smoke now?

When carrying out fire risk assessments across the UK we often find that the provision for smoking members of staff is so poor that it is a significant fire risk.

When there is no real safe environment in which to smoke (either a smoking shelter or at least a fire-proof ashtray) then smokers often discard cigarettes close to a building.

Consider the following:
Cigarettes burn at  approximatley 700 degrees Celsius and they are designed to stay lit and can therefore smoulder unseen for some time.
Nationally, someone dies every three days as a result of a fire caused by cigarettes.
Approximately 800 injuries each year occur as a result of fires caused by smoking.

There is still a big potential fire-safety risk to businesses due to smoking and this is one reason why the UK Government has pushed for a new EU study into the effectiveness of 'Reduced Ignition Propensity' cigarettes - which go out quickly if left unattended.

With 80% of businesses likely to never recover from a major fire it is about time that business owners stopped turning a blind-eye to smokers and ensure there is safe provision for smoking on or near their premises.

cost of fire risk assessments
Sounds familiar? It is true to say that after carrying out a fire-risk assessment it is highly likely that some remedial action is required and some of which will probably incur additional costs. There I’ve said it! Don’t stop reading yet though because if cost reduction is what you’re aiming for then flouting fire-safety legislation is not the answer.
Ask New Look who recently had to pay a whopping £400,000 for fire-safety breaches and £136,000 costs or the Brandon House hotel that paid a mere £200,000.

Those who ignore fire-safety can pay fines at the magistrates’ court of up to £5,000 per offence. Some of these offences can be things like blocked exits which would have incurred zero expense to remedy. Very often the major failings are lack of training, lack of planning and lack of information; all these measures are minimal in terms of capital expenditure.

The costly items are usually poor fire-protection systems: extinguishers, alarms, emergency lights and poor electrical-safety (lack of PAT testing or periodic inspections).
However a fire-risk-assessment should not put you out of business. It is reasonable to phase in remedial action and even if the action required is urgent (such as no working fire alarm) then temporary measures can be put in place (such as instigating regular patrols and / or issuing manual air-horns).

Health and Safety legislation brings just as many potential expenses, new systems and training issues but has much less opposition in terms of capital investment – why is that? A law in place since 1974 has had the time, profile and financial impact to ensure that the vast majority of businesses believe it to be a necessary expense. The key however with both fire safety and health and safety legislation is deciding what is ‘reasonably practical’ in terms of expense, time and effort. This concept is highlighted well in a HSBC business-network blog – ‘Health and safety what is reasonably practicable?’Every business owner should realise that the Fire-Safety-Order, legislation introduced in late 2006, has bedded in and all the relevant stakeholders have become more comfortable with their roles – none more-so than the fire and emergency service. Insurers too are heightening their requirements and can no longer sustain £1.3bn annual fire-loss claims.

As with all safety legislation however surely the final word should not be about expense but common sense good-practice – As a business owner – It’s the right thing to do!

rising uk insurance claims due to fire loss
The British insurance industry has seen a phenomenal rise in insured fire losses for commercial buildings over the past ten years. There has been an amazing 50% rise in the cost of fire-losses between 2002 and 2008 with the annual cost standing at a staggering £1.3bn per year.
What did the insurance companies do to combat this? Many would say ‘Not a lot!’ Quality fire-protection and consultancy businesses prepared  for insurance action expecting them to adopt a similar stance to that of burglary cover. Professional companies trained their staff, adopted quality procedures and entered third-party certification schemes such as BAFE. All the indications were that insurers wouldn’t continue to stand huge losses and would, like the intruder model, insist on third-party certified companies and even demand minimum specifications or categories of protection.
No such requirements emerged and when times got hard for everyone, including insurers, then requirements seemed to be relaxed and specifications became softer. This short-term scramble to retain custom has proved a long -term loss with record claims for fire damage.
While BAFE-approved suppliers were jumping through hoops ensuring standards remain at their highest, one-man-band sparkies were undercutting on price and quality and insurers were saying ‘Okay we’ll accept that.’
There are, of course, many factors that have contributed to the rise such as: a distinct change in methods of construction ( a more relaxed approach to building regulations has seen many buildings constructed with much larger compartments), ‘The Green Lobby’ has successfully pushed for better insulated buildings (which means more combustible materials being used).
The legislative changes introduced in October 2006 also may have, inadvertently, had an adverse effect; the move to a risk-based assessment where business owners became responsible and a move away from prescriptive enforcement has initially led to a situation where many business simply do not comply. [At the FireEx North event last year Richard Stott, enforcement policy manager at Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, stated that up to 60% of local SMEs were not even aware of the existence of the Fire Safety Order].
However things look set to change. In an article in this month’s ‘Fire Risk Management’ Roy Watkins (Technical and commercial insurance director – AXA Insurance) describes how the fire and rescue service and insurers are beginning a model of sharing data and even shared inspections. In the article he says “We need to make progress through a dynamic partnership involving fire and rescue services, insurers, end users and the trade. It is in all our interests.”
Amen to that!