The LWF Blog

Fire Risk Assessment Vs Compliance Assessment

November 28, 2011 2:02 pm

In recent years the market of fire risk assessors has grown and in the current economic climate, Fire Risk Assessment, as a ‘product’ is viewed as a commodity, with many people now making a decision on which assessor to conduct an FRA based on price. Whilst competition is healthy and the market ‘rules’ will dictate price, any individual procuring this service must ensure they are comparing like assessments. In recent times, much criticism has been seen from the enforcing authorities, claiming that some assessments are not ‘suitable & sufficient’. This is obviously a concern as it may mean the assessment needs to be undertaken again, potentially costing the client twice.

Examples are now arising whereby assessments are not true risk assessments, but compliance audits. Arguably, it is easier to undertake a compliance audit, by following the rules, comparing the building, set against the compliance standard. For example, commonly, the maximum single direction travel distance permitted is 18m. Should a building have a distance of 20m a compliance assessment may recommend a secondary external escape route is installed, whereas a risk assessment will undertake a full review of the existing conditions, considering the occupants, the construction, fire load, ignition risks, automatic fire detection system, fire compartmentation and will make a decision based on all influencing factors. Mitigating factors may be in place, which can be used to justify the non-compliance, if they are not, these could be introduced to achieve life safety.

Whilst this example is fairly extreme, it does indicate a valid point. Compliance assessments can produce very different recommendations to risk assessments and the cost of compliance may be significantly more. Life safety is the primary objective, full compliance is a method of demonstrating this is met, however, is far from the only method. The FRA guidelines and process was a movement away from problematic presctive solutions, which unfortunately compliance assessments move back towards.

When considering the organisation that you are going to use for your risk assessment needs, ensure their methodology adopts a risk based approach rather than compliance as any savings achieved at the initial phases are unlikely to be maintained once the recommendations are carried out.

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