The LWF Blog

Fire Safety | Fire risk assessment and prioritisation of actions

February 5, 2014 2:23 pm

When a fire risk assessment or FRA is undertaken, it is a rare circumstance that no actions result from it. Indeed, there is always room for improvement in a premises’ fire safety armoury and the resulting fire safety actions can be wide ranging in terms of cost and works required, from better indicated points of egress, to the addition of sprinklers.

The legal bit

Most people realise, by now, that undertaking a comprehensive fire risk assessment is a legal requirement. However, what is less accepted is that, it is the actions resulting from the FRA that are most important. The failure to follow-up on required fire safety actions is equally contra to legislation and, more importantly, can lead to loss of business or even life.

How to approach ‘Fire Safety Actions’

As indicated, the legal requirement is that an FRA is undertaken and the resulting actions are put into practice.  The prioritisation of the works indicated is left to the discretion of the company representative and is largely influenced by the risk level indicated by the FRA.

Other issues that may have a bearing on prioritisation include cost, upheaval and disruption of day-to-day business and practical issues such as the time taken to order materials etc.

However, prioritisation is essential if the most high risk areas are to be actioned effectively and within a reasonable time frame. Most companies have a budget from which they must accomplish fire safety in their premises. In order for the budget to encompass the fire safety actions, it seems essential that consideration is given to how best to accomplish the outstanding tasks.

Taking into account budgetary constraints, how then should the fire safety actions be approached? Each fire safety action should be considered on its own merits and be reviewed against the potential risk to life and premises. It may be that thousands have to be set aside for sprinklers in a storage area where there are no regular workers and it is sufficiently separate from the main building, but that a few hundred can be spent on signage and training which would be more valuable in an evacuation scenario.

It is likely that the FRA will have indicated areas of concern in your premises, however, the prioritisation of resulting actions should be based upon the areas which would result in the greatest safety benefit to the building occupants.

What is ‘Reasonable’ ?

The review of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005: Focus on Enforcement sets out a clear instruction with one word of distinct importance – reasonable.

“The Fire Safety Order requires that a person who has some level of control in premises must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire. They must also make sure people can safely escape if there is a fire.”

The word ‘reasonable’ indicates that life safety is of imperative importance, but that other considerations, such as cost, can be a mitigating factor. If the word ‘reasonable’ was had been replaced with ‘all’ in the guidance, it could be interpreted that all premises should install state of the art fire protection systems that might be unnecessary to ensure fire safety in the building and be cost prohibitive to some businesses.

‘Reasonable’ allows for a considered programme of improvement, with the most essential safety actions undertaken as a priority and other measures taken to supplement the safety provision in the short term, pending full resolution when practical. 

An example might be that flammable materials which were stored in a main warehouse are moved to an external storage facility to ensure that life safety was not threatened, in the short term. In due course, when funds are available, additional ventilation, detection and sprinkler systems could be installed to allow housing within the main premises once more.

It is important to recognise that where a fire safety action cannot be implemented immediately, it should not simply be ignored.  The inclusion of the Fire Safety Officer in this discussion can ensure that a workaround is found which could help you meet the legal requirements in the short term, while a longer term remedy is sought.

Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy established in 1986, with extensive experience of fire risk assessment and fire engineering techniques. If you would like our input and advice, please contact Peter Gyere on 0208 668 8663.

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