It is a legal requirement that you inspect all premises where people are at, or could be working, in shops, offices factories and even the common entrance and hallway of your block of flats. You, or someone you entrust, must do this thoroughly and complete a fire risk assessment, recording those actions and reviewing them regularly. As an unbiased external organisation, we are well placed to complete this task, having assisted in many varied types of inspections within the Fire Service.
Please note, that a new guidance publication has been issued by the Local Goverment Group, with particular relevence to Fire Safety in Purpose built blocks of flats, all our documentation will shortly be amended to include the new amendments and guidance.
Residential flats or apartments from six dwellings up to about twenty one dwellings are were we specialise, and here are some common frequently asked questions arising from Fire Risk Assessments in this sector. We are also able to conduct fire risk assessments in other types of properties from further afield.
We are an independent fire risk assessor, we are not a large national organisation, so we do not sell fire extinguishers or ancillary services like fire alarm testing or training.
We honestly believe that if ancillary services are required, which is unlikely in flats or apartment blocks, you will obtain far better quotes and value for money from independent suppliers to us.
For GENERAL INFORMATION on fire risk assessments, or take a look at our FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS page which you may find helpful. If you need to understand about the RATIONALE behind the FRA process, or if you want to look at what can happen with UNQUALIFIED ASSESSORS when they get it wrong.
Please note, if you cannot find a specific answer to your query, just give us a quick call, or email us, and we will do our best to give you the correct free advice with no obligation.
This is an example of some of the questions we are asked, bizzare but true! These will be updated as they are submitted!
Q. Do Risk Assessors have a right of entry into my flat?
A. NO! The legislation only requires the communal areas to be assessed, so there is no need to enter any flat. Unless there is an existing "fire escape route" through your flat to say an external staircase. Not favoured these day, but under some local fire authorities it may have been allowed previously and will need to be checked to determine if its still required.
I often ask a flat occupant if I may look at their front door to determine its fire resistance capabilities as its almost impossible to correctly determine this when the door is closed.
If you submit a question via a search engine, look back in a few days and see if its answered here
A. Afer the war the local fire services were delegated to be responsible for "offering fire safety advice" and with being the "enforcing authority" and so they would be involved with building owners and architects to ensure that any building which was an office, shop or railway premises, was safe from fire and if so, would then issue a fire certficate.
Since 2006, and the implementation of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety ) Order 2005, the onus has been on the management of any workplace with five or more employees, to risk assess and self certifiy any premise under their control, and to record their findings for inspection if required.
The communal areas of flats and apartments is considered to be a workplace for contractors, people like cleaners, the meter readers, those who collect the bins etc. So this is why only the communal areas of your flats is considered, and not the individual flats themselves.
A. Put simply, "the responsible person" who may be the employer, owner or manager in a workplace, or any other person who may have control of any or all of the premises, that may include the Managing agents or the "Right to Manage" (RTM) company.
So generally speaking its those person(s) in control or part control of the premises will be responsible.
A. Each organisation must comply and produce its own fire risk assessment, but you must take into account your neighbours, and what they do, as you may need to share some of the same facilities i.e. fire alarms, means of escape etc. And some of their processes may be hazardous, or they may have large numbers of staff that may fully utilise an escape route. It is most important that you and your neighbours produce individual plans that slot into an over-arching plan, and it would generally be the Landlord or owner of the building to act as a co-ordinator in its compilation.
A. In theory, only the person who paid for it (the responsible person) as the contract with the fire risk assessor was with them. But as the assessment forms part of a legal process, and a requirement of that is to "inform, instruct and train" (if required) all those involved. This should mean residents, visitors, prospective purchasers, sellers, employees or their accreditted (safety) representatives. Not forgetting those who also have a legal right, local fire authority, health and safety inspectors, local authority building regulation officers, and the Police, if they need to ensure that you are being compliant!!!.
A. It all depends on how desperately you want that flat! The sale should not go ahead without all the legal paperwork being in order, otherwise your taking a risk (see below). If you really want the flat, consider paying for the risk assessment yourself, and then try to claim some of the cost back from the remainder of the tenants or owners. In the event of a successful prosecution for non-compliance, it could also act as part of your defence.
A. You are very unlikely to be able to sell it without all the legal paperwork being correct, if you do sell it, and a fire situation happens shortly afterwards, you may still be held responsible. You may be better off engaging your own fire risk assessor and paying for it yourself, its a small price when you consider the overall cost of the sale.
A. Technically anyone! the "responsible person" deems as a "competent person" this may be yourself, or delegated to another employee. It must be someone with enough training and experience, or knowledge and other qualities to be able to implement these measures properly.
You may prefer to outsource this task to a "competent person" who is local external professional assessor, who has the skills, knowledge and understanding, as well as being insured! Take a look at an example of someone who was deemed "not competent"
Be aware of large national organisations that offer low cost fire risk assessments, but also offer ancillary services, like fire alarm testing, selling of fire extinguishers etc; as they may target this area of sales to make more profit.
A. You should consult with your employees or elected representatives about nominating particular roles in connection with fire safety, and about proposals for improving the fire precautions.
In respect to residential properties, a local advocate or resident may be enlisted to liase between the assessor, and with current and new residents, to collate information, determine roles, and to assist in reviewing the emergency plan.
A. How long is a piece of string? There is no determinable date or length of time for any written fire risk assessment report, it all depends on how much risk there is, the more risk the more it should be updated and reviewed. As a guide, it should at least be professionaly reviewed between 12-36 months. It must also be seen as a "living document" and therefore should be kept constantly under review, ideally by the residents themselves, and any major changes of risk notified to the competent person (assessor) on re-inspection. If collectively, all residents have a proactive approach to fire safety and can demonstrate that, this will lower the risk and increase the intervals between re-inspections, and the subsequent associated costs.
A. If structural changes occur such as the fitting of a stairlift, or new windows. If a fire develops, or there is a material change in occupancy, especially affecting people with disabilities, then a review must be undertaken and the risk re-assessed. Then the emergency plan may also need to be amended, and of course, all this must be recorded!
Due to the generally low risk nature of apartment blocks, we would expect a re-inspection by a suitably competent assessor be undertaken in any case within three years at least.
A. An assessor makes an inspection of the premises to discover the risks, usually with the help of someone from the premises involved, all areas are covered as far as is reasonably practical, pertinent hazards and features are recorded, evaluated and then prioritised for action in a chronological concise report.
A. The cost can vary widely from company to company, some will have a lower basic charge, but then will make demands about buying extra services like, fire extinguishers, fire alarm systems, or even insisting on personnel attending a full days fire training from their "selected providers". For the average block of nine apartments the cost may be just over two hundred pounds, which if given a low risk rating should suffice for about three years. This could equate to less than ten pound per year per dwelling, over the three year term, a small price to pay for your safety and wellbeing. Larger or complicated propertieslike conversions, or those with higher risks may need shorter intervals between inspections resulting in higher overall costs.
A. They can be useful if your premises are very simple, you have no real hazards and your confident about using them.
However, like all things, you get what you pay for, buying a cook book from Marco Pierre White, won't guarantee that you will cook like him!
You still need knowledge, skills and understanding to correctly and safely complete a fire risk assessment. As the owner or manager of a property or business are you ideally placed to make an unbiased quantitative and qualitative analysis about your premise's? And heaven forbid, but if things do go wrong, what will protect you from any litigation?.
a) This can range from not being able to sell your property to another buyer.
b) In the event of a minor fire, some insurance companies may refuse to pay out on insurance claims.
c) The enforcing authority, usually the local fire authority, may decide to issue a formal notice indicating what is required to conform and must be completed within a prescribed timescale.
d) They can in serious circumstances put in place a prohibition notice which may restrict who can live or work at the premises.
e) In the event of a tragedy or very severe infringement, this may not only include the intial "responsible person(s)" but may also include advisors, equipment providers or any other person(s) who may have some control over the building or its fire risk.
A. There are five main parts to a comprehensive assessment
a) Identify the fire hazards
b) Identify people at risk
c) Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect from risk
d) Record, plan, inform, instruct and train (if required)
e) Review regularly
A. It is not necessary for every type of building, for example, most apartment blocks are used by residents on a daily basis, so they know the layout of the building very well, unlike hotel residents. Also, the number of exits in apartment blocks is usually just limited to one or two.
A. Any part of the bulding in which more than one resident (or family) has free or shared access, generaly speaking it includes the front door(s) rear door(s) halls, lifts, stairs and landings onto which flats or apartments open onto. It may also include external fire escapes, rubbish collection areas, storage sheds, gardens, yards, communal garages, utility cupboards, basements and the like.
A. Not necessarily. Extinguishers are only good if its a small fire, no bigger than a waste paper bin!. Not everybody can use them, or should! if you are elderly, infirm or suffer from asthma, then it could be dangerous to get involved fighting fire. The Fire Serice would be far more pleased if you raised the alarm, ensured everyone was out and did a roll call, and passed that information onto them on arrival. Extinguishers would only be recommended in rare cases, along with suitable training for those who could use them to best effect.
A. Not neccesarily, although it must be an acceptable risk. If it looks like Epping Forest then it may need some trimmimg! These premises are homes. We do not want you to forget or neglect that, but obviously common sense must rule.
A. Again this about you taking a pride in your home and surroundings. Some so-called "trained personnel" seem to think this may be a tripping hazard and want them removed immediately. If you have entered your front door for the last five years without ever tripping over the mat, why is it suddenly going to change just because there may a fire situation?
A. Two things to consider here. Could it cause, or spread a fire? Some chemicals may spontaneously ignite, garden fertiliser is a common one, stored furniture or waste paper would contribute to rapid spread of fire. Does it cause an obstruction to the means of escape? If the answer is yes to either or both, then you must store them away from protected means of escape, ie in an external shed, garage or locked up outside.
A. Again, two things to consider here. Could it cause, or spread a fire? If its a mobility scooter and requires re-charging in the hallway, that is another potential fire and or tripping hazard, and second, is it likely to impede others escaping in a fire situation?
The Landlord could insist on a "zero approach" for the overall safety of everyone, with no personal items being stored in communal areas, this can make apartments look clinical and cold to residents and visitors, this may include mobilty aids
If a managed approach is considered, where residents can store some personal items in communal areas, including mobility aids, this can have benefits of making it more homely and attractive, and gives residents a greater respect for their environment. But this practice must be monitored regularly and not allowed to cause tripping hazards, impede safe exit, or present a likley fire risk. Some items are a distinct no no, ie waste rubbish bags, paper for recycling, empty gas cylinders or old pressurised cans, petrol containers, motorcycles etc.
A. NO! In purpose built blocks of flats, each flat should be a self contained box of fire resistant construction, so fire spread is unlikely to happen from one flat to another in most circumstances, so people may be safer remaining in their own home during a fire situation in another flat. Your risk assessor will advise on the best actions in the emergency plan. In converted houses a simple single smoke detector to more elaborate addressable systems may be considered due to the complexity of the building construction and materials used. This can be the ultimate early warning system. Although purchase and installation costs are falling all the time, it is costly, so would only be recommended if the risk was very high, or if major refurbishment works were planned at the same time.
A. Contact your local Fire Service, they now have a proactive approach to fire safety and (may) offer free home fire risk assessments to all residents. They MAY also provide free smoke detectors, and even deep fat fryers or electric blankets to those most at risk to themselves and others.
A. Should a fire occur within a flat, flat entrance doors are critical to the safety of the common parts. These front doors should be self-closing, resistant to fire for up to half an hour and come equipped with smoke seals and intumescent strips. Should the freeholder, the LHA or the local fire and rescue authority impose the necessary obligations? For many existing leasehold flats, responsibility rests with the flat owner. Within each flat owner’s lease, the door will be legally part of their demised premises. The freeholder’s powers to arrange for defects to be rectified are limited, if not, non-existent. The freeholder has no legal right to force the flat owner to upgrade the door to the necessary standard, nor to carry out the works unilaterally. In such a situation the freeholder should refer the matter to the relevant LHA.
An alternative approach is to say that where a flat owner has exercised control of his front door by installing a non-conforming door of his choice, the flat owner may be viewed as a duty holder under article 5(3) of the 2005 Order. Article 5(3) imposes a duty on those with control “so far as the requirements relate to matters within his control”. Since the front door to the flat forms a part of the common areas (i.e. premises within the scope of the Order) the extension of the duty to every person who has to any extent control of the premises applies. In such a scenario an enforcement notice could be served either on the responsible person or the article 5(3) duty holder who in this case would be the flat owner.
A. Change attitudes.....
Too many people think "it will never happen to me, its always somebody else". Free advice is given by the Fire Service on request, use them to your advantage. Teach your children about fire and what to do in an emergency, have an emergency plan made known to all, consider what if your normal exit was stopped by fire. How woiuld you call the emergency services? Time to prepare is now! and is vital to reduce the risk from fire and the severity of it affecting you all.
A. Yes, it is the duty of every employer to carry out risk assessments within the workplace, including those from fire.
A. Thats called taking a risk! You must ensure the person you contract is classed as competent! that does not mean they must have qualifications! but see what may happen if you use someone who isn't? Look at incompetent or unqualified assessors outcomes.
A. Ask them about their fire safety experience, both theoretical and practical. What recent health and safety qualifications or training they can show you, whom they have previously worked for, and are they fully insured?
A. Even the HSE can be vague about the true definition of what makes a competent person In all honesty, it will probably only be decided by a member of the judicary, when things go wrong....!
There is now a competency profile being instigated by a Northwest organisation, we shall see if it becomes recognised nationally!
A. There can be many variations in its presentation. Click here to view a sample copy of our style Fire Risk assessment report Please note, this only forms part of the whole process.
A.Thats the whole point!
It is the duty of the "responsible person" (owner, landlord or managing agent) to inform, instruct and train the relavent people, to ensure they co-operate and co-ordinate with others so that everyone, residents and vistors are aware of what to do in an an emergency. If there are no "fire action" notices prominently displayed, then the fire risk assessment may not have been carried out comprehensively enough to be compliant.
This list of frequently asked questions, is not meant to be a definitive legal guide or interpretation of the current legislation, but is merely provided to give our commonsense definition, if you are in any doubt please seek legal advice before entering into any committment or contract.