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.
STEP 1. IDENTIFY ALL THE FIRE HAZARDS
Are the premises secure, good simple locks should be fitted and used at all times, but all doors should be able to be opened from inside without the use of a key, as this could slow down escape in an emergency. The use of self closing devices helps to assist in maintaining security by closing the door after use. If doors are left open, unwanted visitors can enter the property and cause problems, even down to arson.
Is the electrical installation satisfactory, i.e. meters to households, wiring for the block etc is it isolated in a separate cupboard, which is preferably locked and signed. This cupboard should not contain any storage of combustible materials as this can assist fire spread if an electrical fire does start. All wiring and electrical equipment should be maintained in apparent good order and checked by a competent electrician every ten years according to British Standards BS7671. Therefore we can only carry out a simple visual inspection.
Is the gas supply isolated and maintained in apparent good order, this is not usually located within the communal areas, but is generally fed direct to each flat or apartment. In converted properties a gas meter may be found within a basement area, or externally, and again should be in a locked cupboard with a notice on the door indicating its use.
Is there a sign of carelessly discarded smoking materials. Obviously we are looking for the tell tale signs of residents smoking outside of their own apartments or flats and depositing waste smoking materials, this is a considerable fire hazard. All communal areas are defined as "workplaces" for contractors and so legislation prohibits smoking in these areas. Smoke left lingering in communal areas may also affect other residents, set off smoke alarms and therefore this practice should be prohibited.
Is there a system for controlling the amounts of combustible materials and flammable liquids and gases that are kept on the premises. This can range from recyclable waste material awaiting collection by the council, to empty gas cylinders incorrectly disposed of, even old hairspray canisters are lethal flame throwers if allowed to become involved in a fire. Proper housekeeping, preferably externally, for hazardous or combustible waste is essential to reduce the risk or severity of a fire occurring. Do residents keep furniture in the communal areas, tables are sometimes used to provide places to display plants or ornaments, chairs and even sofa's to sit on, pictures in frames, all are potential hazards that may add to a fire situation. There can be a zero tolerance, or a managed approach, each scheme has its own merits.
Have measures been taken to ensure that smoke and flames cannot spread from one compartment (flat) to another. If a fire occurs, it can be spread by convection (air currents) as the hot gases and flames rising upwards and along horizontal openings, gaps and spaces into properties can assist in fire spread. All doors and frames, leading to individual flats and to lobby´s should ideally be smoke and fire resistant, even doors built in the 1960´s will resist smoke and flame to some extent, perhaps up to fifteen minutes. Whilst this standard was sufficient twenty, thirty or more years ago, improvements in design and construction have led to many advances in fire and smoke resistance capability. Modern British standard fire doors (this includes the frame, hinges, self closing device, etc known as a doorset) are tested and then graded to be smoke and fire resistant to at least thirty or sixty minutes, and this is clearly indicated by the presence of a small plastic disc on the door side, and a certificate. It should be the aim of all residents to have all doors replaced or made up to this standard, to ensure that fires occurring in their own property or those of the neighbours do not affect anyone else´s ability to escape the effects of fire.
STEP 2. IDENTIFY THE LOCATION OF PEOPLE AT SIGNIFICANT RISK IN CASE OF FIRE
How many people could be affected should a fire break out? It is assumed, unless known otherwise, that some flats will have one or two people living there, so as a rough average you can calculate each flat as having 1.5 persons in residence. We must also allow for visitors and contractors calling to the property. This simple approach gives us a rough idea, as to how many people are likely to be involved. Children or those who have special needs, hard of hearing, elderly or infirm etc, may need more time or special assistance to help them escape from fire in time and this risk has to be evaluated and assessed.
Are there a sufficient number of exits of suitable width for those reasonably expected to be present. We must first assess the total numbers of people involved, as above, then determine if there are sufficient exits to meet the requirements of those likely to be involved. Most premises already have this taken into account under building regulations.
Do exits route to a place of safety, there is no point in leading people to a closed courtyard, so you must be free to walk well away from any affected building.
Are passageways and escape routes free from obstructions, it is vital that people can escape quickly and safely in an emergency. There has to be a delicate balance between making the communal areas look attractive and ensuring the safety of everyone in an emergency. The odd potted plant or small mat safely negotiated every day is unlikely to pose a real threat, but should be regularly monitored to ensure they are not preventing a safe exit from the building.
Are escape routes free from obvious tripping hazards, again, carpeting and flooring if laid should not pose a threat of tripping people up, so it requires regular monitoring, and immediate action if found faulty. The simple rule we apply is, if residents can negotiate that route everyday without tripping, why will something suddenly become a tripping hazard if there is a fire.
Are steps and stairs in a good state of repair, handrails and balustrades assist people especially the elderly or infirm to negotiate stairs safely. Tread and nosings should be free from defects, materials or equipment should not be left on stairs. Any lift, electrical or hydraulic, should not be used in a fire or like emergency, in case there is an electrical failure which will render some or all of the mechanism isolated, trapping the persons in the lift car. Notices to this effect should be posted prominently. Stairlifts are generally battery operated and so will still work in a power failure, so are still generally safe to use providing they do not impede others escaping.
Are final exits always unlocked when the premises are in use, in the event of an emergency, people must not be trapped behind a locked door, so doors must be easily and quickly opened without the use of any key. The correct choice of door furniture, from a simple Yale lock upwards, will provide good security and easy exit from the building when required.
STEP 3 ELIMINATE, CONTROL OR AVOID THE FIRE HAZARDS
Have cost effective measures been taken and used to prevent the occurrence of arson, again simple but effective door locks can reduce the chances of someone gaining entry and causing unwanted fire situations.
Is the electrical system checked on a regular basis, as a minimum, every ten years the whole wiring systems and components should be tested and inspected by a qualified electrician with a report submitted.
Is the gas supply system checked regularly, Gasafe (formerly CORGI Registered) fitters should be allowed to inspect and test the system for leaks at regular intervals.
Are ashtrays and metal bins provided for smokers, no-one should be smoking within the communal areas. Persons smoking in communal areas may affect the health and safety of other residents and so should be prohibited.
Are cleaning materials and flammable materials securely stored and away from escape routes and passageways, locked separate storage areas, clearly marked, should be used to store cleaning materials away, as in a fire situation the average pressurised can could act like a flame thrower. Waste cloths are another source of fuel for a fire, especially if they have been used with cleaning chemicals. Gardening equipment, pesticides and fuel for lawnmowers should be securely stored outside the building.
STEP 4 CONSIDER WHETHER THE EXISTING FIRE SAFETY PROVISIONS ARE ADEQUATE OR NEED IMPROVEMENT
Is natural lighting adequate, fire situations can occur at any time, so it is important that escape routes are adequately lit at all times, preferably by natural day light as electrical lighting may be affected by any fire situation. Even at night times there is usually sufficient borrowed light from neighbouring properties and street lamps to provide some illumination. Additional windows or skylights may be required.
Is artificial lighting adequate, when required at times of emergency. Lighting that is timer operated to go on and off at pre-planned times, may mean that lighting is not available when required. Manually switched or those activated, by body movement or sounds are satisfactory. If there is little natural lighting with long dark corridors, thought should be given to installing an emergency lighting system, that automatically activates when the mains power fails, or fire alarm acutuates, so providing lighting by stored battery power through most fire situations. This must be tested and recorded on a regular basis.
Is an automatic fire detection system fitted and working. In a perfect world, an automatic fire detection system would be installed in every home and workplace, the costs to some may seem disproportionate to the risk. Certain premises may have to justify this extra expenditure due to the nature and severity of the risk. Any automatic fire alarm is designed to give the earliest possible warning to residents, so they can safely evacuate the building before a fire can take hold and cause them to be put at risk. If you are undertaking a major refurbishment of the building, then you should consider installing a modern automatic fire alarm, the initial cost has dropped over recent years because of more sophisticated addressable systems makes installation simpler and cheaper. These must be tested and recorded on a regular basis.
Are there an adequate number of fire-fighting extinguishers sited and maintained correctly. The first priority in any fire situation is to warn others and evacuate the building safely. The use of fire fighting extinguishers should only be undertaken by persons who are fit and competent to use them, and know the inherent dangers of fire. The correct size and type of extinguisher must only be used in the earliest stages of a known small fire. As an example, that which is no bigger in size than a waste paper bin. Most fire authorities no longer encourage householders to fight fires.
Is there adequate natural ventilation to allow smoke to clear from upper floors. Hot smoke and gases will always rise to upper floors and then travel horizontally. If natural ventilation is provided and open, these gases will disperse safely. If contained within a building, fire or smoke damage can quickly spread, causing exits to be rendered unavailable and trapping people.
What is the maximum travel distance from the furthest point to a place of ultimate safety. There are certain travel limits on the distance from say a flat door to the front door of the block in open air, this varies depending on a number of factors, i.e. if alternative escape routes are available, if a protected route consisting of lobby doors is used, if an automatic fire alarm will give an early indication of a fire situation.
STEP 5 RECORD THE FINDINGS
Have you recorded the findings of this risk assessment, Yes, it should now be recorded and a copy kept at your managing agents.
Have you prepared a formal report and has a copy been shown to those who have a need, yes this forms part of the original fire risk assessment review document, and should be made available to those having a need to view it. Residents, prospective purchasers and any contractors working within the premises.
Have you prepared a formal report, yes, and copies are available from your managing agents for those who have a right to view them.
STEP 6 PREPARE AN EMERGENCY PLAN
Do fire action notices need to be displayed prominently throughout the premises, yes. A draft version was submitted with the fire risk assessment review document, and this can be reviewed and amended by a local advocate to suit the varying needs of the individual residents. Local and personal knowledge of the building and residents can all be used to revise the action plans.
Has an emergency plan been drawn up, yes. A draft version was submitted with the fire risk assessment review document, and this can be reviewed and amended by a local advocate to suit the varying needs of the individual residents. Local and personal knowledge of the building and residents can all be used to revise the action plans.
Is a copy of the emergency plan kept other than on the premises, yes, a copy is retained at your managing agents for reference. A copy should also be made available to the emergency services upon arrival.
STEP 7 CARRY OUT A PERIODIC REVIEW OF THE ASSESSMENT
Has a procedure been established to review the fire risk assessment periodically, yes. This fire risk assessment review document is known as a "living document" in that it should be constantly reviewed by the local advocate and other residents should there be a significant change of use, occupancy, building work or other material change. In any case, it should be reviewed by an experienced fire risk assessor at least every three years.
These are made to assist in achieving and maintaining compliance, and to mitigate the chances of a fire occurring in the first place, and help in allowing the occupiers a reasonable chance to evacuate the premises as early as possible. It also serves to allow the emergency services the information to bring about a well informed plan of action thereby reducing the cost and effects this has on people and property.
This is our interpretation to the regulations, it is not intended to be a legal definition of the published guides or acts. In case of any doubt, please consult with your local fire authority, or seek the advice of a professional.