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Health and safety employee checks fire extinguishers in case of a fire

How to choose a competent fire risk assessor

The importance of fire safety has never been more important or indeed in the public domain following tragic events such as Grenfell Tower, Bradford City Stadium and the Summerland fire disasters. With this is mind, we explore how you can keep your business fire safe.

Who does fire safety legislation apply to?

Fire safety legislation in the UK applies generally to all non-domestic premises including commercial premises and workplaces, and premises to which the public have access to.

If you are an employer or have control over any non-domestic premises, then you have a legal duty under fire safety legislation to ensure a fire risk assessment has been undertaken by a competent person. If you employ over 5 people, this will also need to be documented.

Fire risk assessments

Apart from complying with fire safety legislation, the main purpose of a fire risk assessment is to identify possible fire hazards, as well as the actions you need to take to mitigate fire hazards and keep the people on your premises safe.

A fire risk assessment will need to be kept up to date and reviewed on a regular basis. Duty holders, particularly in small or low-risk premises, may be able to carry out their own fire risk assessment, using sector specific guidance which is available from UK Government website.

Those carrying out a fire risk assessment must be competent and satisfied that they are able to:

  • Identify fire inception hazards, process hazards and potential causes of fire
  • Have awareness of fire combustion, fire growth and the spread of smoke
  • Understand the terms ‘fire hazard’ and ‘fire risk’ and appreciate the relationship between the two
  • Identify people at risk including any vulnerable people
  • Evaluate existing fire safety measures
  • Identify additional fire safety measures required to protect people
  • Review and identify suitable arrangements for the management of fire safety
  • Have knowledge of people’s behaviour in a fire situation
  • Have knowledge of building construction and passive fire safety measures
  • Formulate and implement an action plan including emergency procedures
  • Record the significant findings (over 5 employees)
  • Keep the assessment up to date.

If you choose to undertake or review a fire risk assessments in-house, you should ensure you understand the precautions you need to take to protect people adequately and prevent loss or damage to property.

Choosing a fire risk assessor

If you have any doubt about undertaking a fire risk assessment, then you should appoint a specialist to carry one out for you. A fire risk assessor must be capable of identifying and communicating the appropriate fire safety measures that need to be in place in order to protect both people, and prevent property loss or damage. No matter who carries out the fire risk assessment the duty holder retains the responsibility for ensuring the adequacy of the fire risk assessment.

If employing a specialist to undertake your fire risk assessment, whilst you are not expected to be an expert in fire safety, you should make reasonable checks to ensure that they are competent to do the job properly.

There are some simple steps and precautions you can take to help verify the competence and suitability of a prospective fire risk assessor:

  • Be satisfied that the fire risk assessor providing this service is competent to do so. We recommend you check that those providing this service have independent registration with, or certification from, a professional or certification body and that they meet the competency criteria established by the fire risk assessment competency council.
  • Check that they have experience of undertaking fire risk assessments for your kind of business and premises.
  • Request references from previous clients in premises of your type; ask these clients if they were satisfied and if any problems were later identified.
  • Get the scope of the work you want carried out agreed in writing.
  • Provide the assessor with access to all areas of the premises and with all relevant information.
  • Obtain alternative quotes - make sure they all cover the same scope, so you can compare like with like.
  • Ask for proof that they have sufficient professional indemnity insurance, public liability insurance and assure yourself that the fire risk assessor is impartial and you have access to a complaint’s procedure if necessary.
  • Ensure you have adequate records of the steps you took in selecting your fire risk assessor.

If you are looking for external support, Marsh Commercial Risk Management have competent fire risk assessors on hand who can complete a fire risk assessment for you. They can provide you with a report identifying and rating the potential risks in priority order to support you to carry out your responsibilities required under UK fire safety legislation.