Today, with regulations enforcing evermore stringent safety measures concerned with fire, staying abreast of developments can be difficult. Of prime importance is to have a regular fire risk assessment to ensure hazards are kept to a minimum. The duty of a regular fire risk assessment lies firmly in the hands of the 'responsible person'. It is this person's job to ensure and manage any fire risks that may be present, either in a business or residential premises. Part of their work is to ensure that effective fire risk assessment procedures are put in place.
But how does this 'responsible person' carry out a fire risk assessment? What processes are involved to ensure resident's or worker's safety in the prevention and reaction to a fire?
The first step in any fire risk assessment is to identify the hazards that may be present in either a workplace or residential location. There are many hazards to contemplate when conducting a fire risk assessment. It must be understood that almost anything can start a fire, whether this is a naked flame, a heater or even a hair dryer. Understanding the risk posed by such items is fundamental in the assessment, added to this; in the business workplace there may be machinery and equipment that could cause problems.
The second ingredient of fire is any combustible material. Most materials present in either the home or the workplace are flammable in some way. In the workplace, a pile of waste may be just the right material to feed a blaze whereas in the home, soft furnishings are an especially vulnerable material to fire. Recognising the risks that these materials pose is a vital element in reducing the risk of fire; naturally, if the fire has no material to feed off, it will not spread as quickly, greatly improving safety.
The final component of any fire is oxygen. Without oxygen there is no way that a fire can even ignite, let alone spread. For fire risk assessors, the job of keeping oxygen levels under control is understandably difficult as it surrounds us at all times. An assessment should predominantly focus upon the other two ingredients of fire unless the workplace or location has stocks of pressurised oxygen which may in effect intensify a blaze.
The second stage of a fire risk assessment is to recognise the risks not only of the fire itself, but which people will be most vulnerable if a fire does break out. These people can vary greatly in the risks they may encounter as well as the speed of their exit. Of especial importance are those who work with combustible materials or work alone in areas that may be prone to fire. An assessment should also include the numbers of vulnerable people such as young children, the disable or elderly.
While the fire risk assessment is carried out to evaluate the risk of fire, it should also put in place measures to reduce this risk. An assessor should be able to give advice on ways in which to remove flammable materials, or replace them with less flammable materials. They should also be able to advise on the best ways to keep ignition sources away from combustibles. This is all part of fire safety management.
Providing practical advice to workers or residents is also part of the assessor's responsibilities. Education, on the risks and how to prevent fires breaking out can be invaluable. As regulations become increasingly stringent on ways to make our workplaces and residential areas safer, it is through efficient fire risk assessment procedures that a spearhead of fire safety can be launched.
Safety expert Thomas Pretty looks into the increasing importance of an efficient fire risk assessment as part of compliance with regulations.