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Life safety fire risk assessments, assessing competence

Author : Richard Jenkins, chief executive of the National Security Inspectorate

24 July 2019

It would be a brave FM who didn’t place fire safety high on their permanent ‘watch list’. Recent high profile fires include buildings such as Notre Dame; The Mandarin Oriental, an office block, a care home and a residential block all in London, and a hypermarket in Folkestone.

All caused significant, if not catastrophic damage to infrastructure, and in some cases there were casualties. It would appear much still remains to be learned in fire prevention.

Life safety fire risk assessment lies at the heart of establishing sufficient fire prevention, protection and suppression measures, alongside processes for safe evacuation in the event of an incident.

The legislative framework

Just over 12 years ago in England, Wales and Scotland and a little over eight years ago in Northern Ireland the responsibility for fire safety in a building was passed from the Fire and Rescue Service to the ‘responsible person’ or ‘duty holder’.

Legislation - the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales, the Fire Scotland Act 2005 and the F&RS (NI) Order2006/Fire Safety Regulations 2010) - requires fire risk assessments be conducted for premises.

In the event of a fire, especially if death or serious injury has occurred, the Fire and Rescue Service will investigate and, where offences have been committed, prosecution can follow. Life safety fire risk assessment protects lives. Put simply, the duty holder is tasked with its completion.

The assessment is best conducted once a building is occupied since its usage is as important a part of the assessment as the designed-in physical elements, such as escape routes and fire doors.

Where five or more people are employed the results of the assessment must be documented and regularly reviewed. It should also be periodically reviewed to ensure it remains valid, for example, when a change of use is planned.

Who is the duty holder?

At first sight this may appear straightforward. Yet when it comes to premises with complex contractual arrangements such as private finance initiatives (PFIs) and tenanted buildings, it is not always clear.

The duty holder could be the employer, or in situations of multiple occupancy, multiple employers. It could be the owner, the landlord, the occupier(s) or anyone else with control and or oversight of the premises, such as a FM.

In most instances it is considered the responsibility of each employer to safeguard their employees and visitors. The duty holder has to work together with other parties such as the FM provider to ensure the requirements are met.

The situation can be even more complex in multi-tenanted buildings. For example, where tenants share spaces such as kitchens or reception areas, additional responsibility is placed on the lines of responsibility and the duty holder of the building.

Tenants are within their rights to seek copies of the life safety risk assessments if they are not undertaking it themselves.

If the maintenance of the building, including regular fire alarm testing and portable fire extinguisher maintenance along with other routine maintenance, is undertaken by the FM provider, the duty holder must maintain a close working relationship with provider(s) in fulfilling their duty to satisfy themselves appropriate assessment is conducted and reviewed regularly.

A competent risk assessor

Mindful of the potential for overburdening organisations, UK legislation has not addressed the “competence” of the fire risk assessor. Successive UK Governments have issued a number of FRA (Fire Risk Assessment) guides for various types of premises with the proviso that the advice of a competent person should be sought where duty holders feel unable to apply the guidance themselves.

In the case of more complex premises (eg residential care premises, hospitals and schools), guidance suggests assessments are conducted by a person with comprehensive training or experience in fire risk assessment.

In the absence of formal competency assessor requirements, a Guide to Choosing a Competent Risk Assessor, and assessor competency criteria have been developed by the Fire Sector Federation

Third party certification - reassurance for fire risk assessment

Third party certification adds significant assurance and rigour for duty holders looking for a provider to help them meet fire safety obligations. It offers independent verification and evidence that a company is competent to make assessments and works to appropriate standards and best practice.

Post Grenfell, the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety by Dame Judith Hackitt,  emphasised the responsibilities of the person appointed for fire safety within a building and the actions they can take to mitigate fire risk.

Organisations, particularly those with contractual arrangements for FM, or with responsibility for the vulnerable or large numbers of people, may consider the competence of their contractor to provide fire risk assessment, not just the declared capability on an individual assessor.

Third party certification bodies such as NSI assess organisations against the BAFE Life Safety Fire Risk Assessment Scheme SP205. NSI’s Gold Scheme goes a step further by combining SP205 with the rigour of an ISO 9001 Quality Management System, further demonstrating a contractor’s capability, and providing reassurance in the quality and relevance of the service being delivered.

A register of life safety fire risk assessment companies approved to BAFE SP205 is available at www.bafe.org.uk and NSI Approved Companies can be found at www.nsi.org.uk.


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