Changes to fire safety laws resulting from the Grenfell Tower disaster have been turbulent for landlords, and prompted businesses and tenants alike to think more carefully about fire risks. The benefits of fire risk assessments are now more appreciated than ever, and assessments are being done on an even more regular basis. (Click here to be directed straight to our fire risk assessment page).
Unfortunately, a fire risk assessment is only as good as the fire risk assessor doing it. As the demand for fire risk assessments has increased, unqualified fire risk assessors are stepping in to fill the gap, and producing assessments that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Here’s why you should always use a competent fire risk assessor – and the deadly risks you could face when you don’t do things by the book.
The importance of fire risk assessments
Fire risk assessments haven’t become more important overnight, but their importance has become better appreciated. Fire risks exist all around us, and are something we account for and mitigate in our personal lives. Yet for a business or landlord, simply being mindful of turning the iron off or putting a candle out isn’t enough. A more systematic approach is needed to ensure that people are kept safe, and that the relevant laws are adhered to.
A fire risk assessment is an evaluation of the potential fire risks and hazards in a workplace or other property. A fire risk assessor visits your site; takes the physical dynamics and nature of the work into account; and looks at your existing fire safety policies, and whether these provide sufficient protection against those risks and hazards. They will then provide a fire risk assessment that highlights areas for improvement, and makes suggestions on how you can fix them.
Fire risk assessments are necessary not only because they are a legal requirement, but also because not everyone has an appreciation for what constitutes a fire risk, either in terms of physical hazards or processes. A fire risk assessor won’t just point out a hazard that could lead to a fire, but also methods of working that might cause a fire or exacerbate the risk of a fire to occupants. This not only gives you an actionable list of tasks to make your premises safer, but also a better understanding of fire safety.
The dangers of an unqualified fire risk assessor
The demand for fire risk assessments has been such that fire risk assessors have been in high demand. As a result, a large number of people have tried to get in on the act and proclaimed themselves to be fire risk assessors. The availability of example fire risk assessments online seems to have convinced plenty of people that fire risk assessments aren’t that complicated, and that simply ticking the boxes is enough to meet the requirements.
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the case. A fire risk assessor who isn’t on a professional register (e.g. the IFSM tiered fire risk assessors register or similar) may not meet the criteria of being a competent fire risk assessor, and may not be outfitted to carry out an assessment that assists a Responsible Person in meeting the requirements of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, or the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022. This is true even if they hold a fire safety qualification such as the NEBOSH National Certificate in Fire Safety.
An unqualified fire safety risk assessor is not assessing your site to any strict requirements or standards and will not know whether the template and methodologies they are using to assess your site meet the legal requirements. This poses an obvious risk to safety, as by virtue of lacking the necessary accreditation, they may miss critical safety hazards and poor practices that could lead to a damaging and deadly fire breaking out.
Even if the unqualified or inexperienced fire risk assessor conducts a robust risk assessment, it will likely not be suitable and sufficient. As such, you will still be held liable if a fire does break out, as you will not have done everything realistically possible to prevent it or appoint a competent fire risk assessor. Using an unqualified fire risk assessor either means opening yourself to criminal liability, or simply having to get another fire risk assessment done later, wasting a substantial amount of money.
Why you need a competent fire risk assessor.
An approved fire risk assessor will have gone through rigorous training to ensure that their assessment is conducted properly, accounting for every reasonably foreseeable risk and evident hazard on your premises. By using an approved assessor, you are demonstrating compliance, reducing your liability in the event that something goes wrong. While you still need to act on their findings, using an approved assessor demonstrates that you have tried to meet the legal requirements on fire safety in a reasonable manner.
More than just keeping people safe, a competent fire risk assessor will help to reform your processes in a way that prioritises occupant safety. For businesses, this not only helps people to act more safely – reducing the chance of injury – but also demonstrates your commitment to their safety. This investment can help to make people happier and more comfortable in their work, improving productivity and job satisfaction.
Fundamentally, the use of a competent fire risk assessor is also an investment in your property. Fire risk assessments help to highlight risks that could cause serious material damage to your property. Using a competent fire risk assessor will help not only to reduce the risk of a fire damaging or destroying your property, but also demonstrate compliance in the event that you need to make an insurance claim on the property. Reducing the risk of fire will also reduce the chance of a major interruption to your business, both in the destruction of data and the physical workspace.
Employing an unqualified fire assessor just isn’t worth the risk. Yet due to fire risk assessments being a new consideration or misunderstood concept to many, the need for a formal fire assessor qualification isn’t widely understood.
Always look for evidence of professional registration as a guarantee that your fire risk assessor is properly qualified, ensuring that your fire assessment will be legitimate. By doing so, you’ll help to keep your premises, employees, or tenants safe, and shield yourself from the legal ramifications of a serious fire.