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The Basics of Office Fire Risk Assessment

Aug 26, 2008
Fire Risk Assessments are a crucial part of safety in the workplace. New rules introduced (throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have replaced previous fire safety legislation with the main emphasis now on the reduction and prevention of fire risks.

As a business it becomes your duty to designate a 'responsible person' to ensure guidelines are met, risk assessments are carried out and to identify/ rectify any potential hazards. This person must have control over the premises. In cases of multiple occupancy, multiple 'responsible people' may be designated, either from within the companies or by the local Fire Authority.

The 'responsible person' must follow these stages or designate another competent person to carry out the assessment (although the responsible person remains legally responsible for any outcomes and implementations):

1.Carry out a fire-risk assessment identifying all possible dangers and risks.

2. Get rid of any removable risks of fire.

3. Put in place fire precautions (ie. replacing highly flammable materials with less flammable ones) to deal with any risks that remain including protection if flammable or explosive materials are used or stored.

4. Create emergency plans.

5. Ensure findings are recorded and reviewed regularly.

Consideration must be made for the particular needs of all the people who enter the place of work, including children, the elderly and the disabled. Special attention should also be paid to those who work with hazardous materials; particularly those who are isolated.

If the designated 'responsible person' cannot carry out the fire risk assessment or feels that the one done was incomplete they can outsource it to an independent risk assessment company. The responsibility remains that of the 'responsible person' but ensures that the risk assessment is completely thorough.

In the event of a fire there are several preliminary steps that should have been taken to ensure minimal risk of life and property. A fire detection system and warning alarm should be present in all places of work to ensure that any evacuation procedure can be started as soon as possible.

All employees should be made aware of emergency exit plans. Emergency exit plans should be carefully considered to ensure all the following points are covered:

1. The escape route is as short as possible.

2. That the escape route is sufficient for the number of people using it.

3. Any potential emergency exits remain free of obstructions generally and there is minimal impact to the time taken to exit in the event of unexpected blockages.

4. There should be a clear, one metre wide, passageway to each escape route.

5. Emergency lighting systems and appropriate signs should be installed.

6. Arrangements for the evacuation of anyone with any physical or mental impairment.

7. Plans should be regularly reviewed to cover any building extensions or alterations.

Fire fighting equipment should also be provided, one for every floor or per 200m squared of floor space. Training with this equipment should be carried out immediately after installation.

Regular fire drills (one a year is the recommended minimum) ensure that everyone in the work place knows how to raise the alarm, when to use fire fighting equipment, the correct escape routes and the correct assembly points/procedures.

Finally, one of the most important things to remember is to keep up to date and complete records to ensure that the risk of both fire and liability are kept to a minimum. There are many records associated with the fire assessment including hazards identified, emergency plans, fire fighting arrangements, training provided for employees, a history of fire drills carried out (date, problems etc), equipment checks and maintenance and risk assessment reviews.
About the Author
Richard James works for HSE Services, a company that helps UK companies find suitable health and safety consultants and training providers. Visit http://www.hseservices.co.uk for details.
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