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Fire Risk Assessment; Ensuring The Safety Of Staff

Sep 5, 2008
The world of business toady is filled with health and safety procedures that are in most cases legally defined responsibilities on the part of the employer. One of the key considerations in companies are the fire safety procedures and actions. Part of this work is to conduct a regular fire risk assessment, this is required by law and should help companies to manage the safety risks on premises while having an up to date action plan should a fire break out. Normally it will be carried out by a 'responsible person' who has had sufficient training to assess and enact policies to help with effective fire prevention and management.

What is involved in this fire risk assessment however? How does this responsible person carry out the task that is so important to improving the safety of workers and any other people who may be on the business premises?

The most important function of any risk assessment is to recognise the potential hazards present on a business premises or residential building. Naturally hazards can come in all shapes and sizes so understandably specialist knowledge is a prerequisite. In most cases, almost any item can start a fire. These are identified as ignition sources and can be anything from a faulty piece of electrical equipment of a cigarette butt that has not been disposed of correctly. The assessor must note any potential ignition sources and as a result of their work, should be able to enact a plan that reduces the instances of ignition. For example, having a designated smoking area and procedures ensuring all cigarettes are extinguished properly is advisable.

Fire will not spread however unless it has a fuel. This is the second most important factor in the risk assessment. Many materials burn although the rate at which they burn varies greatly. Paper and wood burn well although some plastics burn equally as fast and in many cases create a more intense blaze. This is why the assessor must note all of the types of materials within the premises. By doing this it is possible to draw up a plan that ensures the most flammable materials are kept in places where there is the least chance of a fire breaking out. If it is understood that reducing the fuel for the fire will decrease the chances of major blazes, safety can be improved.

The third and final component of fire is oxygen. This element is practically impossible to contain or control and hence this should form a minor part in the fire risk assessment directly. However there are ways to limit the spreading of fire by restricting oxygen to areas, this why fire doors should be kept shut, they help to limit spread. Predominantly the first two factors should be focussed upon although procedures on the closing of fire doors, and windows should be implemented.

As well as recognising the causes of fire, another key ingredient in the risk assessment is to look at the people most vulnerable when a blaze breaks out. These may be elderly or disabled persons, who may have issues with access and evacuation. This is why it is important for the assessor to spend time viewing the types of people who enter the premises. If vulnerable people enter regularly, it is vital that provisions should be made for safe and speedy evacuation.

Hopefully this information has given an insight into the importance of having a regular fire risk assessment in order to protect staff members and any other persons on the premises. Legally it is required but there is also a strong moral obligation for employers to undertake an assessment of the fire risks on a regular basis.
About the Author
Regulatory compliance expert Thomas Pretty looks into the need for a fire risk assessment and how it can help improve worker safety.
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