12 Jul 2011
The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council – a group of 30 fire industry stakeholder organisations – has just delivered a draft set of criteria which it is hoped will be used by professional bodies and certification organisations that register or certificate fire risk assessors and others who provide fire risk assessment services. The group came together in response to widespread concerns, particularly from Fire Authorities, about the quality of fire risk assessments produced by those purporting to provide expert and specialist knowledge for a fee. The seriousness of the situation had been highlighted by proven cases where fire risk assessments had been carried out on premises which subsequently suffered multiple fatality fires.
Fire risk assessments are the very core of the Fire Safety Order (the Regulatory Reform [Fire Safety] Order 2005). They are the first thing a Fire & Rescue Services Fire Inspector asks to see before undertaking his inspection. All too often, whether prepared in-house or with the help of an ‘outside consultant’, Inspectors have found them inadequate; frequently because they have not identified all the risks and/or because the understanding and, therefore description of the risk, has been inaccurate. The fire risk assessments determine the fire precautions. Poor assessments, poor precautions. Without thorough fire risk assessments, all significant risks to the lives of building occupants will not have been identified.
The Competency Council have made it very clear that an assessor should not only have a good knowledge of “principles” of fire protection, but also a good practical understanding of the source and nature of fire hazard and fire risk in the premises being assessed. For example, we know that of the vast majority of fires involving catering facilities no assessment had been made of the potential for grease deposits in the extract ducting to cause a widespread and destructive fire. This, in spite of Fire Authorities having rated uncleaned extract ducting as “possibly the greatest risk to the lives of building occupants in premises with catering facilities”. Why were extracts so rarely included in fire risk assessments? Because the assessor did not know about their existence let alone the fire risk potential of grease deposits in the ducting. He was not familiar with, or had not learnt about, all potential fire risks associated with a catering facility. It does not require an honours degree in engineering to understand how these extract systems are usually configured and how to assess whether or not they are a fire risk.