Are you assessing fire risks properly?

check-list-1150080In the aftermath of the recent tragic events in London, questions are quite rightly being asked about the fire safety of rented homes.

Understandably, most of the focus has so far been on social housing; specifically the risks posed by high-rise blocks, but it is important to remember that we all have a duty to understand our responsibilities and obligations to mitigate the risk of fire.

Landlords and letting agents’ legal responsibilities vary depending on the type of property involved, for instance HMOs are subject to different standards.

However, as a basic starting point all landlords and letting agents should carry out a fire safety risk assessment.

The National Landlords Association (NLA) has produced a pro-forma log-book to make it as simple as possible to keep a single record for each property. These are available to download from landlords.org.uk.

That’s great, but how do I perform a risk assessment?

There are no strict rules about how to go about assessing a property, and of course the specifics will depend on the individual property and residents.

That being said it is possible to break a basic assessment down into five steps – outlined below.

ONE: IDENTIFY THE HAZARDS WITHIN THE PREMISES

For a fire to start it needs:

  • A source of ignition
  • Fuel
  • Oxygen

The goal of fire risk assessment is to minimise the chances of these three components coming together.

To do this we must identify hazards.

Sources of ignition are generally things which get hot enough to ignite the materials around them.

In a residential setting this is likely to be:

  • Cooking appliances
  • Heaters
  • Boilers
  • Electrical installations
  • Lights
  • Naked flames
  • Cigarettes

Fuel can be anything which will burn, so you should look for things which are likely to catch-fire and burn with relative ease.

For example:

  • Furniture
  • Textiles, such as curtains
  • Waste storage
  • Heating oils or gas

Sources of oxygen will be the air in the building; in most residential environments the risks presented by this will be considered ‘normal’

TWO: IDENTIFY PEOPLE AT RISK

Once you have identified the likely sources of combustion you will need to consider the people who could be at risk.

In a residential property this will mostly concentrate on those living in the premises, but consideration should be given to:

  • Their visitors
  • Anybody working at the premises, e.g. cleaners, caretakers or visiting contractors.

When assessing who might be at risk, you should consider:

  • People sleeping, who may be disoriented and slower to react
  • Any people with disabilities, or impairments
  • Young children and those caring for young children
  • Anyone with difficulty understanding instructions given in English
  • Visitors likely to be unfamiliar with their surroundings

THREE: EVALUATE, REMOVE, REDUCE, AND PROTECT AGAINST REMAINING RISK

Now it is time to get practical.

Having identified potential risks, you should do something about them.

Hazards should be removed, or reduced as far as possible – bearing in mind what is reasonably practical.

For instance:

  • Portable heaters could be replaced with fixed installations
  • Additional electrical outlets could be installed if there is evidence that sockets are being overloaded
  • All furniture should comply with the appropriate regulations
  • Provision should be made for the safe storage of refuse.

Once the conditions are dealt with you should ensure arrangements are in place to protect the safety of people from the remaining risk.

Appropriate measures will differ depending on the type of property but, fire precautions should be put in place to warn residents and visitors in the event of fire and allow them to escape. 

FOUR: RECORD, PLAN, INFORM, INSTRUCT, AND TRAIN

If you have fewer than five employees it is unlikely that you will be legally required to keep a written record of the assessments carried out.

However, it is good practice to do so and should a fire occur in your property you may be required to detail what assessment and actions you have previously undertaken.

This record should include ‘significant findings’ in relation to steps one and two as well as details of actions taken and measures introduced. This could include training staff or providing information about escape routes and procedures.

The NLA has produced a pro-forma fire safety log book to enable landlords to keep a record of their activities and actions taken. This can be downloaded from the forms sections of landlords.org.uk

FIVE: REVIEW

Fire risk assessments should not be considered a one-off, it is necessary to review the assessment and general fire precautions regularly to ensure that they remain accurate and relevant.

The reassessment period will vary from case to case, and matters should be kept under constant review.

Any problems which arise should be dealt with as soon as practical.

 

This is, of course, only a very basic run through and should not be considered a substitute for specialised training. UKALA provides an online library which covers fire safety in more detail and can be found here – Library

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