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Do you know what your fire risk is?

by GARY WHITWORTH FIFireE FIFSM FIMgt MIFPO MIIRSM Dip CFPA[Europe], IFSM-accredited fire risk assessor and registered expert witness.

THE REGULATORY Reform [Fire Safety] Order 2005 (known briefly as ‘the RRO’) came into force on 1 October 2006. The delay in its introduction was due mainly to the availability of a large number of Guidance Documents which covered the whole range of different types of property embraced by the legislation: offices, shops, factories, warehouses, sleeping accommodation (including flats), residential care premises, educational premises, small and medium-sized places of assembly (including places of worship), large places of assembly, theatres, cinemas and similar premises, open air events and venues, healthcare premises and transport premises. There are very few properties outside the scope of the Act; they include ‘single private dwellings’, ‘aircraft’, ‘locomotives or rolling stock’, ‘mines (other than buildings on the surface of a mine)’, ‘borehole sites’, ‘offshore installations’ and ‘ships and normal ship-board activities’.

 

The law requires the ‘responsible person’ running a business to carry out a fire risk assessment, and make an emergency plan. If five or more persons are employed, or if there is a licence under an enactment in force for the premises, the fire risk assessment and emergency plan must be recorded and be available for inspection by the fire authority.

There are many small businesses, such as the typical single-floor corner shop or small off-licence, which should be able to undertake a fire risk assessment themselves without resorting to employing a specialist fire consultant. Should your business premises be more complicated and involve several floors and include a significant number of employees, along with fire risks about which you are not completely certain, it is best to seek the services of a professional fire consultant to produce a proper comprehensive Fire Risk Assessment Report and emergency plan.

The point to bear in mind is, at the end of the day who will be answerable if something goes wrong? While it is certainly good practice for owners and managers of premises subject to the RRO to carry out their own fire risk assessment, it is still wise to ensure that you have not missed something about which you are not an expert.

Your fire risk assessment and emergency plan should:
• Identify all the significant fire hazards.
• Identify the ‘relevant persons’ who are at risk from each fire hazard: that may include any person who may lawfully be on the premises (eg the public), and even any persons who may be in the vicinity of the premises (eg passers-by).
• Identify any group of persons who are especially at risk.
• Take into consideration any dangerous substances on the premises (eg chemicals, gas cylinders, solvents, oxygen and any explosive atmospheres created by dust).
• Consider the question of arson or incendiarism.
• Evaluate if existing fire control measures reduce the risk to a tolerable level and determine what additional measures are required (and include the action required by when and by whom?).
• Assess the means of escape from the premises in case of fire.
• Assess the means of detection and giving warning in case of fire.
• Assess the means of fighting the fire.
• Assess the emergency plan and include specific responsibilities and actions.
• Assess the adequacy of fire training for staff, and information on fire precautions for staff.
• Assess the adequacy of maintenance and testing of fire safety equipment, and the recording of this in a Fire Safety Log Book.

Since the RRO came into force there have been numerous cases of fire officers throughout the country refusing to accept a fire risk assessment which they consider to be either inadequate or insufficient. There have also been some very heavy fines imposed on premises where contraventions in fire safety practice have been discovered by fire officers.

Appointing a third party

Probably the most important facts to establish when considering the appointment of someone to carry out a fire risk assessment are:

• Is the individual or company properly insured? Can they produce proof of their professional indemnity insurance, their public liability insurance and, if it is a company, their employer’s liability insurance?
• Is the fire consultant adequately qualified and experienced? Do they have professional fire qualifications (membership of a professional fire institute, examination certificates from a recognised university or fire college CPD certificates etc?
• Are they registered as an accredited fire risk assessor by a professionally recognised fire organisation?
• Have they ever been in court to represent a client in a fire-related prosecution?
• Are they registered as an expert witness?
• What type of Fire Risk Assessment Report will be used? Does it comply with a British Standard and does it include an action plan identifying any deficiencies?

There is currently a Fatal Accident Inquiry on-going where a fire risk assessment inspector has admitted that he failed to inform his care home clients (where 14 residents died) that his report omitted information that might have helped prevent or lessen the impact of the fire on their premises.

It took a serious fire (with six deaths) in a London tower block for it to come out that hundreds of similar blocks of flats throughout the UK had no fire risk assessments.

• Gary Whitworth is the former Chief Fire Officer of Kent Fire and Rescue Service and currently managing director of Fire- Stat International Ltd.

He is the holder of four European Awards for fire service liaison, a former president of the Institute of Fire Safety Managers (IFSM), former vice-president of the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE), governing council member of the Commonwealth and Overseas Fire Services Association and the Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers’ Association, and former member of various British Standards and Home Office committees. He holds the Kent Fire Brigade Medal for Outstanding Service.

He was appointed chief fire safety advisor to the Anglo-French Channel Tunnel Safety Authority during the construction phase of the development.

Last Updated on Monday, 15 October 2012 10:22