This is the really important part of your Fire Risk Assessment because this is where you look at the potential risks you have identified and plan for what actions you can take to either eliminate the risk completely or reduce it as far as possible. You cannot do this without first having gone through the first two stages of your assessment, but the whole assessment process is pointless if you do not highlight the things you need to do in order to reduce the risks you have found to an acceptable level.
Looking at the findings of the first two stages, there are now four steps we need to take:
1. Evaluate the chances of the fire hazards we found leading to a fire.
2. Evaluate the risk these hazards pose to the people on your premises.
3. Plan actions to manage the fire hazards
4. Plan actions to manage the risks to people.
1. Evaluate the chances of the fire hazards we found leading to a fire:
The first part of your assessment was about identifying possible hazards that under certain circumstances could lead to a fire. Your job now is to think about how likely it is that they could actually lead to a fire starting. What would need to happen for this risk to become a reality? How likely is that?
Something may represent a serious potential hazard, but if it could never happen unless there was a bizarre series of incredibly unlikely coincidences, then it is probably not worth spending much time on. You have to think beyond what is meant to happen and how people are meant to behave and do their jobs, but it still has to be realistic. Consider what would happen if someone took a shortcut, carelessly knocked something over or forgot to do something. What if they stored things where they do not belong or failed to properly maintain some item of equipment. Such things are all too realistic so must be considered.
Do not forget to consider the possibility of deliberate arson too. It is actually quite common so make sure you are not doing anything that makes it easy for this to happen.
2. Evaluate the risk these hazards pose to the people on your premises:
Look at the list of people you made at stage 2 and think about what would happen to them if any of the fire hazards you identified became a reality. Look at the specific hazards, think through what would happen in that situation. What area would be affected and when. Which people would be at risk to begin with and what would be the impact of it spreading?
Knowing something about how fire spreads is important in considering the threat to people. Fire can spread either by convection, conduction or radiation. Convection means the spread of the fire through the air and this is by far the most dangerous one. As fire spreads so does smoke, and that is what kills most people.
You need to think about how fire and smoke will spread through your premises in order to understand the risk to people and what to do about it. Smoke always rises and it will spread further and faster than the actual fire. Smoke can block off escape routes and affect rooms that the fire has not yet reached. You must consider how people will escape from the building and consider whether they will safely be able to do this before smoke from a fire reaches that area.
Look at the fire hazards you have identified and check whether any of these affect important escape routes. If people in a certain area have only one way out then you must take very seriously any fire risk in that area.
Do you have a ventilation system in your premises that would allow smoke to travel from one space to another? Do you have fire doors and what would happen if they were not working properly or someone wedged them open? Are there any holes in ceilings or walls through which smoke could spread? Common causes are running cables around the building without properly blocking up the space around the cables.
3. Plan actions to manage the fire hazards:
In the first part of your Fire Risk Assessment you looked for possible fire hazards by considering the three things that are needed for a fire to start. Now we need to look at what steps you can take to either remove the risk of these hazards turning into a fire or reduce the likelihood of it happening to an acceptable level. We can do this by considering again the three things necessary for a fire.
Managing Ignition Sources
If you have found any instances of naked flames in your workplace, think about whether you really need these. It may be an unavoidable aspect of the type of work you do, but if you are using gas or other portable heaters you can eliminate the risk completely by replacing these with safer options such as fixed convector heaters.
If you have occasional hot works on your premises, use a permit system so that no work is ever undertaken without proper precautions being taken and checks being made after the work has finished.
If you have found anything else that gets hot, or which could get hot, such as certain lighting, you should ensure that you have systems in place to avoid storing anything combustible anywhere near these. If you have identified electrical equipment or switch rooms as possible hazards, put a plan in place to make sure all portable electrical equipment is regularly tested and make sure you have strict rules about not storing anything in rooms with electrical equipment.
Managing Fuel Sources
Look at what you have identified as possible fuel for a fire and think about what you might do to reduce that risk.
If it is a room full of archived paperwork, do you actually need to keep it all for that long? Introduce a document retention system that makes it clear how long each type of document needs to be kept and have a clear out every year of the things that no longer need to be retained.
If you have a stationary store with a two year supply of envelopes, could you keep a smaller stock and order more frequently?
You may have large quantities of stock that are combustible. Again, look at whether you really need that quantity on site, or whether you could hold less stock. If not, then perhaps you could move the bulk of it to a more isolated and safer storage area and top up your main supply from there.
Waste material is a common fire hazard so if you do have a lot of combustible waste you need to have appropriate waste collection arranged and have proper plans for how waste will be stored safely between collections.
Managing Oxygen Sources
You are aware of how air moving around your building can help fires spread, so you need to look at what you can do to restrict that movement. You will almost certainly have some fire doors on your premises, so you should take steps to make sure no-one is allowed to prop them open.
If it is really inconvenient to never be able to wedge open a door, it is possible to get door holders that are linked into your alarm system. This means you use the special door stop to hold open the door and if the fire alarm is activated it automatically closes any fire doors that are open. You need to decide whether the business need you have justifies the investment in such equipment.
The other problem with fire doors is if they are damaged or do not work properly. If you have a lot of them, checking and maintaining them can become an onerous task, so it may be worth setting up a maintenance contract to have them checked and repaired at regular intervals.
Whoever locks up your premises ought to be checking all areas to ensure that no windows or doors are left open overnight.
4. Plan actions to manage the risks to people:
You are now aware of what the risks are and have identified how you are going to keep the chances of a fire starting to a minimum. Now you have to think about how to minimise the risk that remains with regard to the people on your premises.
A key element in achieving this is to have a good emergency plan in place and sensible fire procedures that all staff know about. Your procedures will need to address the specific needs of your workplace and include actions that will ensure anyone in your building can always get safely outside.
For a small, simple business your fire procedures are also likely to be brief and simple, so do not feel you have to have a huge policy or long procedures. You know what the risks that remain are, so you just need to set out what systems you have in place to keep people safe. The sort of thing you may include could be the restriction of customers or visitors to certain areas only or having visiting contractors sign in so that you know who is working where.