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Fire Risk Assessment - Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I need to do a Fire Risk Assessment?

There are a number of reasons why Risk Assessment is needed:

  1. It is a tool that is designed to help you think about what could cause a fire and result in harm to people.  It helps you ensure that the safety and health of employees, volunteers and visitors is thought about in a structured way.
  2. It is a legal requirement for Churches and Places of Worship under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005*.
  3. It is often a requirement of insurance agencies that fire safety is properly considered and managed.  Fire Risk Assessment is the recognised way to do this.

* England and Wales only. Similar legislation covers other parts of the UK which has the same general requirements for Fire Risk Assessment.

When should I do a Fire Risk Assessment?

The person responsible for the premises needs to have undertaken a valid Fire Risk Assessment.  However, providing that all hazards are adequately considered and assessed, there is no time limit on when the assessment is reviewed.  Risk Assessments do not have an expiry date, although it does pay to keep an eye on things to make sure that any changes are included and that the assessment remains up-to-date.

How do I complete a Risk Assessment?

A Risk Assessment is never completed. It is not a form that has to be filled in but a way of thinking about things. By definition, an assessment is reviewed occasionally, so it is an ongoing process. 

Who should do the Risk Assessment?

Anyone that has the right knowledge, experience and skills can do the assessments.  Due to the specialist nature of a Fire Risk Assessment (in comparison to more general Risk Assessments done under Health and Safety law),  training is usually recommended but is not mandatory.

For the assessment to be useful, it is often best for it to be done in consultation with someone that knows the premises, people and activities well enough.  There is often great benefit to be had in using the services of a competent Fire Risk Assessor, but this is not a requirement of the law.

Who is responsible for the Fire Risk Assessment?

In England and Wales, the term 'Responsible Person' is used in law to describe the person who is in overall control of the premises.  This person has a duty to ensure that the assessment is carried out. 

The Responsible Person is the person who has control of the premises, so in a Church, this may be the Minister or the chairperson of a trustee committee.

The Responsible Person does not have to do the assessment themselves. They can appoint someone who is competent to carry out the assessment on their behalf.  Actions that come from the Fire Risk Assessment are the responsibility of the Responsible Person.

Is there any government guidance?

Yes. The Department for Communities and Local Government has provided a series of fire safety guides.  Of interest to most Churches and Places of Worship will be the guide covering Small and Medium Places of Assembly and the guide covering Large Places of Assembly.  There is also a guide on Means of Escape for Disabled People.

What does a good Fire Risk Assessment look like?

There is no right or wrong way to do a Fire Risk Assessment, providing that it is 'suitable and sufficient'.  This means that is should identify all the significant hazards, the people who are at risk of harm and identify what is being done to prevent harm to people, along with any further action that is needed. 

A good Risk Assessment is one that reflects the organisation so must be specific to the premises, activities and personnel. It is no good simply copying a Fire Risk Assessment from someone else.

If and when a Risk Assessment needs to be recorded in writing, there is no set format on how this is to be done but many professionals follow the guidance set out in a document called "PAS 79".  This is a Publicly Available Standard, which is produced by the British Standards Institution (BSI).  This is not mandatory, but it does represent best practice.

Is there an example from a typical church building?

We don't provide any examples as we believe that there is no such thing as a typical Risk Assessment because there is no such thing as a typical Church! 

All premises are slightly different.  Each congregation is different.  Each organisation has it's own way of doing things.

A unique assessment needs to be made in your own Church or Place of Worship.

Can I download an assessment or use one from someone else?

The purpose of Risk Assessment is not to have documents to keep in a folder to look nice.  For any assessment to be valid, it must reflect the organisation that has been assessed.  The work of someone else is not likely to match the needs of the organisation, so is of little value and will not do what it is intended to do - identify hazards and help control risk.

It isn't the presence of the documentation that matters, rather the fact that someone has thought about the hazards as they affect the organisation.

However, it can be useful to look at other's work to see how they manage and document things to get ideas about how it is done if you are new to Risk Assessment.

How much time does it take?

This depends on the size of the organisation and premises, but the idea of any Risk Assessment, not least Fire Risk Assessment, is not to spend time on paperwork.  Rather it is about putting sensible and reasonable precautions in to protect people against real risk.

Those people that spend too much time on assessments are often missing the point and are aiming  to get perfect documents which are of little practical use to the organisation.  It is sometimes because the person does not have the right skills to assess risk or document the findings when this is needed.  It does help to have skills in Fire Risk Assessment and, when recording the significant findings, word processing skills are useful.

Isn't is just about protecting us in case things go wrong?

Paperwork alone does not prevent fire.

It's not the paperwork that counts, but the actions that are done to prevent fire and protect people that matters most.  Fire Risk Assessment is not about having a document in a folder 'just in case' rather it's a tool that is used to look for problems and allow the organisation to be proactive in preventing fire and other related incidents. Only then can the organisation say it's done everything that's reasonable to protect people.

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