The Secret Risk Assessor - April 2019
04 March 2019
Not all fire risk assessors are competent, says the Secret Risk Assessor, who highlights that finding one that is can help you avoid prosecution.
WHILE HIDING behind the anonymity of this article, I can safely say that I have encountered a ludicrously high number of fire risk assessors who, in my opinion, are so far away from being competent that it is frightening. Quite how these frauds, imbeciles or con men are not in jail is sometimes beyond me.
I have seen fire risk assessments which have:
Failed to recognise the fact that there is no protected route away from the second floor of a residential care home;
Not recognised that a designated fire exit route leads into an enclosed courtyard with no route away from the building;
Not undertaken standard checks above false ceilings to confirm that progressive horizontal evacuation procedures are suitable for high risk sleeping premises;
Stated that disabled occupants of upper floors should be left in the staircase (which as also not protected) to await the arrival of the fire and rescue service
Any many more
In addition to glaring life safety omissions from the reports, I have also seen reports where it has become clear that the author has a vested interest in add on sales. They have recommended remedial actions which they have then quoted for including:
Unnecessary upgrades to the fire detection and alarm system;
An over provision of portable fire extinguishers by 350%;
The installation of internal protected routes when the travel distances were within permitted limits;
The installation of unnecessary external staircases.
Risk assessments have had statements on the front pages suggesting that there is a legal requirement to have it updated when its validity expires in one years time.
I though I would use this article to discuss the term competency, and by that I do not intend to merely churn out the usual “training, qualifications, skills and experience” but more to look at what this should mean, and the questions someone appointing a fire risk assessor should ask.
Training and qualifications
Simply asking if somebody is trained to undertake fire risk assessments is not enough. Questions should be asked to confirm the level of the training that has been undertaken. Some organisations offer 1 day fire risk assessment training, others five days as the basic course. It should be noted that other courses exist to equip learners to understand fire risks in different uses of buildings such as residential types.
The qualifications that the courses provide should also be considered. It is unlikely that the one day course will attain any third party accreditation, they are merely designed as introduction courses for very low risk buildings. Reputable courses will be accredited by third party companies such as the IFE or the IFSM.
The ability to understand what guidance documents say, and apply them logically is a skill that many assessors simply do not possess. Maybe past experiences in enforcement have impaired their ability to understand what the term “guide” means. There are countless ways in which safety can be achieved whilst deviating from approved guidance.
You should ensure that any fire risk assessor that you employ has not only the training and qualifications, but more importantly experience in undertaking assessments for the type of building you are employing them to work in. For example, 5 years experience of undertaking fire risk assessments in office environments does not give someone the competency to undertake an assessment in a large process factory, care home or hospital.
In addition to this, 30 years fire and rescue service experience does not necessarily mean that an individual is competent to undertake fire risk assessments. As with most employers the fire and rescue service has different job roles which their staff undertake. If for example the 30 years was spent in an operational role then the individual may not have received much, if any, training on fire risk assessments.
Accreditation and registers
Fire risk assessors should ideally be on a recognised risk assessors register, of which there are a few of them out there. When appointing a risk assessor you should look for one who is on a register such as one run by the Institute of Fire Engineers, the Institute of Fire Safety Managers or BAFE. It should be noted though that not all those schemes are third party accredited.
Failure to appoint a competent assessor
It should be remembered that it the responsibility of the Responsible Person to appoint a competent person to undertake their fire risk assessment. By giving the task to somebody who is incompetent to undertake the job both people are setting themselves up for prosecution. Just ask Mr David Liu (hotel owner) and Mr John O’Rourke (fire risk assessor). Both of whom were jailed after a routine fire and rescue service inspection identifying shortcomings in the fire risk assessments for two buildings in Mansfield in 2011.
The Secret Risk Assessor is a well-known risk assessor in the fire sector. They have asked for their name to be withheld so they can speak freely about common failings they see in buildings across the UK