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IFSM issues risk assessment warning

27 March 2017

THE INSTITUTE of Fire Safety Managers (IFSM) has declared that there’s no point doing a fire risk assessment if you don’t then form an action plan as a result and prioritise how and when you are going to act.

Dr Bob Docherty’s main message to delegates in the Fire and Evacuation Theatre at the Fire Safety Event may sound obvious but, as he said himself, it is surprising how ineffective many fire risk assessments still turn out to be because their findings are not actioned. “Basically,” he explained, “your fire risk assessment should highlight ‘significant findings’, with an action plan setting out what needs to be done – preferably priority-rated for the responsible person.”

The key to doing this effectively, he continued, is functional prioritising, i.e. looking at what needs to be done in terms of the time required to do it and the costs incurred as a result. “My take on this,” said Bob, “is to keep it simple and linked to legislative requirements, so the responsible person understands.”

He suggested implementing a straightforward A, B, C system of prioritising, with A being high priority, B – medium priority and C – low priority. He explained: “A priorities require immediate action in order comply with legislation and protect life. B require immediate action for compliance but there is no threat to life. C need to be actioned and are considered good practice.”

Going back to his key message, Bob reminded delegates that “the fire risk assessment is a working document, so make sure you sign off actions on your action plan, because that will be your audit trail”.

In terms of deciding what the issues are and how to manage them, Bob said they can be categorised as management issues and building issues. A and B management priorities include fire doors being wedged open, poor record-keeping and lack of training. As regards the building, A and B priorities include the likes of problems with the alarm system, fire doors not fitting properly, lack of signage, etc.

A problem for some duty-holders is how to deal with multiple fire risk assessments from multiple sites, or buildings that have different uses. Here, Bob gave the example of a care-home client with whom he recently worked: “This housing association had more than 250 sites, including general-use flats, HMOs, and sheltered housing. First, we created an executive summary drawing out all of the overarching issues. Then, we created a priority list of categories based on the use of the buildings. High-risk problems related mainly to care homes and extra-care facilities, HMOs, shared housing and sheltered housing. General flats were more medium-risk, and low-risk were offices, stores, depots, etc. We then developed a priority matrix, plotting actions required against a timescale.”

Bob pointed out that this is basically managing your risks against your risk assessment. It also helps you think about budgetary control.

He concluded his presentation with a run-through of other priorities that may have to be considered, such as: building permissions, getting and organising contractors and skilled people, agreeing temporary measures, and finding the right person in the organisation to take ownership and manage the project. On that last point, Bob reminded the audience that the employer, or owner is legally obliged to nominate suitably qualified and experienced people for this role. “You can’t just dump it on the general health and safety guy anymore!”