Fire Risk Assessments: What Building Managers + Owners Need to Know

Andrew Greenwood, CENG

Fire Prevention Week serves as a good reminder to use Fire Risk Assessments as a preventative strategy.

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Fire safety regulations are constantly evolving, and as a building owner, it can be tough to keep up. Last year's fires in Beirut and at Grenfell in London in 2017 have demonstrated the critical importance of fire safety within buildings. Following the Grenfell disaster, the UK government issued new regulations on the suitability of cladding, which has created shock waves across the construction industry in the UK. Whether you’re in the U.S., UK or Lebanon or any other part of the world, it’s crucial for building managers and owners to conduct regular Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) to ensure buildings are up to date with the latest local fire safety regulations.

Conducting Fire Risk Assessments — What’s Involved?

Carrying out FRAs is the primary management tool a building manager/owner can take to effectively identify the fire risks within their building. While it’s a legal requirement in many regions, an FRA provides peace of mind knowing that the building meets the highest level of fire safety standards. The first step in an FRA involves a detailed on-site inspection, carried out by a qualified Fire Risk Assessor who will:

  • Identify potential fire hazards
  • Identify occupants who may be at risk
  • Evaluate risk and determine whether existing measures are adequate
  • Review fire safety documentation
  • Record fire risk assessment information

This analysis provides the building manager or owner with a clear assessment of the building and the associated risks. It determines whether the building conforms to standards or whether remedial works are required to bring the building up to an acceptable level of fire safety.

Prescriptive vs. Performance-Based Approaches

When carrying out an FRA, a common approach is to assess the risk against current standard codes of practice – referred to as the Prescriptive Approach. While some buildings may only require the Prescriptive Approach, if a building is complex or predates the regulations, it’s best to take a Performance-Based Approach. This is often the only way to provide a safe building that meets the architectural/historic aspirations for a complex design and the client’s operational requirements. It’s important to hire a qualified Fire Risk Assessor who is well-versed and up to date in regulations applicable to that region.

The Common Thread in Fire Safety Regulations

Most countries have a requirement from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) stipulating that regular FRAs or similar exercises are conducted. While the common thread of an FRA can be traced through fire safety regulations in different regions, each country has its own unique requirements. In the UK, for example, all non-domestic sites are required by law to conduct an FRA of all workplaces and any places with public access (including common areas within built occupancy residences). Failure to have an FRA in place can result in serious penalties. Depending on your jurisdiction it is necessary to comply with your obligation to provide a safe working environment. Insurance companies also encourage their customers to undertake regular formal FRAs on their buildings in order to ensure that they are being maintained to an appropriate standard.

As we enter Fire Prevention Week, prevention is the most cost-effective solution when it comes to fire and life safety.

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