The dictionary provides the meaning of “Assessment” as the action of “assessing someone or something”.
Therefore its a given that an “Assessment” would require some thought be put in to the process. However I am amazed by the lack of thought put in to some assessments I have been asked to review. The following five areas always seem to be over looked or given perfunctory consideration.
This is blindingly obvious as the regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 is about all about LIFE SAFETY. But how much thought is given to the relevant persons by the fire risk assessor?
Many risk assessments indicate the approximate number of people there may be but do not go any further concentrating instead on the physical building. It is all very well stating the means of escape are suitable and sufficient but who are they suitable and sufficient for? Usually those who meet the narrow criteria of able bodied adults who first come to mind.
This bounded rational ignores those that really must be considered; Children, those with cognitive or physical issues or aged to name but a few. These are the ones that really need to be considered when looking at means of escape.
There are numerous residential management companies who lack the resources to fully comply with current British Standards. Service charges place restrictions on what can be done, but they try their hardest. Conversely there are companies that have an abundance of resources and can comply rigidly with the standards,, but who on closer inspection be found wanting.
Many companies use third parties to deal with testing and maintenance whilst others do it all in house. Some hold all maintenance records electronically rather than having a fire safety log book located at site as some assessors insist on.
Either way in order to ask the right questions the assessor must have an understanding of their clients approach to safety management in order to make a proper assessment of the risks.
Passive fire safety
Smoke and flames are insidious; they take advantage of any weakness in the passive fire safety features of a building. Often overlooked passive fire safety features of a building have a significant impact on individuals and the building.
Often viewed as unimportant by the responsible person but the one area that should be covered in detail by the fire risk assessor. Holes in floors and walls; gaps around fire doors, damaged or missing seals are all failings which are usually identified; and recommendations made to have these repaired etc.
The assessor must be specific as to possible regarding repairs to passive fire protection. Leaving the responsible person with an unspecified approach to deal with these issues inevitably results in, at best, an ad hoc repair or at worst nothing being done.
Fire Safety Signs
Why is something so simple so often abused and used as a way of increasing income streams by assessment companies. It is not uncommon to find signs installed which at best serve no useful function and at worst create the very confusion they are supposed to minimise.
Why put directional signs up when there is only one route? Or how about fire action notices which tells everyone to evacuate from a new build residential block with no fire detection system. Both are pointless & confusing and often recommended because the guidance documents say they should be installed.
Signs should provide relevant and unequivocal information. Therefore the assessment must be clear on the need to install or not, the thinking behind that decision and exactly what is required.
The remit of the responsible person
To some extent the responsible person is at the mercy of the fire risk assessor. Recommendations made need to be addressed. However, what if those recommendations fall outside the authority of the responsible person?
Consider the managing agent for a house converted to apartments. The ideal recommendation would be the installation of an LD2 fire detection system. All well a good but the Management Company may have no rights to enter a private dwelling to install detector heads or there may be no communal electrical supply; resulting in the recommendation not being addressed.
Some may raise the “cooperation” argument but when leaseholders are also the management company client; the management company could soon be without a client if they push too hard.
This leaves the managing agent in the precarious situation of trying to do the right thing but failing through no fault of their own. Any fire risk assessment must therefore take in to account the authority the responsible person has with regard to getting works done.
Show your thinking
This is something were always taught to do at school; show how you came to your conclusion. Sadly this is something that seems to be forgotten.
Many have turned the assessment process in to a tick box exercise in order to drive down the cost to the client. This approach degrades the assessments worth and gives the risk assessment industry a reputation they can ill afford.
Assessors must justify each conclusion in their risk assessments. This may take longer in the first instance but reduces the number of ‘what did you mean’ and ‘why must this be done’ calls which are a drain on resources.
As Fire Risk Assessors we are seen as the ‘experts’ by our clients and we are hired to help our clients to fulfil their obligations under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
By providing clear, understandable reports with justifiable recommendations we can promote that ‘expert’ label and have a happy returning client base.