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Micro and Small Businesses most at risk from fire safety management

Updated: Jan 22

Statistics for 2022 indicate around 38% of businesses do not have a fire risk assessment. I actually believe that this figure is much higher in many micro businesses and small enterprises, anticipating this figure could be over 60%. Especially for those that have a premises for the first time, or starting out in a shared building. Many new business owners or one person start ups don’t feel confident of their duties.


There’s a common misconception that you don’t need a fire risk assessment unless you own the building, employ lots of people or have a ‘bigger’ business (what is a ‘bigger business?).


The reality is you don’t even need a premise. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment be made for ‘any place’ and includes temporary structures, events, outside spaces and buildings. There is no minimum number of persons, building size or business size, it is ALWAYS required.


The rule used to be that a fire risk assessment must be written down if you have 5 or more employees, however this changed with the Building Safety Act 2022, section 156, making it a requirement for all responsible persons to ensure their fire risk assessment is recorded in full irrespective of the number of employees they have. Small businesses that do not have someone keeping them upto date with legal changes, and landlords often fall foul of this, believing that if they don’t have 5 employees, they don’t’ need to complete one.


There are other situations that may require you write this down before reaching 5 employees too, the most common being insurance. Insurance companies have no other way of demonstrating they have done their due diligence in order to determine risk level, if they can’t see or read your risk assessment and as a result, will often insist on seeing a written copy. Insurance companies will make stipulations for risk assessments, electrical testing and fire risk assessment being in place, and evidence of such is likely to be required for any insurance pay out.

In short, it is far easier to document your fire risk assessment from the beginning. It will not only show the methodology followed, but give a concise demonstration of what has been considered, and preserve those statements for you to refer back to. It should state who carried it out, their qualifications, the scope and exclusions of the report and any actions required to meet compliance. The guidance documents applicable to the property type should also be referenced when making recommendations.


Can I carry out my own Fire Risk Assessment?

If you have an office space in a shared building, a small unit or similar, it may well be something you can do yourself! You must ensure that you feel confident enough about what is required by law though. Fire Safety is a fairly technical area. It is not going to be sufficient if there are assumptions made about what is acceptable. There are documents produced by the government that act as a guide, and these are written in a way that most can use and interpret them. 


What do I need to consider?

When conducting a fire risk assessment, you need to look at the basics first. Combustibles – anything that will burn. Don’t allow these to build up, or block or be close to sources of heat. Are your walkways always clear and your doors unlocked and able to open? If there was a fire, does everyone clearly know what to do, what not to do and where to go? Are people trained to use extinguishers? In addition, you must ensure that your fire fighting equipment, fire alarm, emergency lighting, detectors and sounders are well maintained and serviced.


I’ve heard Fire Risk Assessment is expensive and its one of the reasons we don’t have one. Is it?

‘Expensive’ is a subjective word, with everyone having a different opinion of what expensive would be. It is important to factor into your business (not just for fire) any ongoing maintenance and servicing costs. With this, you should consider the cost of consultancy support for things like health and safety, Fire, HR, IT and security, training and maintaining equipment. Ignoring these costs and trying to do the bare minimum will only cost you more and be less easier to plan and managed in the long run.

Fire Safety Management is something that your assessor should have specifically trained for and be insured for. These are factored into costs. When instructing a fire risk assessor you are paying for the expertise to ensure you are properly advised on how to ensure you reach and maintain compliance. A large part of a fire risk assessment is also writing up your report, any associated research and making reference to the applicable sections of any regulation. You can expect that most fire risk assessment will be a minimum of a day including return travel, any overnight stay, the on site inspection and interview, viewing documentation and then write up time away from site.


Bear in mind if trying to obtain indicative quotations, that you don’t get led by price alone. This is a trained, specialist subject and you should ensure that the persons competency level matches your requirements, and that they have sufficient understanding of your business sector and operations. You should be able to see copies of any certificates, or check their inclusion in any professional association or scheme.


If you have any questions relating to fire risk assessment, feel free to contact us.

Written by Hayley Tollervey

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