A number of shocking incidents involving fire have highlighted the need to better manage risks in buildings. David Adkins, managing director at Risk Warden, explains why some organisations need to give compliance with statutory regulations more focus and how the use of state-of-the-art online risk assessment tools can help to ensure that a building is as safe as possible.

The Grenfell Tower disaster in London, in which 72 people lost their lives, brought the subject of fire safety into sharp focus. A government review into building regulations in the wake of this tragedy, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, made it clear that competence – defined as a combination of knowledge, skills and experience – underpins safety for all.

It also found that that the current regulatory system is not fit for purpose and, with little or no quality monitoring, has created a situation where poor language confuses guidance with regulation and means that there is an overlapping regulatory enforcement framework.

Why you need a fire safety action plan

Sadly, Grenfell was not an isolated incident and similar events have occurred throughout the world. In 2017 a fire at a 17-storey commercial building in Iran led to multiple deaths, including those of 18 firefighters, while in 2015 16 people died in a fire in a residential building in Azerbaijan.

Perhaps what is most concerning is that these types of events have been regularly occurring for many years – in 2010 a fire in a 28-storey tower block in China killed 53 people and injured at least 90, while in 2004 a fire at a care home in Scotland led directly to the deaths of 14 residents. The inquiry concluded that this tragedy could have been prevented by a suitable fire safety action plan.

These examples highlight why it is vital to take the issue of safety seriously by undertaking a formal risk assessment. Put simply, if risks aren’t identified, a building’s occupants are in danger. There are a number of important pieces of legislation relating to this area in the UK including The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which contain a consistent set of requirements.

Employers also have a general duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees at work.

The Grenfell Tower disaster in London highlights the need for strict fire safety procedures
The Grenfell Tower disaster in London, in which 72 people lost their lives, brought the subject of fire safety into focus

Responsibility for fire risk assessment

When it comes to the dangers associated specifically with fire, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRFSO) places the onus on a designated responsible person within an organisation to carry out regular assessments to identify, manage and reduce the potential danger posed by fire.

Article 9 of the RRFSO states that "The responsible person must make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons are exposed for the purpose of identifying the general fire precautions he/she needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed on him/her by or under this order". Any failure that leads to loss of life, personal injury or damage to property will expose a responsible person and could lead to prosecution.

Outside fire risk assessors

If the responsible person does not have the knowledge to carry out a fire risk assessment on his or her own, it will be necessary to call on a competent outside fire risk assessor. However, as Article 18 of the RRFSO points out, "Preference is to be given to a suitable competent person in the responsible person’s employment over a person not in their employment".

Just as importantly, it states that, "A person is to be regarded as competent where they have sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities to enable them properly to assist in undertaking the preventive and protective measures".

If an outside fire risk assessor is employed then the responsible person must undertake due diligence to ensure that the individual concerned is competent and has successful track record in this line of work. Failure to do so can have enormous repercussions like, for example, in 2017 when a former firefighter and professional fire risk assessor was given a sentence of four months in prison suspended for 12 months for providing a ‘woefully inadequate’ fire risk assessment in his capacity as a private consultant.

If an outside fire risk assessor is employed then the responsible person must undertake due diligence to ensure that the individual concerned is competent
Failure to undertake due diligence when employing a fire risk assessor can have legal consequences

Monitoring and reviewing fire risk

It is up to the responsible person to put processes and procedures in place to enable compliance to be fully evidenced. This includes keeping up to date records of testing and maintenance regimes that can be scrutinised by relevant enforcement authorities, as well as enabling the responsible person to monitor, control and periodically review the fire risk assessment, especially during and after significant changes to the use or layout of a building.

At the moment there are no hard and fast rules as to how fire risk assessments should be carried out. However, the most important requirement is to identify the fire hazards and how people could be at risk.

In addition, emergency routes and exits, fire detection and warning systems, fire fighting equipment, the removal or safe storage of dangerous substances, and the needs of vulnerable people such as the elderly or those with disabilities must be factored in. The aim should always be to remove or reduce the risks as much as is 'reasonably practicable'.

A failure to provide satisfactory evidence that a comprehensive risk assessment has taken place could result in invalid insurance, large fines and even the prosecution of any individuals responsible.

To that end Article 11 of the RRFSO states that "The responsible person must make and give effect to such arrangements as are appropriate, having regard to the size of his/her undertaking and the nature of its activities, for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of the preventive and protective measures".

Online tools provide a more cohesive approach, as once the risk assessment has been completed all work undertaken is clearly outlined, logged and accounted for
Today’s state-of-the-art solutions are structured around an intuitive internet-based interface

Risk assessment and compliance tools

Sometimes, particularly with large buildings or campus environments, the complexity of the risk assessment process requires a more methodical approach that takes subjectivity out of the process. When it comes to satisfying the requirements of Article 11 of the RRFSO where "the responsible person must record the arrangements", the latest generation of intuitive risk assessment and compliance tools can help.

Today’s state-of-the-art solutions are structured around an intuitive internet-based interface, which allows a responsible person to be guided through the entire risk assessment process in a clear and thorough manner. This is a significant improvement on the old fashioned ‘pen and paper’ approach, as digital images can be captured and placed directly into a report at the relevant section, while templates for specific building types ensure consistency throughout.

This simplifies the identification, management and prevention of any risks related to not only fire, but security, and health and safety too, thereby reducing the potential for danger within a wide variety of environments.

It should always be remembered that the risk assessment is only the first stage of the process and where traditional methods often fall down is in taking – or not taking, as the case may be – any necessary remedial action. Online tools provide a more cohesive approach, as once the risk assessment has been completed all work undertaken is clearly outlined, logged and accounted for to comply with audits.

This provides evidence of compliance and ensures organisations meet their legal obligations, validate their insurance, take a consistent approach to risk management and provide peace of mind for a responsible person.

Making buildings safer

There is a clear need for a digital record of risk assessment compliance for the whole life of a building – from design and construction through to occupation. As assessing risk can be a lengthy and complicated process, anything that makes this easier and enhances an organisation’s ability to negate the likelihood of injury or even death should be embraced.

It stands to reason that risk management must be more strictly applied in order to prevent incidents that could be avoided – therefore, the use of online risk assessment and compliance tools should be at the forefront when it comes to making buildings safer.

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version

Author profile

In case you missed it

Deutsche Messe Postpones INTERSCHUTZ By One Year Due To The Outbreak Of COVID-19
Deutsche Messe Postpones INTERSCHUTZ By One Year Due To The Outbreak Of COVID-19

INTERSCHUTZ, which was scheduled for June 2020, will be postponed by one year. This is the mutual decision of the organizers and partners of the trade fair for fire and rescue services, civil protection, safety and security. The reason is the coronavirus, which directly affects both exhibitors and visitors of INTERSCHUTZ and requires them to be available for duty at other locations. INTERSCHUTZ will now take place from 14 to 19 June 2021 in Hannover. About three months before the actual start of the event, it is now certain that the next INTERSCHUTZ will take place in summer 2021. Exhibiting Emergency Aid Organizations More than 150,000 visitors from all over the world attend INTERSCHUTZ "The people who under ordinary conditions would have come to INTERSCHUTZ in June this year are precisely those who are most needed due to the coronavirus crisis," says Dr. Andreas Gruchow, Member of the Managing Board, Deutsche Messe AG. "As INTERSCHUTZ, we are part of the industry. With our decision, we therefore take responsibility and provide security in planning". More than 150,000 visitors from all over the world attend INTERSCHUTZ. However, in times of pandemic, helpers and rescuers are needed to maintain supplies and security. The same applies to exhibiting emergency aid organizations or authorities with security tasks whose capacities are needed elsewhere. Digital Deployment Technology But also exhibitors from the industry are directly or indirectly involved in the crisis situation, such as manufacturers of protective equipment, suppliers of digital deployment technology or even vehicle manufacturers whose customers cannot or are not allowed to visit a trade fair in this situation. We therefore would like to wish all the players and the entire INTERSCHUTZ community" "We were on an excellent path – and we are aiming for a strong INTERSCHUTZ," says Gruchow. "Under the current conditions, however, this is not possible. We therefore would like to wish all the players and the entire INTERSCHUTZ community all the best and every strength for the tasks ahead. We will see each other in Hannover in June 2021, where we will have the opportunity to take a detailed and analytical look at the pandemic – and what we can learn from it". Enormous Number Of Organizational Consequences Postponing a trade fair on the scale of INTERSCHUTZ has an enormous number of organizational consequences. The 29th German Firefighters' Day will also be postponed until next year: "The synergy between the trade fair and the top firefighters' meeting is important to us - the postponement is a joint decision," explains Hermann Schreck, permanent representative of the President of the German Firefighters' Association (DFV). The most important questions arising from such a postponement for exhibitors and visitors of INTERSCHUTZ will be published in an FAQ on the INTERSCHUTZ homepage. Further questions will be clarified via the usual communication channels. INTERSCHUTZ has a network of strong partners who have also voted for a postponement and who will now work with Deutsche Messe to set the course for a successful event in June 2021. Facing Special Challenges Dirk Aschenbrenner, President of the German Fire Protection Association (vfdb): "vfdb as a strong supporter of INTERSCHUTZ welcomes the decision. As a network of experts for protection, rescue and security, we spoke out without hesitation in favor of postponing INTERSCHUTZ after the latest developments.” The postponement of INTERSCHUTZ is both responsible and appropriate" “Especially as organizers of the non-commercial segment of INTERSCHUTZ, we know that thousands and thousands of members of the fire brigades, rescue services and disaster control have been waiting for the world's leading trade fair with enthusiasm. But we also know that they in particular are sympathetic. After all, they will be facing special challenges in their daily work over the coming weeks and months. Our greatest concern is the safety of the population. The postponement of INTERSCHUTZ is both responsible and appropriate in view of the current situation.” Operational Readiness Of The Fire Brigades “We are also aware that even if the situation eases, the numerous exhibitors from Germany and abroad will still need sufficient time for their INTERSCHUTZ preparations. As vfdb, we will use the remaining months to process and communicate this event, which is highly relevant for civil protection. As regrettable as the current, unprecedented situation is, we will learn from it. And INTERSCHUTZ 2021 will undoubtedly be supplemented by a further topic." Hermann Schreck, permanent representative of the president of the German Fire Brigade Association (DFV): "We were very much looking forward to the 29th German Firefighters' Day and INTERSCHUTZ. However, in view of the development of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, maintaining the operational readiness of the fire brigades and rescue services has top priority for us in all considerations. The planning for the DFV's large joint exhibition stand and the accompanying events will of course continue at national and international level." Manufacturers Of Firefighting Technology INTERSCHUTZ is the future forum for the firefighting technology industry" Dr. Bernd Scherer, Member of the VDMA Executive Board, and Managing Director, VDMA Fire Fighting Equipment: "INTERSCHUTZ is the future forum for the firefighting technology industry, an industry that produces safety for people. In the current situation, this applies even more – to emergency and rescue services, but also to industry.” “After all, manufacturing companies also face ambitious challenges in economic terms, for example when proven supply chains are interrupted or production sites are affected by quarantine measures. Fortunately, none of this has yet been the case for manufacturers of firefighting technology. On the contrary: We are still in a unique economic boom phase.” Innovative Technology And Committed People “Nevertheless, or perhaps precisely because of this, we would like to hold an INTERSCHUTZ trade fair in which all forces are concentrated on what makes this unique exhibition of our industry so special: innovative technology and committed people who are completely dedicated to fire protection and rescue services. We look forward to it – together with you in June 2021!" For Rosenbauer, the health of all our visitors and partners, has absolute priority" Michael Friedmann, Head of Group Strategy, Innovation and Marketing, Rosenbauer International AG: "As a system provider in fire and disaster control, we have been committed to the safety of people and the protection of society for 150 years. For Rosenbauer, the health of all our visitors and partners, as well as that of our employees, has absolute priority. This is why Rosenbauer stands fully behind the postponement of the fair. We are certain that the industry's leading fair will be a great success in 2021 as well!" Economic Interests And Actions Werner Heitmann, Head of Marketing Fire Brigades and Authorities, Drägerwerk AG & Co. KGaA: "Our INTERSCHUTZ motto 'We protect you. At all times.' also means that we are now acting prudently and protecting all those involved in INTERSCHUTZ considering the current situation. We therefore support the postponement of the fair. The majority of visitors at our exhibit have always been fire brigades and aid organizations.” “As part of the critical infrastructure in Germany, it is essential to protect the emergency services to the best of our ability and not to expose them to unnecessary risks. The rescue forces must be prepared for action. Furthermore, we had planned a very large trade fair team in Hannover – we also have to protect them. Health and life always take precedence over all economic interests and actions of Dräger. In other words, 'Technology for Life'."

First Responders on the Front Lines as COVID-19 Continues to Spread
First Responders on the Front Lines as COVID-19 Continues to Spread

First responders are on the front lines of the latest health crisis that involves spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Around the country – and around the world – EMS departments are facing the uncertainties of a rapidly-spreading virus. One problem is a shortage of face masks. As cases surge, it will also be harder for ambulance companies to get other needed supplies. In King County, Wash., an epicenter of COVID-19 cases in the United States, Kirkland, Wash., firefighters and Kirkland police officers were placed under quarantine after an outbreak at a senior care facility. Firefighters were either quarantined at home or at a local fire station. These first responders came in contact with the coronavirus at Life Care Center of Kirkland, where dozens of residents and staff were infected. Quarantine for IAFF members Some members of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) in Washington state were under quarantine for possible exposure to COVID-19.It is not the first time EMS has acted as the canary in the coal mine to protect the public" The heightened role of fire and EMS professionals is playing out everywhere. “It is not the first time EMS has acted as the canary in the coal mine to protect the public,” Oren Barzilay of the New York EMT union told the New York Daily News. “And it won’t be the last.” FDNY Not Sending Firefighters to COVID-19 Calls The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) has stopped sending firefighters to answer medical calls that describe symptoms associated with the coronavirus. Instead, calls for asthma attacks, fever, coughs and difficult breathing are being handled by the Emergency Medical Service. Fire companies with certified first responder (CFR) training, which would ordinarily accompany ambulances on such calls, are being asked to “stand down.” The order refers to “Segment 2” calls, although firefighters will continue to respond to higher priority “Segment 1” calls. Union complaint in Boston When coronavirus testing began taking place at Faulkner Hospital in Boston, Mass., the EMS union complained because paramedics working at the facility were not notified of the possible workplace contamination. The EMT substation at the hospital includes a bunk room and contains equipment and supplies. The union complained to the Boston Public Health Commission, which provided assurances they were doing “everything in [their] power to protect EMTs and paramedics.” East Pierce, Wash., Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Russ McCallion created a checklist for medics and fire crews to consider when responding to a potential coronavirus patient. He reminds crews to perform “doorway triage” of patients to decide when to wear protective equipment and when to use special entryways at the hospital reserved for people in isolation.Complicating the decision-making processes is the fact that flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms are similar Complicating the decision-making processes is the fact that flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms are similar. “We have to maintain the high index of suspicion on every call [if] the patient presents with fever, coughing and other flu-type symptoms,” McCallion told National Public Radio. Fire crews are now instructed to wait outside when responding to such calls. They wait while a few medics enter, suited up with personal protection equipment such as gowns, gloves and masks. Dedicated ambulance in San Antonio In San Antonio, a dedicated ambulance is used to transport patients suspected of COVID-19 infection. The interior walls of the dedicated ambulance are covered completely with plastic sheets. The vehicle will be dedicated to the COVID-19 mission “throughout” and will not be used on the streets of San Antonio. Congress has approved emergency funding for states. The money will be used for testing, to track those who are sick, and for awareness campaigns to slow the spread of the virus.  Public health emergency A public health emergency has been declared by the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as of Jan. 31. The declaration enables state, tribal and local health departments to request funding, supplies and resources from DHHS to respond to COVID-19.The declaration enables state, tribal and local health departments to request funding, supplies and resources China alerted the World Health Organization in December to several cases of an unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people in the central Hubei province. In January, officials identified the new virus as belonging to the coronavirus family, which includes SARS and the common cold. It was named COVID-19 and has since spread to all of mainland China and later throughout the world.

U.S. Fire Administration Provides Support at State and Local Levels
U.S. Fire Administration Provides Support at State and Local Levels

The mission of the U.S. Fire Administration is to support and strengthen fire and emergency medical services (EMS) and to help stakeholders prepare for, prevent, mitigate and respond to all hazards. It is an entity of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). G. Keith Bryant was sworn in as the U.S. Fire Administrator in 2017. Prior to his presidential appointment, he was the chief of the Oklahoma City Fire Department (OCFD). Experience as a firefighter Bryant says his former experience as a firefighter and fire chief informs and directs his performance as U.S. Fire Administrator. Coming from Oklahoma City, a major metropolitan area, Bryant has faced issues and challenges – staffing, resources etc. – that are common among departments on the national level. His involvement with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) also provided a broad view of issues across the country. The scope of duties that fire departments are asked to respond to has expanded Bryant has been in the fire service since the 1970s. During that time, he has watched the industry evolve from a “trade” to a “profession.” The scope of duties that fire departments are asked to respond to has expanded, also, and continues to grow, now including medical emergencies, Hazmat, weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and natural disasters. “We have become ‘all-hazards,’ and it takes a higher level of training and education to handle all these issues,” Bryant says. The U.S. Fire Administration is focused on helping the fire service at the local and state levels. One element of that work is the National Fire Academy (NFA), which provides training, education and professional development for firefighters through live, online, off-site and/or self-study programs. They also provide funding for state training agencies, which conduct NFA courses at the state level. NFA Courses “We make sure our courses are geared to those who will be managing issues at the local level, to ensure they have the training and skillset,” Bryant says. Leadership in the fire service today needs both business and political acumen to manage their agencies effectively, and training must address leadership and management concepts as well as emergency training, he says. The need for higher education is also changing The need for higher education is also changing. At one time, a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED) would suffice as an entry-level requirement for the fire service. In this day and age, a higher level of education may be required, especially for those seeking to manage a fire department. The National Fire Academy offers the Executive Office Fire program and the Managing Officer Fire program to help develop managerial and executive skillsets.  Many National Fire Academy programs are aimed at helping smaller departments, including public education programs. Some programs are geared toward volunteer agencies that might not be able to attend a program on campus. In addition to online options, there are also programs on weekends and condensed courses. “We see the needs of different agencies reflected in our course offerings, from smaller, rural agencies to major metropolitan departments,” says Bryant. Issues of concern Another issue of concern is a shortage of firefighters, especially among volunteer fire departments. “We know the volunteer service has a big challenge with recruitment and retention, and we have seen it for a long time,” says Bryant. The gravity of the problem varies by locale. Some volunteer agencies have folded because they could not serve the needs of the community. The U.S. Fire Administration is seeking answers: What are the issues and what programs can make sure volunteer agencies have adequate staffing? What are the issues and what programs can make sure volunteer agencies have adequate staffing? Sometimes the problem is money, contingent on the financial fitness of a community and what they are willing to invest. Traditional commitment to providing fire services and responding to emergencies may be taken for granted by some communities, which may not be adequately funding, staffing and training their departments. “There are communities that invest very well in public safety, and they see the need for that, but it runs the range from bad to adequate to good,” says Bryant. The U.S. Fire Administration also spreads the word about the availability of federal fire service grants using social media, fire service publications and other channels, emphasizing application periods and eligibility. The grants are managed and administered by the FEMA grants directorate, and the U.S. Fire Administration has an oversight role in addition to publicizing the various grants to local departments.