Understanding Fire Risk Assessment: Decoding the Meaning of Competence

In the realm of fire safety, the term ‘competence’ holds significant weight. Whether you’re a business owner, health and safety manager, facilities manager, landlord, or simply an individual keen on understanding the intricacies of fire risk assessments, this article is for you.

Fire risk assessments are not just about ticking off a checklist. They involve a comprehensive analysis of a building’s design, structure, use, and the potential hazards it might pose in case of a fire. The person conducting these assessments must have a certain level of competence – a blend of knowledge, skills, experience, and training. 

But what does competence really mean? How can it be achieved, and more importantly, how can it be evaluated?

Highlighting the Importance of Assessor Registers

To ensure confidence in their chosen fire risk assessor, the Responsible Person should look towards assessor registers, especially those accredited by UKAS, such as the Fire Risk Assessors Certification Scheme (FRACS).

Upcoming Changes to Competence Assessment

The competency benchmarking of fire risk assessors is under review, with the potential for more clearly defined requirements being considered by the Home Office. This could result in significant amendments to Article 9 of the Fire Safety Order (FSO) 2005, expected around February 2024.

What is Competence in Fire Risk Assessments?

In the context of fire risk assessments, competence refers to the necessary skills, knowledge, experience, and training that a person must possess to effectively identify and evaluate potential fire hazards within a building or premises.

The Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council (FRACC) has laid out specific criteria for determining the competence of those undertaking fire risk assessments. This includes:

Knowledge and Understanding

Fire risk assessors should have an in-depth understanding of various aspects of fire risk assessment. This includes knowledge about the behaviour of fire, its effects on people, means of escape, fire prevention measures, fire protection systems, and fire safety management.

Understanding of Legislation and Guidance

They should understand the applicable legislation and guidance related to fire safety.

Experience and Training

While not necessarily depending on specific qualifications, a combination of education, training, and practical experience in conducting fire risk assessments is important.

Awareness of Hazards and Human Behaviour

Fire risk assessors should be aware of hazards to people from fire and should understand human behaviour in fire situations. This includes anticipating the likely behaviour of people in a fire for the premises being assessed, understanding the effect of frequent false alarms on willingness to evacuate, and the importance of actions of those in charge during a fire.

Understanding of Fire Prevention Principles

They should understand the principles of fire prevention, including identifying and understanding different types of hazards and evaluating and managing risks.

Knowledge of Fire Protection Systems

Fire risk assessors should have the ability to identify correctly the passive and active elements of fire protection/design, understand their role in fire safety, recognise major failings in existing systems, and outline requirements for new or upgraded systems.

Management of Fire Safety

They should understand the principles and practices of managing fire safety, including available resources, staffing levels, fire training, emergency and evacuation procedures, maintenance and testing of fire safety systems, and documentation required by legislation.

Understanding of Specific Needs and Limitations

They should have knowledge of issues relating to people at risk and different types of evacuation strategies. This includes understanding the implications of different needs of people on the selection of appropriate means of escape and the effect of different cultures on fire and evacuation behaviour.

Willingness to Seek External Help

Fire risk assessors should recognise the limitations of their own experience and knowledge and be willing to obtain external advice when necessary.

Keeping Abreast of Current Professional Thinking

They should be up-to-date with current professional thinking and practical guidance on fire risk assessment.

These criteria, established by the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council, aim to ensure that fire risk assessors are well-equipped to conduct thorough and effective assessments to ensure the safety of premises and their occupants.

What to Look for When Choosing a Fire Risk Assessor

What does this all mean for business owners? Competence isn’t solely about qualifications; it’s a trifecta of education, training, and real-world experience. It demands an understanding of legislation, enforcing authorities relevant to each country, and suitable guidance for different premises. When choosing a fire risk assessor, the Responsible Person should consult UKAS-accredited registers like FRACS, where assessors have demonstrated compliance with government-backed individual schemes.

fire door inspection

Here are a few tips to help you choose a competent fire risk assessor:

  1. Ask for Qualifications and Certificates – Does the assessor hold necessary qualifications, such as membership of an appropriate professional body or certification from recognised national/international bodies?
  2. Look for Experience and Training – Does the assessor have extensive experience in conducting fire risk assessments? Are they up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in fire safety? 
  3. Check their References – What do other businesses/organisations think of the assessor? Do they have any positive or negative reviews from previous clients that you can use as a reference point? 
  4. Check Their Track Record – Has the assessor previously conducted any fire risk assessments successfully? Are they proficient in their field? 
  5. Ask about their Understanding of Regulations – Does the assessor understand relevant fire safety legislation? Are they up-to-date on changes in regulations?
  6. Are they Members of a Professional Body – Such as the Institute of Fire Safety Managers, the Institute of Fire Prevention Officers, or the Institution of Fire Engineers, which often require members to demonstrate ongoing professional development and adherence to a code of ethics.

Qualifications to Look for Include:

Based on the extensive list of competencies and knowledge areas required, here are some example qualifications that a fire risk assessor might hold:

  1. NEBOSH National Certificate in Fire Safety and Risk Management: This qualification provides a broad understanding of workplace fire safety issues. It covers principles of fire and explosion, causes and prevention of fires, fire protection in buildings, and safety legislation.
  2. Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) Level 4 Certificate in Fire Science and Fire Safety: This comprehensive certificate covers a range of topics, including fire engineering science, fire service operations and incident command, fire safety, active and passive fire protection, and management & administration.
  3. FPA Fire Risk Assessor Certificate: The Fire Protection Association’s course provides a thorough understanding of fire safety legislation and the ability to carry out a detailed fire risk assessment.
  4. BTEC Level 3 Certificate in Fire Science, Operations and Safety: This qualification covers a wide range of topics, including fire safety, fire service operations, fire science, and management of fire incidents.
  5. NVQ Level 4 Certificate in Fire Safety and Risk Management: This qualification is designed for those responsible for conducting fire risk assessments in the workplace.

Remember, qualifications alone don’t make a competent fire risk assessor. They also need to have relevant experience, keep up to date with the latest developments in fire safety, and be willing to seek external help and advice when necessary.

How Eyton Solutions Can Help

Eyton Solutions is committed to improving fire safety standards across the board. Our experienced team of fire safety professionals are qualified to the highest standards and have a wealth of knowledge in conducting fire risk assessments, identifying hazards, and assessing risks.

We believe prevention is the key to safe premises, so we take a holistic approach to fire safety management. Our fire risk assessment service goes beyond just meeting regulations – we take a proactive approach to fire safety, providing practical advice and guidance on what needs to be done in order to protect buildings and their occupants. 

We are passionate about delivering high-quality and innovative services that make a real difference – let us help you ensure a safe environment for your premises and its occupants. Contact us today to find out more.

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