Fire risk assessments in unoccupied premises.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) requires a fire risk assessment (FRA) is carried out on all premises other than those which are a ‘single private dwelling’.

Furthermore, the fire risk assessment is only valid if it is carried out after the building is occupied. If it is carried out before this, then the management of the building, its fire safety provisions and any regard for the maintenance of a safe working environment cannot be assessed. Such matters as wedged open fire doors, overloaded multiple adaptors and so on are not evident until people start to use the building.

However, there are occasions when a building owner or management company ask for a FRA either whilst refurbishment works are being carried out or after they have been completed and before occupation. Although a FRA carried out at this juncture is not a legally valid document, there are various benefits to be gained from having one completed.

In the case of the latter, the building may have been refurbished in accordance with the approval given by the local authority building control officer so the owner knows that it is legally compliant in that respect. However, it is with regard to the ‘fine tuning’ of the fit-out that the owner/manager needs a straightforward list of what is needed to be compliant as an operational building.

This includes:

  • Provision and allocation of portable fire fighting equipment.
  • Fire safety signage including directional signage towards the fire exits.
  • A fire evacuation strategy.
  • Deployment and training of fire wardens.
  • A review of the compartmentation provided to protect the means of escape and prevent the spread of fire.
  • Advice on storage of hazardous materials.
  • A management strategy for testing and maintenance of fire safety provisions.
  • Waste management facilities.
  • Provision of facilities for the fire brigade in the event of a fire.
  • Snagging items such as penetrations in fire compartmentation which have occurred after the building control sign off and during the latter stages of the fit-out.

Some, if not all, of these issues will be a lot less expensive and disruptive to implement before occupation than to attend to them with a building full of people.
One of the other benefits of using this process is that, if all of the recommendations are complied with, then the final FRA is almost a formality – it is a checking process which is unlikely to involve any further requirements for remedial works and actions.

If a FRA is carried out earlier in the building process, then it is only really an advisory document regarding, perhaps, fire compartmentation, fire doors, evacuation routes, automatic fire detection, emergency lighting and so on. All of this should already have been provided but there may be instances where the owner suddenly realises that there is a gap between what is required and that which is being provided.

In either case, it must be stressed that any FRA carried out prior to occupation should be annotated as a ‘pre-occupation’ FRA. The recipient must be made aware that a full FRA is required after occupation in order to be compliant with the RRO. Failure to do so will render the owner/manager liable to prosecution.

Should you require any further advice, please do not hesitate to contact Chris Fitzgerald.