Fire risk assessments

The consequences of not having a fire risk assessment far outweigh the  small cost of having it carried out:








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Fire risk assessments and Compartmentation Surveys - The Crossover

I wrote an article recently regarding fire risk assessments and compartmentalisation surveys and the crossover between the two.  I think it’s a topic worthy of discussion and some of the responses raised some important points that I wanted to talk about.

I think ultimately it comes down to the quality of the fire risk assessor/assessment and making sure that as many areas as possible are inspected (like above ceiling tiles and inside voids where possible) to ensure that recommendations can be made to limit the spread of fire or satisfy yourself that measures are already in place.

What I have noticed though is that when full compartmentation surveys are requested (and rightly so if required but not always!) that the following survey tends to ignore any other factors from the fire risk assessment or takes no account of the actual risk the building poses.

I have seen huge quotes from fire door/compartmentation companies following these surveys in buildings and then attended as a fire risk assessor and found the compartmentation to be nearly adequate or requiring only minor works.  Often these buildings have been passed as satisfactory by the fire brigade year after year and suddenly the client is hit with a massive quote out of nowhere.  It may be that I would make recommendations to upgrade some of the components of original/nominal fire doors if necessary.  Of course, these are important factors and should be recommended within a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment.  However, it does depend on the risk versus the reward.  Just because fire doors are old does not mean they do not serve the original purpose. 

This is then where the issue often arises following a fire risk assessment.  If a full compartmentation survey is requested, that company view every door in every building as the same.  They often don’t take into account if a door even needs to be fire resisting.  What is it protecting? Does it need upgrading?   What is the building used for?  Are there alternative escape routes which lessen the need for full fire door protection.  Are sprinklers already in place as a compensation feature?  Is it a single storey?  Is the fire alarm system already more than adequate to evacuate the building in less than 2.5 minutes.   I understand that they are carrying out a survey as requested but should they not recognise what needs to be upgraded and what does not by using the fire risk assessment as a guide?  Should we as fire risk assessors and compartmentalisation surveyors not work together during these surveys for this purpose?  To educate each other?  It’s easy to recommend that a full compartmentation survey is carried out but that’s open to massive interpretation and not specific to the actual risks in a particular building. 

I am not for one minute saying that compartmentalisation is not vitally important.  It is hugely important and when applied correctly, can ensure a fire stays within a confined area and does not spread to other compartments putting occupants and the building at risk.  I do believe, however, that there has to be a better balance when both fire risk assessments and compartment surveys are carried out.  Personally, I like a fire door contractor/company to work off the specific findings of my fire risk assessment.  We don’t need to protect every area where there is no risk – that is what a fire risk assessment determines.   Sometimes we can use additional smoke detectors to protect a low risk area without going to town compartmentalising the whole area.  For example, in some loft spaces, this is an option, again depending on the building usage.  There are a range of options available. 

If a compartmentalisation survey is carried out the same for every building, how is that fair to building owners that have safer buildings (less floors, lower travel distances, sprinklers, L1 fire alarm systems, automatic smoke vents, suppression systems, excellent managerial procedures) etc.   Why are risk assessors asking for full compartmentation surveys in these type of buildings?

Life safety has to come first of course and is the most important thing to consider when carrying out a fire risk assessment.  I wrote an article before differentiating between life safety and property protection fire risk assessments.  Sometimes, compartmentalisation surveys are protecting the building long after the people should be out (and that’s fine of course but if it’s a life safety risk assessment with low risk does it always need to go that far?  Perhaps it does and the client requires that for insurance purposes and business contingency?)  Let’s work with our clients.  Let’s prioritise life safety.  The most important thing for me is getting people out of the building.  Making sure the evacuation procedures and staff training are correct.  Are PEEPS in place?  Is the right fire alarm system in place? 

Making sure fire drills are carried out on a regular basis and all staff members are fully aware of their roles and responsibilities. 

It varies between building to building – a care home with progressive horizontal evacuation will need more compartmentalisation works than a single storey office.  And those buildings with a stay put policy.  Of course.   That’s my point though.  There is a difference and our clients need to know we recognise this and are working with them and not against them and making recommendations that are actually for their protection rather than our own personal gain.   Treating each building independently, looking at the specific risks and eliminating them with reasonable recommendations taking into account logistics, cost and with a common sense approach.

It is not always practical or even logistically possible to bring an older style building up to the same level of compartmentation as a new build.  We are also seeing an increase in the number of buildings having fires during or after building works that are sometimes unnecessary in the first place.   Let’s recognise that we need to find a better balance.   Compartmentation is massive.  But it’s just one part of the puzzle.  Let me know your thoughts, comments.  Have you had similar issues? Do you agree/disagree?  

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