Tag Archive: fire risk assessor

Commercial Property & Fire Risk – Does your insurance stack up?

James Cullen, Head of Building Surveying talks fire risk in buildings and casts doubt over the validity of building insurance policies in respect of fire safety. Commercial property owners and occupiers, take note.

As a trained Fire Risk Assessor and Chartered Building Surveyor, I am often tasked to inspect buildings as part of a building acquisition, maintenance review, defect inspection, or fire risk assessment. What I often encounter during the course of such inspections, are countless construction defects and failings in respect of fire safety and fire compartmentation.

Owners or occupiers of commercial property must complete a regular fire risk assessment of their building to comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, though irrespective of legislation, this is almost always a separate building insurance requirement.

Commercial property owners/occupiers, in my experience, have in most cases completed fire risk assessments themselves in order to satisfy their obligations under the legislation and to ‘tick the box’ on their insurance application. Though in order to complete a reliable and detailed fire risk assessment, the individual must be suitably competent in both the risk assessment process and also in construction, having adequate knowledge about an array of construction components, details, structural aspects, and compartmentation measures.

The failings which I often identify should easily be noted within a fire risk assessment, conducted on a regular basis, and these issues are often serious enough to warrant attention and repair within 1-3 months. If a commercial property owner/occupier was complying with their duties under the order then these issues should have been identified and rectified promptly, though by not addressing these issues, building insurers could arguably withhold cover in the event of a fire.

What commercial property owners and occupiers must ask themselves, is could they cope not only with possible fatalities and injuries as a consequence of negligence in the event of a fire but could they also meet the cost of building repairs or reinstatement in the event their insurance was withheld and a claim rejected, given that they had not complied with fire safety legislation and their insurance requirements.

Again, we continue to see serious fire events in the UK in 2019 with examples such as the Ocado distribution centre fire which destroyed the majority of the centre which handles 4000 shopping orders a day, a figure which could no longer be upheld, raising the question as to how does a business deal with the financial loss of trade following a serious fire. Reference to the Ocado fire is not intended to scrutinise any actions or measures completed by the organisation, but simply listed to highlight the impact of a serious fire on a commercial property/business. The Barking fire in east London which destroyed 20 flats in June 2019 demonstrates again that serious fires can occur in residential property, causing extensive damage. Whilst I am not aware of the risk process for each building, one would assume a detailed and compliant fire risk assessment was in place, given the type and nature of both buildings. However, investigations will of course seek to identify this, the cause of the fire, and whether such events could have been prevented or damage minimised through careful design, compartmentation, management and use.

What remains to be the case however in my personal experience, is that across the commercial property industry, there remains a serious risk of fire in buildings through a lack of understanding and negligence. The validity of insurance policies remains questionable and whether an owner or occupier is fully insured for fire damage is out for debate.

Should you require any advice on fire safety in commercial property, contact James Cullen BSc (Hons) MRICS, Associate & Head of Building Surveying on 0191 605 3481 / 07776 683279 or click here to email James.

Fire safety in buildings: What has changed since Grenfell?

James Cullen, Associate and Head of Building Surveying at George F. White, talks the importance of Fire Safety through Risk Assessments and mitigating risk.

Grenfell Tower fire, one of the most significant fire events we’ve seen in recent years, led to 72 fatalities. Almost two years on and there seems to be very little change in attitude towards building fire risk assessments with many being overlooked, or worse still, not even considered.

fire safety

 

The facts

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 stipulates minimum fire safety standards and requires a ‘responsible person’ to be in charge of fire safety in non-domestic buildings, and also buildings where people are employed.

The responsible person will typically be the employer, or, any other person who has control to some extent; if the building isn’t a work place, then any person can be designated the ‘responsible person’.

The responsible person is required to carry out certain fire safety duties on a regular basis; these include ensuring general fire precautions are satisfactory and that there’s a fire risk assessment in place (with any action points raised being implemented). If more than five persons are employed, the risk assessment has to be a written.

In my experience, the fire risk assessment process, and fire safety as a whole in buildings, is often overlooked by those who are ultimately responsible. Despite this, the risks associated with fire safety negligence can be fatal. In light of recent tragedy, fire safety should be at the forefront of our minds and by following the auditing process correctly, risks can be mitigated.

Evidently, this is not the case. I often find that building owners and responsible persons leave themselves open to considerable risk of negligence and provide buildings which are not safe regarding fire. I am pleased to say the attitudes of social landlords have been positive in light of tragedy, ensuring the risk assessment process is carefully considered, yet, this proactive attitude has not been so apparent within the private sector. In my experience, fire risk in buildings spans far wider than combustible cladding, despite such a key focus on this construction element in the media, and it is important to) consider a wide range of building components and management issues as part of a compliant audit.

Advice and Action Points to Mitigate Risk:

  • Conduct a thorough fire risk assessment;
  • Action all points outlined in the risk assessment, ensuring any remedial works are inspected and approved by a qualified risk assessor. Note – action points will have a recommended implementation time/action by date;
  • Ensure the assessment considers all critical aspects of the structure and building management;
  • Review the risk assessment annually and following any indicant, near miss, fire or before and after any building works;
  • Always review and revise the fire risk assessment if a change of use is proposed in a building. The fire strategy and risk profile may often be different should the building use alter to some degree, impacting fire safety considerably;
  • Appoint the right people. It’s essential that the person conducting the risk assessment is skilled, trained and qualified to complete such a task. It’s often the case that individuals label themselves as fire risk assessors without having the above, leading to negligence, failings and non-compliance. Always look to appoint an RICS regulated chartered building surveyor with a supplementary qualification and experience in fire risk assessment in order to be sure you are advised correctly.

Remember, if the above process isn’t completed with due diligence, in the event of any fire you could be liable for all consequences involved, be it financial, building damage, reputation, injury or even fatalities. As a special offer, we’ll be offering 10 per cent off all fire risk assessments instructed in May.

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