Fire safety guidance for existing premises with sleeping accommodation

Advice consolidating and superseding a number of existing fire safety guides.

Chapter 2: Assessment Of Fire Risk In Premises

50. Where fire safety law applies, it is a legal requirement to assess the premises to identify risk to persons from fire and to take fire safety measures. The assessment of risk should be specific to fire safety and to the specific premises concerned. A generic risk assessment will not be sufficient.

51. Fire safety risk assessment is a practical exercise aimed at evaluating the risk from fire and how to ensure the safety of persons in the event of fire. It involves an organised and methodical look at the premises, the activities within the premises, the type of occupants, the potential for a fire to occur and the harm it could cause to people. The existing fire safety measures are evaluated to establish whether they are adequate or if more requires to be done. In this respect, fire safety measures include not just physical measures, such as fire alarm systems and escape routes, but also standards of management.

52. The risk assessment process described in this chapter is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 - Fire safety risk assessment process

Figure 1 - Fire safety risk assessment process

Identify People at Risk

53. An assessment should be made of those persons at risk if a fire occurs within or in the immediate vicinity of the premises. The number, characteristics and location of occupants, residents, staff and other persons who frequent the premises should be identified. Disabilities should be taken into account along with peoples’ familiarity with the premises. The inexperience, lack of awareness and immaturity of any young persons (under 18 years) employed or resident, should be also considered.

Identify Potential Causes of Fire

54. For a fire to start, three components are needed: a source of ignition; fuel; and oxygen. These components can be represented as the sides in a simple ‘triangle of fire’ model shown in Figure 2. If any one of these components is missing, a fire cannot start. Taking steps to avoid the three coming together will reduce the chance of a fire occurring, while reducing the quantity of oxygen (smothering) or fuel (starvation) may restrict the development of a fire.

Figure 2 - Triangle of fire

Figure 2 - Triangle of fire

55. The premises should be critically examined to identify potential ignition sources and materials that might fuel a fire and the circumstances which might allow a fire to start. Any previous fires should also be considered, as should indications of ‘near misses’ such as scorch marks on furniture or fittings, discoloured or charred electrical plugs and sockets or cigarette burns. Some general information and examples are given in Tables 1 to 3 at the end of this chapter and recommendations on controlling ignition sources are contained in Chapter 5.

Evaluate the Risk

56. The risk in the premises should be evaluated so that a judgement can be made on the adequacy of fire safety measures. Risk has two components: the likelihood that a fire may occur; and the potential for a fire to cause death or injury i.e. consequence. Both likelihood and consequence should be considered when assessing risk.

57. The likelihood of a fire starting will be low if there are few ignition sources, and if combustible materials are kept away from them.

58. Having considered the people likely to be at risk should a fire start in the building and the chances of a fire occurring, the consequences and extent of the risk to those people if a fire starts and spreads should be considered. In evaluating the risk to people, it is necessary to consider different situations and possible scenarios such as:

  • fire starting on a lower floor affecting the escape of people on upper floors
  • the potential for fire to affect escape routes, particularly where there is a single escape route
  • fire developing in a space that people have to pass by to escape from the building
  • fire or smoke spread through a building via routes such as vertical shafts, service ducts, service penetrations, ventilation systems, cavities, roof voids and open doors
  • fire and smoke affecting the behaviour of occupants
  • the contribution to fire spread and development if dangerous substances are involved
  • fire and smoke spread into the premises from exterior fires
  • the potential for fire originating in the premises to pose a threat to persons in the surrounding area

59. Additionally where the building is in multi-occupancy such as a flatted building, or is multi-use, specifically consider:

  • the risk from a fire which may occur in communal parts or in another part of the building occupied by a different person
  • the risk which a fire in the premises may pose to other occupiers of the building and any adjoining premises

60. If there have been any previous fires in the premises, considering the circumstances and lessons learned may assist with evaluating risk.

Decide if Existing Fire Safety Measures are Adequate

61. A judgement needs to be made to determine whether the fire safety measures and fire safety arrangements are adequate or if more needs to be done to safeguard persons. The level of fire safety measures provided in premises should be proportionate to the level of risk posed to the safety of people and will therefore vary between premises.

Formulate an Improvement Plan

62. Carrying out an assessment of the premises is not an end in itself. The outcome of the risk assessment needs to be acted upon; risks need to be controlled in a practical way and fire safety measures and arrangements need to be put in place.

63. Potential causes of fire identified should be avoided or removed, if reasonably practicable to do so. If they cannot be removed, measures should be taken to control the risks.

64. Where improvements to fire safety measures in premises are considered necessary as a result of assessment of risk, a plan for implementation of the improvements should be drawn up. The plan should have priorities and timescales for the completion of the action required.

65. Where improvements involve building work, the work should be done in accordance with Building Regulation procedures.

66. In a listed building (a building of special architectural or historic interest included in a list compiled by the Scottish Ministers), alternatives to conventional fire safety measures may be appropriate. Guidance has been issued by Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland):

Record the Findings

67. Having carried out a fire safety risk assessment of the premises, fire safety law requires that certain information be recorded where five or more employees are employed by an employer (whether they are on the premises or not) or the premises is subject to licensing or registration, or an Alterations Notice has been issued requiring this. Chapter 4 contains recommendations in respect of record keeping.

Review the Assessment

68. The fire safety risk assessment should be reviewed regularly and also before any significant or relevant changes are made or if relevant safety issues arise. This will involve setting time aside to consider whether change has affected the risk and whether fire safety measures remain appropriate.

69. Where changes are proposed, the consequence to fire safety in the premises should be considered before the change is introduced. Changes that might prompt a review of the risk assessment include:

  • a change in the number of people present or the characteristics of the occupants
  • changes to work procedures, including the introduction of new equipment
  • alterations to the building, including the internal layout
  • significant changes to furniture and fixings
  • the introduction or increase in the storage of dangerous substances

70. A review should occur on becoming aware of shortcomings in fire safety measures, potential improvements, or a fire or ‘near miss’ occurs which may indicate that the existing fire safety measures are inadequate. If the Fire and Rescue Service has attended a fire in the premises, its fire investigation findings may help inform a review.

71. Even where a dutyholder has obtained assistance with assessing risk, general reviews of a risk assessment should be carried out regularly by the dutyholder to ensure it remains valid. This will reinforce ownership of fire safety management and assist in the development of relevant knowledge, and of a fire safety culture. However, there may be some occasions where significant changes to premises have occurred for which the dutyholder feels that they lack the knowledge or skills required to undertake a review, then it may be advisable to seek specialist advice to review the assessment (see paragraphs 26 to 31).

Table 1 – Ignition Sources

Potential ignition sources are those where sources of heat could get hot enough to ignite material. This could include:
  • smokers’ material - such as cigarettes, matches and lighters
  • naked flames - such as candles or gas open-flame equipment
  • heaters - electrical, gas or oil-fired (fixed or portable)
  • hot processes - such as repair work by contractors
  • cooking, laundry, and lighting equipment
  • deliberate fire raising
  • electrical equipment or fixed installations
There are various ways to reduce potential sources of ignition, for example:
  • replace naked flame and radiant heaters with a central heating system
  • restrict the movement of, and guard portable heating appliances
  • install, use and maintain electrical, gas and mechanical equipment in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
  • take precautions to avoid deliberate fire-raising

Table 2 - Fuel

Material which will burn and is in enough quantity may provide fuel for a fire. This includes contents, fixtures, fittings, structure, wall and ceiling linings and surfaces. Some examples of ‘fuels’ are:
  • textiles, soft furnishings, clothing and laundry
  • flammable liquids and solvents, such as white spirit, methylated spirit, cooking oils, disposable cigarette lighters and adhesives
  • wood, paper, cardboard, plastics, cellular foam, rubber and upholstered furniture
  • flammable gases such as liquefied petroleum gas ( LPG) and aerosol contents
  • grease deposits from cooking
There are various ways to reduce the materials and substances which burn, and to separate them from ignition sources, for example:
  • control the storage of flammable and combustible materials
  • remove combustible wall and ceiling linings, such as timber, polystyrene or carpet tiles (to reduce the surface rate of flame spread and smoke production)
  • ensure that rubbish is not allowed to build up

Table 3 - Oxygen

The main source of oxygen for a fire is in the air around us. Air supply can be by natural air flow through doors, windows and other openings; or mechanical air conditioning systems and air handling systems. Buildings may have a combination of sources capable of introducing or extracting air.

Potential sources of oxygen supplied to a fire can be reduced by:
  • closing doors and other openings
  • ensuring that doors are close fitting and, where appropriate, fitted with seals and self-closers
  • closing down ventilation equipment
The action may be a precaution taken in case a fire starts, such as keeping certain doors closed. In other cases, the action may take place once a fire is detected, such as when ventilation equipment is shut down (either manually or automatically), or when doors are closed, either manually or by the automatic release of hold-open devices.

High concentrations of oxygen pose a special hazard.


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