The last year or so has been a time of reflection since the tragic events of Grenfell Towers in 2017. Almost every day over the 18 months, we have seen article after article about the tragic consequences of a fire happening in a residential property. One recent example being the death of four members of a family in Nottingham which appears to have started after an electrical appliance caught fire.
As property professionals, we have an overall duty of care to the occupiers we place in a privately rented home. This extends to a legal requirement to conduct assessments where necessary, provide a written report as due diligence, and conduct any actions points within the risk assessment and show evidence they have been completed.
Do we need a Fire Risk Assessment (FRA)?
In short YES. In terms of the detail and what is required, this will depend on the size of the property, layout, and whether the property is located within a block or classed as a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO). In the majority of cases, the FRA will be a simple task, being easy to complete, understand and implement. Where there is a perceived higher risk i.e. a house converted into bedsits, then as a property professional, we should seek to obtain the services of someone with who has the relevant qualifications or seek advice from the local fire brigade.
An FRA includes the following 5 steps:
Step One: Identify the Fire Hazards (and keep them apart)
How could a fire start?
Think about heaters, lighting, naked flames, electrical equipment, cigarettes, matches and anything else that gets very hot or causes sparks.
What could burn?
Packaging, rubbish and furniture could all burn, just like the more obvious fuels such as petrol, paint, varnish and white spirit. Also think about wood, paper, plastic, rubber and foam. Do the walls or ceilings have hardboard, chipboard, or polystyrene? Check outside, too.
Step Two: Identify the people at risk
All people are at risk, but if you have more vulnerable occupiers, what have you done to increase the chance of escaping in the event of a fire i.e. provide a special alarm for those with hearing problems.
Step Three: Evaluate and Act
Look at what you have found in steps one and two above, and decide what you do, to minimise the risk. This may include installing devices to increase awareness of the occupiers in the event of a fire or removing flammable hazards, such as polystyrene tiles.
Step Four: Record, Plan and Educate
Record what you have done to minimise the risk, along with a clear plan about how you will continue to manage that risk. Finally, you to ensure you have educated the occupiers about what they should to in the event of a fire and how to comply with any of the outcomes within the FRA.
Step Five: Review
Keep your risk assessment under regular review. Over time, the risks may change. If you identify significant changes in risk or make any significant changes to your plan, you must inform, educate the occupiers and record that this has been done.
The importance of undertaking an FRA for ALL properties you own or manage cannot be underestimated. You have a duty of care for all occupiers of a property and as the property professional, you need to be complying with your legal obligation. Get it wrong, and you leave yourself open to a claim of negligence.