When maintaining a portfolio of residential properties, it’s your legal responsibility to carry out a fire risk assessment to help reduce potential accidents. In 2017, nearly 80 lives were lost when a fire consumed Grenfell Tower. Lessons had to be learned regarding fire risk and the safety of property tenants – lessons applicable to any property manager. Effective fire safety isn’t about having a few extinguishers in the halls – it’s about remaining one step ahead of potential risks.
As a property manager, your responsibility is to ensure the safety of tenants and manage all fire risks and hazards. In the event of a fire, your tenants must know exactly what to do. However, your responsibilities don't end there.
The Fire Risk Responsibilities of a Landlord
As the property manager for residential accommodation, there are several obligations you must practice by law:
- All gas and electrical appliances must be in good working order, with the kitemark and gas safe register symbols present.
- The property must have at least one smoke alarm on every level of the building (which is used as living accommodation).
- You must ensure furnishings are fire resistant and be able to produce safety certificates to see when gas and electrical appliances were last checked.
- A gas safe registered worker must also be called in to check the appliances every year.
- A carbon monoxide alarm must be present in living space.
Most importantly, it's your responsibility as a landlord to carry out a fire risk assessment. Conducting a fire risk assessment is a legal obligation of the property manager – failure to do so can lead to fines or imprisonment.
What is a Fire Risk Assessment?
The purpose of a fire risk assessment is to carefully analyse your property and its residents in order to best anticipate and prevent fire risk. By doing so, you can identify all the potential hazards and the people a fire might impact.
It’s in your best interest to ensure the building you manage is correctly assessed. If you rent or own multiple properties, then you must carry out an assessment for each one. If you have a large portfolio of properties, then it’s advisable to utilise a professional, or ‘competent person’, to conduct the assessments for you. You will be responsible in the eyes of the law regardless of who you choose to perform the assessment.
Fire risk and safety in residential properties is covered by these legislations:
- The Housing Act 2004
- Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm Regulations 2015
- Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
- Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988/89, 1993, 2010
If you’re the responsible person in charge of carrying out a fire risk assessment, it’s crucial you know exactly what it entails.
How Do You Undertake a Fire Risk Assessment?
There are five main steps to conducting a fire risk assessment in a residential property. As the responsible person, you need to walk around the property and survey it thoroughly.
Identify the Risks
The primary goal of a fire risk assessment is to raise awareness of the potential hazards in the property. From there, you can take action to prevent future issues and avoid endangering lives. Your initial observation should focus on everything that can ignite a fire and help sustain it once it’s burning. This includes any electrical appliances, gas cookers, and appliances that don’t display the CE or kitemark labels that denote a safety standard.
The role of a fire risk assessment is not just to pinpoint what might start a fire, but also help to stem the spread of the fire should one occur. You should look for any sources of fuel or oxygen that the fire might gain access to.
Determine the People at Risk
You need to know exactly who's living in each of your premises in the event of a fire. The precautions you implement should be designed to protect those allowed into the building and people near the building that may be in danger should a fire break out.
It’s important to consider any vulnerable residents that might have different requirements. Someone with impaired mobility, a disability, or the elderly may need additional fire protection.
Evaluate and Control Identified Risks
Once the risks have been identified, you or the competent person must now minimise or remove the risk entirely.
Firstly, evaluate the risk. This can be broken down into steps to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of each individual risk:
- Likelihood of causing injury
- Scale of injury and damage caused
- Number of people affected (including vulnerable groups)
By separating each risk into these points, you can prioritise them by severity and urgency. You can begin controlling the risks that require the most effort, first. As a property manager, you determine the amount of resources required in order to tackle a specific risk – understanding the details of each risk will help you accomplish that.
Record Your Findings and Plan for Fire Risk
As the responsible person for the residential property, you need to record fire hazards and how they’ve been dealt with. This is a good opportunity to plan for a potential risk. Ensure your tenants understand what their responsibilities are when dealing with fire risk and keeping the building safe, and that they know what to do in the event of a fire. If there are any other responsible people, work with them too.
Prepare an emergency plan for tenants to use to safely evacuate the building. The relevant people should be instructed and, where possible, training planned for those that will lead the precautions. An escape route should be devised to help in an emergency. Any actions recorded will help you perform a future assessment and a logbook should be kept to help record findings and actions.
Review Your Fire Risk Assessment
Fire risk assessments must be reviewed on a regular basis for them to remain effective. By doing so you can understand what worked and what needs to be adapted as the building and the residents within evolve over time. New risks can also be identified by consistently reviewing your assessments.
Reviews of a fire risk assessment should be undertaken when:
- There has been a fire, or one almost occurred
- If there have been any changes made to the building’s interior or exterior
- When the furnishings have changed substantially
- Fire precautions, such as fire detection systems or sprinklers, have failed recently
- There is a significant increase in the amount of tenants
While the assessment doesn’t need to be amended for every change, any large change, or change that brings a potential new hazard with it, should require a review. If a fire happens, or there’s a near miss, it might indicate your fire risk assessment has been inadequate.
Manage the Responsibility
Conducting fire risk assessments across multiple properties can be a complicated process. Guaranteeing each building is safe for accommodation and compliant with the law is difficult to keep on top of. As a property owner, the onus falls on you to ensure the safety of your tenants and that your building is as free of fire risk as possible. Getting ahead of the risk in order to identify and control it is key – but making sure nothing potentially dangerous slips through the net can be nearly impossible.
Safetybank, an all-in-one management software solution, can help you stay on target with your property compliance. Real time reminders are displayed on the dashboard, letting you know when a fire risk assessment needs to be conducted or reviewed – and for which property. This means you can keep the documentation of each of your properties under one umbrella. Along with fire risk assessments, the right software can keep you updated with electrical checks and gas safety checks as well.
With Safetybank helping to streamline your processes, you can ensure a safe environment for your residents. Book a demo of Safetybank today to see how the software brings all your properties together, making compliance and tenant safety easy to achieve.