The last of the dinosaurs

Some of today’s legislation has been around for so long that it’s no wonder it’s likened to the dinosaurs. The problem is often that pedantic health and safety practitioners often insist that every piece of guidance is treated as law. Much guidance needs interpreting in alignment with the situation and needs of the organisation concerned – however, the dinosaurs in the health and safety industry cling to the rock of written information with their teeth bared at anyone who tries to dislodge them!

We’re not saying that all legislation is out of date – in fact the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – generally known as the FSO – has done an excellent job in amalgamating over 600 pieces of legislation into a single order that’s relatively easy to understand.

The FSO is clear – what it says is straightforward and accurate. However, there’s an anomaly – a place for those primeval characters to slither through! In fact, there’s more than one!

Every organisation must have a Responsible Person, who has to undertake a fire risk assessment for the premises that they are responsible for. Responsible Persons are employers, building owners and site managers, if they’re the highest decision making power in that particular premises – the buck stops with them.

Here’s the first anomaly – very few Responsible Persons have the competence to carry out a full fire risk assessment (although the Government suggest that anyone could carry out a fire risk assessment if the premises are low risk). This could make it impossible to comply with that particular requirement, If those health and safety dinosaurs were to follow the letter of the law every Responsible Person in England and Wales would need to undertake a considerable level of training in fire risk assessment – potentially three months, full time, for the high risk or variable risk environments.

What actually happens is that most Responsible Persons engage or employ someone to carry out the fire risk assessment on their behalf in line with Article 11 of the FSO ‘such arrangements as are appropriate … for the effective planning, organisation, control, monitoring and review of the preventive and protective measures’. Although the FSO states that the Responsible Person must employ competent persons to carry out prevention and protection – this doesn’t actually specifically mention fire risk assessment.

Here’s anomaly number 2; there is nothing that states that risk assessors must have specific competencies implying that risk assessors are, currently, not required to have any specific training.

Before you rush off to carry out fire risk assessments without the proper training – just consider the impact on the organisation and the people if you get it wrong. It’s fortunate that most people take things seriously and ensure that their fire risk assessments are undertaken by competent people. Ideally, that would be a level 3 fire risk assessors’ qualification for low risk environments; a NEBOSH Fire Safety and Risk Management Certificate for medium/normal risk environments and a Level 5 qualification for high risk activities, such as Graduate Membership of the Institution of Fire Engineers.

Just because there’s an anomaly is no reason to let prehistoric monsters sneak into your organisation.