Fire Risk Assessment

Main objectives of a Fire Risk Assessment

We believe that the basis of a holiday cottage fire risk assessment should be to:

  1. Carry out a thorough inspection of the property and think carefully about how a fire could start.
  2. See what can be done to stop it happening.
  3. Make absolutely certain that the Smoke Alarms within the property are adequate for its size and risks and are in working order.
  4. Think about how guests will get out of the property and escape quickly to a safe place.
  5. Look at the construction of the property and consider other factors which could cause a fire to spread very rapidly.
  6. Consider what fire fighting equipment and emergency lighting are needed.
  7. Devise a maintenance plan for the fire protection measures within the property.
  8. Provide guests with Fire Safety Instructions to help keep them safe during their stay.

Risks Particular to Holiday Cottages

  1. Sleeping guests are particularly at risk from fire. In a shop or office where people are only in the premises during the day and are awake, they are much more alert and quick to react if a fire breaks out.
  2. Guests are more at risk during the first few days of their stay when they will be unfamiliar with their surroundings.
  3. Guests understandably like to drink alcohol while on holiday. Some drink quite a lot. This can impair their judgment and make them do silly things. It can also mean that they will be sleeping more soundly than usual and so it is particularly important that smoke alarms are loud enough to wake them.
  4. As individual holiday cottages are usually just domestic premises that are changing (or have changed) to a different use, existing fire precautions will depend largely on when the property was built or last refurbished.
  5. When people are relaxing on holiday, they tend to be less vigilant with their children. A typical example is a property for eight where two families of four stay together. The adults tend to sit and chat and drink, and the children may be left to their own devices more than they would at home.
  6. Holiday Cottages are unusual in that the owner is not present during the use by the guests. Therefore certain aspects of fire safety are really the guests responsibility. The owner can provide a property that is safe to the best of their knowledge, but if guests behave in a reckless way, there isn't much the owner can do to control them.
  7. There is limited opportunity to "train" guests. In an office, you can train your staff and hold regular fire drills to ensure people know what to do if a fire occurs. In a holiday cottage where the owner does not live nearby, information tends to be provided via notices or a welcome folder. There is more scope for owners who "meet and greet" to provide some basic fire safety information to their guests.
  8. Absent owners will have to rely on cleaners, caretakers or managing Agents to maintain certain aspects of fire safety.

Terminology of Risk Assessment

Fire Prevention Measures - anything done in a property to reduce the risk of a fire happening. For example, making sure the electrical system is in safe condition.

Fire Protection Measures - anything you do that will reduce the risk of injury if Fire Prevention Measures are unsuccessful. For example, installing an interlinked Smoke Alarm system.

Fire Barriers - an alternative way to think about fire in your property

In his excellent book Principles of Fire Risk Assessment in Buildings, David Yung describes fire prevention methods as a series of barriers. This can be a useful way for anyone new to fire safety to think about it.

In order for a fatality to occur, there has to be fire ignition, fire growth, smoke spread, failure of occupants to evacuate and failure of the Fire Service to respond.

  1. Fire ignition is what starts the fire. It could be a cigarette or an electrical fault for example. A non-smoking policy or regular checking of electrical items is the type of barrier used to reduce the probability of  this type of fire from starting and the consequential risks.
  2. Fire growth is the second event. A small fire can quickly grow and if left unchecked with eventually spread throughout the property. Fire Protection measures here will include compartmentation or the use of fire retardant materials. The reduction of risk here depends on how effective these measures are.
  3. Smoke spread to critical escape routes is the third event. Control measures would include fire doors with self closers. The reduction in risk depends on whether smoke can be controlled by these measures.
  4. Failure of occupants to evacuate as a result of spread of fire and smoke to escape routes is the fourth event. Fire protection methods would include smoke alarms and fire drills. The reduction in risk depends on the reliability of these early warning and evacuation systems.
  5. Failure of the Fire Service to respond in time to rescue any trapped occupants and put out the fire is the fifth event. Protection measures include early fire service notification and adequate resources within a reasonable traveling distance.

Putting this into the holiday cottage context

The Risky Retreat

This two bedroom cottage is owned by Mr & Mrs Smith. They think fire risk assessments are just more "unnecessary red tape". The cottage has been in service for nearly twenty years and is located in remote countryside with poor mobile phone signal. The electrics have not been checked since the couple bought the cottage. There are two battery operated smoke alarms but unknown to the owners one has no battery in it and the other is fifteen years old and no longer works. The exit doors have locks which can be locked from the inside with keys and then the keys removed. The keys for both the back and front door are on one key ring.

  1. Due to the electrics not having been checked for so long, there is a high probability of an electrical fire in this property. Let's imagine it starts at night.
  2. Once started, the fire will grow.
  3. Smoke from the fire will gradually fill up the property.
  4. Because the smoke alarms do not work, the sleeping visitors are unlikely to be alerted to the danger before they are overcome by smoke or the escape route is blocked by fire.
  5. Even if they do wake up naturally, they will have difficulty calling the Fire Service due to the lack of phone signal. If there is a land line they might stand a chance, provided the Fire Service can get to the remote location fast enough. The use of door locks with removable keys also increases greatly the chance of them becoming trapped.

The Risk is very high.

The Careful Cottage

This two bedroom cottage is owned by Mr & Mrs Jones. They have carried out a thorough Fire Risk Assessment. They have had their fixed wiring inspected, PAT testing carried out and visually inspect their electrical items at each changeover. They have mains interlinked smoke detectors meeting Grade D LD2 that are tested regularly. This property is in an area with good mobile phone signal and is within ten minutes of the local fire station. The locks on the front and back doors have thumb turns on the inside so they can always be opened in an emergency without having to find the keys.

  1. Due to the regular wiring and PAT checks the risk of an electrical fire is very low.
  2. If a fire does start it will grow in the same way as in the Risky Retreat
  3. Smoke will spread around the property.
  4. The mains interlinked smoke alarms will quickly detect the smoke and will give early warning to the guests to allow them to escape to a place of safety. The doors can be opened without keys so quick evacuation is possible.
  5. Even if people become trapped in this property, they are likely to be rescued by the Fire Service because they would be able to telephone 999 and the response time is low.

The Risk in this property is much lower.