Fire risk assessing is a key element of any fire safety management system. Mike Sopp defines how effective communication and flow of information with relevant stakeholders is an essential and integral component of the fire risk assessment process.

Introduction

Communication regarding risk both during and after the fire risk assessment procedure is a crucial area often neglected, despite legal and good practice obligations in respect of this. As a key part of managing fire risk assessment, the responsible person should develop and implement an effective communication process that provides for appropriate information flow on fire risks with relevant stakeholders.

This requires suitable planning, the selection of appropriate communication methodologies and a system of monitoring to ensure that the required information is delivered to the required persons in an effective manner.

Fire risk communication

Under UK fire safety legislation, the responsible person is required to provide to relevant persons (eg employees, parents of children who may be employed, and temporary and contract workers) comprehensible and relevant information on any risks from fire that have been identified by the risk assessment.

Information on fire risks must also be provided to other responsible persons who may share the premises, as well as employees from other organisations who could be working in the premises. There may also be a need to share information with other external stakeholders such as business partners, investors, shareholders or enforcing authorities.

Government guidance notes that “much of the information for your fire risk assessment will come from the knowledge your employees, colleagues and representatives have of the premises, as well as information given to you by people who have responsibility for other parts of the building”.

It can therefore be concluded that for fire risk assessing to be effective, there must be communication with relevant stakeholders that forms an integral and ongoing part of the fire risk assessment process. This will ensure the flow of information, support the development of positive relationships and can be utilised to influence attitudes and behaviours in relation to fire safety in general. It will also help to ensure that the logic, outcomes, significance and limitations of the fire risk assessment process are clearly understood by all the stakeholders.

The fundamental goal is for meaningful, relevant and accurate information flow, in clear and understandable terms to and/or between specific stakeholders. This in turn will have a number of positive outcomes including:

  • ensuring the full involvement and participation of stakeholders in fire risk assessing and management decision making

  • providing relevant persons with information to ensure legal compliance and good practice requirements are met

  • influencing behaviour and attitudes towards fire risks so as to engender a positive fire safety culture

  • replacing fear, suspicion and ignorance with knowledge and understanding of the fire risks

  • justifying the fire risk management decision-making process to stakeholders.

Planning a strategy

Effective communication relies on information flow into, through and out of the fire risk assessment process. This includes information on technology related to fire risk management, statistical data on fire risks, risk control information and procedures, and significant findings from risk assessments.

To ensure appropriate communication and flow of information, the responsible person should plan an appropriate strategy. This will be specific to the organisation but there are a number of factors that may assist in determining the aims and objectives, not least:

  • the potential benefits of ensuring that fire risk information is communicated (eg safe systems of work being implemented, legal compliance, etc)

  • any uncertainties in relation to the fire risks that may make the risk assessment process less than accurate in its analysis

  • the nature of the fire risks that need to be communicated on (eg probability, magnitude and severity)

  • the fire risk management or treatment options selected to treat the risks (eg the complexity of risk control measures).

The process of risk assessing and managing subsequent significant fire risks has a number of stages. These can be utilised to assist in the identification of those who need to be communicated with so as to ensure information flow into and out of the process. An example of this approach is as follows.

  • Identifying hazards and persons at risk: this will relate to information flow into the fire risk assessment process, eg from employees, other responsible persons and trade associations (via fire guidance, consultancy, etc) who may be able to identify the hazards and risks.

  • Evaluation of fire risks: this stage is aimed at determining the risks and is likely to involve active deliberation to facilitate the exchange of information and brokering discussions as to the risks. This may involve in-house staff as well as external consultants.

  • Identifying control measures: this involves determining what fire risk preventative and protective measures are deemed to be reasonable or necessary, based on the risk evaluation. Communication at this stage could be with technical experts and enforcing authorities.

  • Implementation of control measures: this will relate to information flow out of the process to relevant stakeholders, such as those who are legally obliged to be informed of the risks and control measures. The information could also be provided to external stakeholders such as fire authorities or in reports to shareholders and insurers.

  • Review: this stage can be undertaken due to actual incidents and major changes in hazards, and may involve seeking feedback from stakeholders (and therefore the creation of information flow into, through and out of the risk assessment process).

Barriers and implementation

Recognising and overcoming any barriers to risk communication is essential. Such barriers may include:

  • inability to obtain appropriate or accurate information from stakeholders

  • stakeholders not participating in the process, thereby preventing a full “risk landscape” from being understood

  • risk perception differences among stakeholders resulting in accurate risk evaluation not being achieved

  • receptiveness to fire risk information and the perception that risk messages are directed towards other people

  • credibility of message source with stakeholders responding accordingly to message provider

  • societal characteristics making risk communication more difficult, eg language differences and illiteracy

  • a lack of infrastructure supporting communication needs.

These need to be identified and considered when developing potential communication methods. In terms of information flow into the fire risk assessment process, this can be achieved by normal data collection methods, including questionnaires, one-to-one meetings, group meetings, formal interviews, observation of behaviour, etc. Important factors to consider are relevance of the information to be collated and that those involved need to be amenable to and aware of the reason for the process.

Regarding information output, numerous methods can be utilised depending on the audience and the information required to be delivered (the message). Tools can include newsletters, intranet, presentations, team briefings, workshops, training and reports. No one method of communication works effectively and typically a number of methods of communication can and should be used.

Further information

Last reviewed 31 July 2012