What are significant findings?

Ben Bradford dispels a common myth relating to our interpretation of the term ‘significant findings’

George Orwell said “Myths which are believed in tend to become true”. If George Orwell was right this article should dispel one common myth in fire safety, and reduce the number of fire safety practitioners who believe it to be true. The common myth relates to our interpretation of the term ‘Significant findings’ as applied to fire risk assessments.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 clearly states in Article 9 (6) that as soon as practicable after the assessment is made or reviewed the responsible person must record certain information and in particular the ‘Significant findings’. Many people wrongly assume that the term ‘significant findings’ relates solely to the content of the ‘action plan’, however this is simply not the case.

What are significant findings?

In the English language the word ‘significant’ is an adjective i.e. a describing word meaning ‘noteworthy’ or ‘important’. The word ‘finding’ is a noun i.e. a naming word often used to describe the conclusions of an inquiry. Whilst the outcome and indeed the principle raison d’être of the fire risk assessment is the action plan and this plan will comprise recommendations, it will not be the only place in a fire risk assessment that ‘significant findings’ can be found.

In the context of fire safety legislation these are; significant hazards and risks to persons that were found by the assessment; precautions already in place to protect persons from fire; and preventative and protective measures (i.e. general fire precautions) that will be taken to address the hazards and risks identified by the risk assessment.

Whilst ‘significant findings’ may well feature in a fire risk assessments action plan, they will also feature in the main body of the report and some may not feature in the action plan at all. A significant finding may indeed be significant, but does not automatically mean it will require action. The term “significant findings” is not defined in the relevant legislation, but it is clear that the ‘significant findings’ should indicate measures taken and measure that will be taken for compliance with the legislation.

Many people wrongly assume that the term ‘significant findings’ relates solely to the content of the ‘action plan’, however this is simply not the case.

Usually, basic information on such factors can be considered as significant findings of the fire risk assessment, and accordingly, such information needs to be recorded.

Such factors include, but are not limited to: the height of the premises, the construction of the premises, the activities and processes carried out on the premises, the complexity of the premises, the approximate floor area of the premises, the approximate number of occupants of the premises, the maximum numbers of members of the public likely to be present, the nature of the occupants, the familiarity of the occupants with the premises, the state (or likely state) of the occupants (e.g. awake or asleep, alert or under the influence of alcohol or drugs), the history of fires on the premises, and the incidence of arson and vandalism in the surrounding areas.

Although the above factors cannot, (or cannot readily), be changed, their effect on fire risk, (primarily as a result of their effect on the consequences of a fire), needs to be taken into account in the fire risk assessment and therefore is a significant finding. Moreover the analysis of the risk undertaken as part of assessment process may well have cause to justify certain non-compliant situations and the accompanying commentary will be critical to understand the thought process undertaken at the time of the inspection, albeit right or wrong, these musings will not appear in the action plan.

The information annotated in the FRA could be construed as a ‘contemporaneous notes’ if referred to in legal proceedings, that occur post fire audit.

Enforcement of fire safety legislation is the prerogative of the enforcing authority charged by legislation with the responsibility to do so. There remains debate as to the legal interpretation of what constitutes the significant findings of a fire risk assessment. But we can confidently say that the significant findings will not be found solely in the action plan, and will be found throughout the entirety of a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment.