HMO Fire Risk Assessments – What is involved?

When dealing with HMO Fire risk assessments, we are often asked “what is involved?”

There are many versions of fire risk assessments around and many assessors will explain the requirements in different ways.

We like to keep it simple;

First, is who the occupants are. Students may not appreciate the danger of a fire and are more likely to ignore an alarm activation. Foreign nationals who can’t read, speak or understand English are also of concern. Disabled or mobility impaired occupants must be given specific emergency evacuation plans. The important part of this is to ask the tenants if they have any disablilty or mobility impairments

Next is the fire safety infrastructure, is there a fire alarm, emergency lighting, fire doors and fire extinguishers?  A fire alarm is a must as this will alert the presence of a fire, but this needs to be maintained and looked after. Not all HMO’s need emergency, so check the fire risk assessment report. Fire doors are a brilliant piece of kit, when used properly. When correctly installed and closed they can withhold a fire for at least 30 mins, This will give the occupants enough time to escape. Fire doors need to be self-closing, especially on escape routes!  Fire extinguishers are a requirement, even if not one is trained to use them.

The condition of the electrical installation is an important part of the fire risk assessment. This test is also called a fixed wire test. A “satisfactory” certificate is a joy to see, but if you have a test of the system completed, make sure you get an C1 or C2 faults repairs. The HMO licencing team will reject the HMO licence application if these fault codes are listed.

The procedure for what the occupants are expected to do is next. Simple evacuation procedures are required to evacuate on alarm are easily understood, but this needs to be displayed and provided on the tenancy agreements. Fire action signage must meet the evacuate plan and these can be placed on the back of the bedroom doors. It is possible to have fire action notices translated into different languages and google translate can be used for induction forms.

The way out (Means of Escape) is key for the safe passage of occupants. All doors entering onto the hall (escape route) need to be self-closing, the electrical cupboard must be able to withhold a fire for 30 minutes if located in the hall. The doors need to have a device called an Easy Open Device (EOD), such as a thumb turn, push bar or push bar to make the exit quick and simple.

Cooking is another important part of the fire risk assessment is an HMO. The filters / cooker must be kept clean of grease deposits.

The fire risk assessment of an HMO is an assessment of the risk to life and not a checklist against compliance with current fire safety legislation.

But please ensure you act of the recommendations on the fire risk assessment. If you are in doubt, ask the assessor to talk you through it!

Or call us! Please also take a look at our testimonials page for HMO Fire Risk Assessments completed in Belfast

The comments above are an overview of some of the aspects of a fire risk assessment in an HMO and not all considerations are noted above. If you would like more advise, please get in touch.

Poor housekeeping


A link is provided below to the NI Fire & Rescue Service guide on HMO for further information

Disabled evacuation procedures

Disabled evacuation procedures are a key part of the evacuation strategy for your premises.

There are various impairments that can leave a visitor or employee with the need for assistance to leave the building in an evacuation.

If this is applied in common sense terms, then follow this guide,

Disabled evacuation procedures cover all mobility and disability issues, but most disabilities or mobility impaired users can be assisted out of the building with ease. For the elderly, later stages of pregnancy, visually impaired persons – wait in a safe area until the main flow of occupants has passed through. Then, with assistance, slowly leave the building. A member of staff will assist be holding the arm of the person and talking with them etc.

For deaf or hard of hearing, staff need to collect them and follow the main flow out. The issue here is the inability to hear the alarm activated. There are other means to alert them, such as alarm related devices, but for this blog, we are focusing on the simplest methods and where unescorted members of the public are in the building. This is also known as a “buddy-buddy” system.

The last consideration for the disabled evacuation procedures is those in a wheelchair or when the mobility impairment prohibits the use of the stairs. This is when you need to go to an evacuation chair procedure, not forgetting that the staff need trained!

Important notes to consider for the management of the disabled evacuation procedures,

  • Complete health screening with staff to ask whether assistance is needed – not all disabilities are obvious
  • If no members of the public in your business premises and no staff declare an issue, then no specific plans are required. If members of the public have access, then plan for the evacuation chair process
  • Consider temporary issues such as pregnancy, sports injuries, and post-operations
  • It is not acceptable to use the local fire service as part of the evacuation plan for the disabled evacuation procedures
  • You must practise the plans for the disabled evacuation
  • If any staff declare an issue, then the employer is responsible to complete a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP).

For further guidance or advice, click on the NIFRS link below or the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (NI)

Or contact us for guidance, advise or if you need a PEEP or Disabled evacuation procedures completed for you.


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Fire drills after the Covid 19 shutdown

Fire drills after the Covid 19 shutdown, may not be a priority following your return to work.  Whether it is a practice drill or an alarm activation, you and the staff need to know what to do to keep safe!

Covid-19 fire assembly point / Fire drills
Assembly points

Here are a few tips and considerations towards your business needs to complete the evacuations;

For alarm activations;

In terms of the fire evacuation after the Covid-19 pandemic, you need to base this around risk. If there is a definitely a fire in the building, then this overrides the Covid-19 risk and therefore everyone needs to evacuate. However, this brings up the point that staff need to investigate the fire alarm activation prior to commencement of any evacuation. To investigate, staff must be trained to fire warden level, so you need to consider each building based on their current evacuation plan and level of training.

A suggestion that may suit can allow for people on each floor to report in. So thinking of a multi-floor office block or a large industrial area for  example; so when the alarm sounds ,trained staff sweep their own floor or area and either radio or phone a senior member of staff who can silence / reset the alarm or alert an evacuation.

This works to protect staff from as it stops any unnecessary evacuations and no-one from your staff need to interact with another department.

For fire drills;

Again, this needs to be based on risk, and I am not keen to mix large numbers of people through fire evacuation routes, stairs and assembly points without a genuine need to!

I would suggest as an interim measure that each floor or different work areas are evacuated separately. Again, using an multi-storey office building as an example, the tenant on the 2nd floor is advised that we are completing a fire drill on wed 10th at 10am, which will be initiated by a call from reception / H&S team etc. This tenant / staff on this floor only evacuates to the assembly point. The following week is another tenant etc. This requires a bit more involvement, but can be achieved and is safe.

Completion of your fire evacuation drills are a key part of the fire safety of the staff and allows the staff to be aware of the procedures to be followed if the alarm sounds.

The drills are also a legal requirement and you cannot stop completion of the drills due to social distancing etc!

We would be delighted to provide free advice on completing fire drills in your building, just give us a call!


Business fire safety shutdown – Covid 19

If you have had to close your business, then follow the points below for a fire safety shutdown ;

These points are a general guide and will not necessarily apply to all business types, so give us a ring if you want to discuss your business specifically. We operate a “five minutes for a friend” policy and therefore do not charge a fee for this advice!

It is important to remember the key point of a fire risk assessment is to gauge the risk to life in the building. If you have completed a fire safety shutdown of the business then there is no-one at risk. But you must inform your insurance provider that the business has completed a fire safety shutdown and that it is empty.

The following guidance relates to business protection and the procedures or actions required as part of your re-opening plans,

So, if you haven’t shutdown yet or if you are popping in to check the site, try and get the fire alarm serviced and complete an annual discharge of the emergency lighting. This might be difficult to do if the suppliers aren’t working, but it will be worth a try as everyone will be looking works completed after the close down is lifted.

Complete a sweep of the building to ensure the fire doors are all closed, all non-essential electrical items are switched off and heating systems are turned off. Ensure that all flammable materials used as part of the work processes are locked away.

Next, is the critically important, but often overlooked arson risk. Take a walk around outside and look for obvious ways to attempt to enter the building. Secure windows or doors or add internal or external preventative measures such as boarding to discourage intruders.

Also remove any materials that may be of use to an arsonist. Wooden pallets, bins and other flammable products provide the fuel for an arsonist. Lock the bins away from the building or lock them inside if this is feasible.

If you have CCTV, speck with your supplier to see if you can get remote access onto your phone so you can instantly respond (and you won’t have left the house!) Obviously an intruder alarm is a great piece of equipment, but not everyone has one installed.

Check external fencing (preferably with lighting) to deter access.

On reopening after the fire safety shutdown, there are a number of fire safety related activities that must be completed.

First is the fire risk assessment if this lapsed a review. Second is complete a weekly test of the fire alarms, followed by the monthly inspections of the extinguishers and the fire doors.

For staff it will be beneficial to complete a full evacuation drill and also complete a toolbox talk of the staff induction training. Following a fire safety shutdown, the staff will need to be refreshed on their actions on activation of the fire alarm.

Subject to you occupancy, you may need to refresh the plans and procedures for the evacuation of disabled uses to include the use of any evacuation chairs.

The Fire Protection Association are giving a free business advise booklet on security and arson protection, although you will need to create a login

Please get in touch to discuss any of the points noted above if if you want any specific business fire safety advice!

Disabled evacuation plans – HMO fire safety

Having disabled evacuation plans for residents in your HMO is an important consideration that Landlords and managing agents often overlook!

The Fire & Rescue service cannot be used as part of your evacuation plan, so the Landlord (or the managing agent, if under contract to manage the property) is responsible to ensure everyone in the HMO can be safely evacuated.

There are several points to consider when planning for disabled evacuation,

Firstly, the residents need to be asked if they have a disability, mobility or other impairment which will hinder their ability to leave the property without assistance.

This can be a range of issues such as, a hearing issue which means they can’t hear the fire alarm, a sight issues which means they can’t see the way out, or the emergency lighting or a mental health issue such as Autism.

Don’t forget that temporary mobility issues such as a broken leg from playing football, or a heavily pregnant woman. These people also have to be considered for assistance during evacuation.

Once, all the residents have made a declaration and there are no issues to note, then it becomes a case of monitoring and nothing else. Always ensure the residents are told to inform the agent or the landlord if the situation changes.

But what if a resident comes back with a declaration?

Keep it Simple!

The key to the answer in this scenario, is to keep it simple! Sit down with the resident and ask them what the best method is to assist them. Remember they will know more about their condition than you do (unless the Landlord is a Doctor!)

You do not specifically need to know the condition; you need to know how to get them out. The simple ways can be to ensure they have a ground floor room or if another resident can assist them. Where hearing is a problem, there are WI-FI apps than can be linked to mobile phones which vibrate, and it is possible to get a vibrating pillow.

The important points to remember are to ask the residents, put a plan in place and then carry out a drill to try it out. Ensure the residents are informed of the plans for the disabled evacuation and the actions to be taken in the event of a fire.

Get in touch, if you have any questions about disabled evacuations from your HMO, place of work or for any fire safety requirements


HMO disabled evacuation plans
HMO Fire Safety Belfast

Fire Alarms need tested and serviced!

Once a fire alarm is installed into your premises, you need to ensure the fire alarms are serviced and weekly tests are completed!

There are many different types of fire alarms, from automatic detection (including heat, smoke, optical etc) to manual break glass points and then to the domestic interlinked fire alarms installed into your home or HMO (House of Multiple Occupation). The type of detector, type of system and fitting of the alarm can be discussed with the fire risk assessor and the fire alarm provider.

Once the alarm is installed (or if you move into new business premises) you need to look after the system. Carry out weekly tests of the call points (the red break glass box) with a test key is a requirement. You need to check a different call point each week and keep records! If you don’t have records, then the enforcing authorities will not accept the tests were completed!

Servicing is vital to the health of the fire alarms. This can be done quarterly, six-monthly or annually, but it is better to check with the fire alarm engineer and get their advice on frequency. There are different types of batteries available, some of which need checking more often, but take the advice on frequency from the alarm engineers. Again, keep records (and an invoice is not a record!)

It is important to visually check the fire alarm panel every day when you arrive into work. Make sure this is displaying healthy and that there are no faults or warning displayed. For faults, you need to ring the alarm engineer and request a call out. This will incur a charge, but it is better having a working fire alarm than a faulty one.

The fire alarm is designed to let you know a fire is in the building and it is provider to save life in the property, so why would you not maintain it! look after the alarm and the alarm will look after you!
Dead fire alarm
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Fire safety – control of contractors

Managing the fire risk from contractors;

Fire safety – control of contractors – are you completing a renovation, shop fit out or just a new boiler installed requires the knowledge and skill of external contractors. The risk of a fire is increase during these works from increased electrical use, hot works (open flame tools) and increased fire loading from building materials.

If you are planning building work in your business premises, have you considered the increased fire risk? Do you want to be the next Primark?

However, there are means to control the risk by applying a few simple rules;

Firstly, plan ahead! Before the works start you need to ask for a copy of the contractor Risk Assessments and Method Statements (known as the RAMS!) This details out how they intend to manage the risk and assess the control measures. Read the RAMS and ensure you ask questions about how they intend to prevent a fire! Also check they are insured.

Secondly; a site induction is required. Meet the site manager or supervisor and ensure they are made of the fire safety aspects of the premises. Ensure they give their staff an induction of the site.

Next, brief your own staff of the scope of the works and the extra vigilance required to ensure everyone’s safety during the works. Fire safety is everyone’s responsibility!

During the works; make sure there is regular site inspections to enforce the rules that have been put in place. Examples include; keeping the escape routes clear at all times, not obstructing fire extinguishes or fire alarm call points and skips aren’t within 10m of the building. An end of day walk around to make sure there is no non-essential electrical items left on, the site is clean and tidy with minimal accumulation of rubbish and there are no materials left outside that will be of use to an arsonist.

Most importantly – HOT WORK PROCEDURES!

This is when an open flamed, spark producing or heat generating devices are used within construction. The risk of a fire is substantially increased! This is what is believed to be the cause of the fire in Primark.

Again, this is easily managed! Always check to see if the hot work needs to be completed inside! Can the workers carry the work outside? If not, start with a pre-work inspection to remove flammable materials before the work starts. The work must be completed at least 30 minutes before they leave the site to allow for a fire watch. Ensure the workers are aware of the emergency procedures and the need to have fire extinguishers nearby (as long as they are trained!)

Control is the key to managing the works in your business premises! Get in touch if you need any further guidance

Fire safety, the control of contractors
Contractors fire risk

Arson – what is the risk to your business?

Arson! The criminal act of deliberate fire setting is surprisingly one of the biggest fire risks to your business premises. These acts can be planned from a disgruntled ex-employee, an unhappy customer or a business rival to random fire setting during a civil disturbance. In 2014 there were 1260 acts of deliberate fire setting in Northern Ireland (NIFRS 2014)

However, there are simple things that can be done to protect your business from an arson attack;

Firstly, is carrying out the fire risk assessment to identify who is at risk from

an attack and the likelihood of this happening. The risk to an 9-5 office is different than that of a hotel!

Next, review the security of the site from the outer fence / access areas to prevent unwanted intruders. Good lighting, fences and locked gates are a good start. CCTV, Roller shutters and an intruder alarm are also good deterrents! Don’t forget to put up signs to let the potential arsonists know you have CCTV.

Limit the materials outside that can be used by an arsonist. Ensure the bins are secured away from the building, rubbish is moved away and skips are located more than 10 metres from the premises. Limiting the availability of flammable material will nearly eliminate the chance arsonist in one go!

Lastly, brief staff of the arson risk and the measures that have been put in place to reduce the risk!

These measures will not cost the business an excessive financial outlay but there will be some cost for CCTV and roller shutters. These costs can offset insurance costs and hopefully prevent damage to the business operations.

Get in touch with one of the team if you need further fire safety advise or this or any other fire safety topic

Video courtesy of ITV News 2019


Disabled Refuge Points – what you need to know!

Certain buildings will require disabled refuge points to be in place. Building Control / Architects will specific these points during the design and build phase but you may not need to use them . . .

Let me go a bit deeper!

So, if your building is not occupied by members of the public and you have confirm that there are no mobility impaired staff, the disabled refuge points are not really required. An office is a good example of this type of occupancy.

But imagine you run a hotel, cinema, shopping centre or a general business where the public have general access or where a staff is mobility impaired . . .then you need to read on!

It is worth noted at this stage that the refuge point is available to be used by “mobility impaired” people as well as “disabled”. There is a distinct difference! An Elderly person, staff with a broken leg, or a heavily pregnant woman are mobility impaired, but not disabled!

So what do you need to consider; firstly check the fire risk assessment to see what the occupancy type (to see if you need disabled refuge points) !

Next, ensure there is a place where the disabled refuge point can be correctly located. There are strict rules about this, such as the need to protect the space from fire.

Two-way communications must be in place to enable staff to tell the refuge occupants that help is on the way. If you have one or two disabled refuge points, then walkie talkie radios may suffice or a new installation is on its way;

Then assessing the need to have a disabled refuge chair may be required. Check the link to the Globalex range which is a good guide;

Following the chair needs to come the training on the operation of the chair with the staff! A specific course is required to show them the operation and safe use

Refuge chair training with
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Disabled refuge points with
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Lastly comes the drills! Carrying out practice evacuation drills is key to ensure you are meeting your obligations for the evacuation of mobility and disabled users of your building!

Fire safety audits

Fire safety audits; what to expect

An audit of your business fire safety can come from your insurance provider or the NI Fire & Rescue Service.

This can result from a random selection, a complaint by a member of the public / staff or after a fire has occurred. It is is a random selection then you will get about four weeks to prepare! This sounds a lot, but if you have no fire safety measures in place it can be very short. For example, to install a new fire alarm needs time to survey, quote and carried out the works.

How to be prepared;

First, ensure your fire risk assessment is up to date and that work has been undertaken to complete the action points. It is not good enough to say you have the assessment. You need to be seen to be working through it.

Next comes the record keeping! Fire alarm tests and servicing, emergency lighting, fire extinguisher service, staff induction and fire training to name just a few records that must be in place.

Prevention is better than the cure with these so keep on top of the tests, servicing and most importantly keep records. “No records – you never done” it is a phrase we hear from inspectors when assisting clients thought audits.
Looking after people on your site is important and I am not talking about employees! You are responsible for the public, contractors, cleaners etc. Basically, if they are on your premises, then you are responsible for them!

Lastly, they will take a walk around to check the exits and fire escape corridors to see you are actually managing the fire safety in practical terms.
If you need help or guidance, call to discuss as early as possible to allow for the maximum time frame to get compliance before the audit!

So, what happens after? Well, you can receive a “broadly compliant” letter (no-one gets “compliant”), an enforcement or prohibition notice is applied when things have gone wrong! You will get your name and the business published on the Fire Safe page on the NIFRS website! Click on the link to see what notices are in place!

It is worth noting that the NI Fire Service are there to help and assist where they can and only take action where all else has failed, but get ahead of the game and call us to assist you through any audit or fire risk assessments