The well-established PAS 79 has now been split into two parts to provide the housing sector with more specific guidance on fire risk assessments. This blog post explains what each part does and how they will help organizations meet their fire safety obligations.
PAS 79 was first published in 2005, then subsequently revised in 2007 and 2012 to provide guidance and a recommended methodology for conducting fire risk assessments. It quickly became a popular and well-used document.
However, time and technology move on. By the time it became clear that PAS 79 needed to be updated, it was also apparent that the housing sector wanted more specific guidance. The decision was made to revise PAS 79 as “Part 1” and as well develop a new housing-specific “Part 2”. The result is PAS 79-1:2020 Fire risk assessment – Part 1: Premises other than housing – Code of practice and PAS 79-2:2020 Fire risk assessment – Part 2: Housing – Code of practice.
Part 1 gives recommendations and examples of documentation for undertaking and recording the significant findings of fire risk assessments in non-domestic premises and parts of non-domestic premises for which fire risk assessments are required by legislation. In the case of mixed-use premises, comprising, for example, shops or offices on lower levels of the building, with flats on the uppermost levels, PAS 79-2 is applicable in relation to the flats.
Meanwhile Part 2 does the same as Part 1, but this time for housing premises and parts of housing premises for which fire risk assessments are required by legislation. Recommendations are also provided for fire risk assessments outside the scope of legislation, but designed to protect residents of blocks of flats, sheltered housing and extra care housing in the event of a fire in their own flat.
A structured approach
The Part 1 methodology provides a structured approach to fire risk assessment for people with knowledge of the principles of fire safety. The recommended approach is meant to determine the risk-proportionate fire precautions required to protect occupants of non-domestic premises, including employees, contractors, visitors and members of the public, and to protect people in the immediate vicinity of the premises. The scope now excludes blocks of flats, sheltered housing, extra care housing, supported housing and certain houses in multiple occupation (i.e. those falling within the scope of the relevant fire safety legislation), all of which are now addressed in the new Part 2.
As well, those familiar with PAS 79:2012 will see that PAS 79-1 is a code of practice, whereas its predecessor was a guide. In fact PAS 79:2012 was already written in the form of a code of practice. The change in status is simply to make this explicit, noting that a code of practice is more suited to sustaining a reliable claim of compliance.
Some technical content has also been amended as a result of user feedback. There’s new guidance on the consideration to be given to external wall construction and cladding. There’s recognition of pre-occupation fire safety assessments, a term now defined in this PAS, and a clarification to avoid confusion between these assessments and the fire risk assessment to which this PAS refers. There’s also an even greater emphasis on the competence of fire risk assessors. It’s also noted that fire safety specialists with experience only in the design of new buildings might not possess an appreciation of the standards against which older buildings were designed and the possible continued acceptability of such standards. Finally, changes to, and the publication of various new British Standards have been taken into account.
Protecting occupants of housing premises
PAS 79-2:2020 is also a code of practice. It provides a structured approach to fire risk assessments that are intended to determine the risk-proportionate fire precautions required to protect occupants of housing premises, particularly residents, but also employees, contractors and visitors to the premises, and to protect people in the immediate vicinity of the premises. The scope of this new part of PAS 79 comprises blocks of flats, sheltered housing, extra care housing, supported housing and certain houses in multiple occupation (i.e. those falling within the scope of the relevant fire safety legislation). Fire risk assessment for other, non-housing premises is addressed in Part 1 of PAS 79.
Part 2 reflects the changes found in Part 1. As well there’s a new, more detailed discussion of the stay put strategy normally adopted in blocks of flats and maisonettes, and this term, as well as the converse strategy of simultaneous evacuation, is now defined in this PAS. A warning is included in respect of the potential risk to residents if a stay put strategy is inappropriately abandoned. Reference is made to evacuation alert systems for use by the fire and rescue service in blocks of flats and maisonettes, which are the subject of BS 8629. Reference is made to person-centred fire risk assessments in specialized housing, though specific recommendations in relation to these fire risk assessments are outside the scope of this PAS.
Why use the PASs
These new PASs aim to help organizations and their advisors in multiple ways. For a start they supply a reliable methodology with which organizations can meet their legislative responsibilities to undertake fire risk assessments. In addition, they promote a better understanding of fire risks and fire safety, with Part 2 in particular deepening the understanding of housing providers and non-fire specialists.
These PASs will also enable common relevant terminology to be adopted by those who carry out fire risk assessments. They’ll spread a robust and common understanding of the principles and scope of fire risk assessments; and will establish a pragmatic, holistic and risk-proportionate approach to the assessment of fire prevention measures, fire protection measures and management of fire safety, based on a fundamental understanding of fire safety principles.
In addition, PAS 79-1:2020 and PAS 79-2:2020 establish a satisfactory basis for the documentation of fire risk assessments; and provide a benchmark for a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment. They promote a consistent approach to carrying out and documenting a fire risk assessment that’s likely to be satisfactory to enforcing authorities. Finally these documents fulfil a useful purpose by dispelling misconceptions as to the nature and scope of a sufficient fire risk assessment.