Risk Assessment

In our practice we come across different building fire risk assessment reports that are produced to identify risks associated with combustible cladding installed to buildings.

In Australia, a risk assessment if generally requested by the Authority Having Jurisdiction in the respective State or Territory and is used to identify risk mitigation methods should an unacceptable fire risk be identified. The risk assessment is commonly prepared by a fire safety engineer or a qualified building certifier.

Whilst the principles of risk assessments are covered at university and form an assessment criterion for the Engineers Australia Chartership process, we still come across reports that do not follow the first principles and are effectively not risk assessments, but opinions and recommendations that result from those opinions.

“Risk” is defined as “Likelihood” multiplied by “Consequence”. In other words, when talking about risks, one needs to ask the questions of how likely something is to happen and what consequences the event would have. In terms of fire risk assessments, one would look into how likely ignition is to occur and if it does, what consequences it would have in terms of loss of property or lives and injury.

A risk assessment requires the documentation of a “Risk Matrix”, which is a table that ranks the likelihood from, say “unlikely” to “most certain”, and the consequence, from “minor” to “major”.

In addition to the actual risk matrix, one needs to set acceptance criteria for the risk determined.

It needs to be noted, that a risk can never be zero, hence there are risk ratings that are acceptable and unacceptable by the project stakeholders and general community.

Based on the above, a risk assessment is more than a compliance assessment. It is a collaborative project between the risk assessor, the building owner and the regulator in which the acceptability of probability of ignition, its consequences and risk mitigation methods are discussed.

Therefore, if you ever receive a consultant’s report that does not consider the aspects outlined herein, it is strongly recommended to obtain a peer review or an independent second opinion on the document produced.

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