How charities can protect vulnerable individuals from fire

  • Fire is a significant risk for public and voluntary sector organisations, and the human cost can be significant
  • For charities working with children and vulnerable adults, there are additional complexities when managing fire risk
  • We look at the steps charities can take to minimise the risks and protect staff, volunteers and vulnerable service users

UK fire and rescue services attended more than 182,000 fires over the course of 2018/19, and no organisation is immune from the risk of fire.

Beyond the financial costs and the risk of death or injury, fires can have significant long-term implications for the wellbeing of individuals (see our latest whitepaper, The human impact of fire).

For charities and voluntary organisations responsible for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, managing these risks and ensuring the wellbeing of staff, volunteers and service users can present additional complexities – particularly in the case of vulnerable people with impairments that could hinder their escape.

While there are important measures that can reduce the risk of serious fires developing – from sprinklers to fire doors – the threat cannot be completely removed. To protect vulnerable individuals, charities should take a number of steps.

  1. Define fire safety responsibilities
  • Appoint a responsible person to carry out fire risk assessments
  • Carry out and regularly review fire risk assessments
  • Ensure staff, volunteers and service users are aware of the risks identified and provide them with fire safety instructions and training
  • Enforce and maintain necessary fire safety measures and make sure emergency procedures are in place

Some smaller charities and voluntary organisations may not have the expertise or time to conduct their own fire risk assessments, and may need to consider appointing a specialist. This guide to choosing a competent fire risk assessor can help inform that decision.

  1. Assess and understand fire risk

While there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all fire risk assessment – they should be tailored to an organisation’s individual requirements – every risk assessment should:

  • Identify potential hazards, including potential sources of ignition and fuel
  • Identify who is at risk (this is particularly important for charities and voluntary organisations that work closely with children and vulnerable adults who may have impairments that need to be accounted for)
  • Prioritise risks and specify actions necessary to manage them
  • Record any significant findings and actions taken
  • Regularly review and update risk assessments whenever there is a significant change in circumstances (for example, changes to staffing levels, buildings, or the activities carried out in them)

The following Home Office checklist template provides a useful starting point for creating a fire risk assessment. The Home Office has also created specific fire risk assessment guidance for different types of organisations.

  1. Develop Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans

In the event of a fire, it is important that staff, volunteers and service users can be evacuated quickly and safely. Vulnerable individuals may require special assistance during an evacuation.

It may be necessary to develop a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP), a bespoke evacuation strategy designed to account for individual circumstances.

There are a number of things to consider when developing a PEEP:

  • A PEEP should be created for everyone that needs one, however, wherever possible the individual in question should be asked what help, if any, they might need (not all disabled people will need help)
  • It is important to test PEEPs every time a fire drill is held, and to update procedures if problems are encountered
  • PEEPs should be shared with all members of staff, as well as the individuals they relate to and any volunteers they are likely to come into contact with

When designing a PEEP, it is also important to ask:

  • What methods of assistance (wheelchairs, etc.) will be available?
  • What other equipment is necessary for an evacuation?
  • What will the exit procedure be?

A guide to producing a PEEP can be found here.

How Zurich can help

While the risk of fire cannot be completely eliminated, there are a number of practical measures charities and voluntary organisations can take to protect the most vulnerable.

We have just published a report exploring The human impact of fire and how to manage it. You can also visit our Fire Risk Resource, which aims to answer questions about fire risk, ranging from laws and regulations to risk management measures.

For more information on managing fire risk, please call us on 0800 232 1901 or email us at