You mention property 'risk assessments' and most people unfortunately take one of two extreme stances.
The first is just a glazing over of the eyes and attempt to by-pass the whole exercise, perceived to be another over-the-top case of health and safety bureaucracy.
The second goes the other way, and becomes obsessively over-interested in the whole process and loves the challenge of coming up with endless paperwork to fill up everyone’s inboxes.
The answer really lies in between these two extremes. The reality is that there are serious risks associated with properties, and having a sanity check in basic safety issues - and whether we like it or not, tick boxes that are there to be ticked - can literally save lives.
However, let's not make more of this than what’s needed, and let's bring in some common sense and start going for quality not quantity of 'risks' being identified.
The finished article should therefore be a briefer but focused Risk Assessment that makes sense to the actual property interests in question. This will need completing of course by an appropriate responsible person, ideally an external Risk Assessor who knows their stuff, and it should boil down to actionable points.
Within property management, you may not necessarily be doing this yourself, but it's important to not only organise the right person to do this, but to work alongside them and come up with applicable issues to include.
It's always best to go around the property yourself with an actual Risk Assessor and talk things through, as each issue should boil down to common sense and solutions that work for that particular property and type of use.
So here is a list of some basic issues to think about. Of course, these are only very general to get the right thought processes and questions going, often the challenge being to think about many issues and not just a few, and how these link together.
In terms of documentation, this should be through a formal Risk Assessment with all the necessary detail. Here's a very basic example of a Health & Safety Risk Assessment that you can begin with, but again you really need a bespoke one for your situation.
Two other points to also note about these issues is firstly that this is covering just general Health & Safety issues rather than a more specific Fire or Water Risk Assessment, for example, although some of the main issues from these will naturally fall within a general Health & Safety one as well.
Secondly, this is assuming it is a straight forward multi-let property scenario, say a small residential apartment block with a shared communal staircase and external parked areas, or a small commercial office block or retail parade. Whilst each occupier tends to be responsible for their area of the building, this helps consider all the communal areas and structure and how everything is tied together.
So here goes, 36 different issues to consider when assessing the Health and Safety risks at a communal property, with details at the end on how to download a checklist of all these:
1. No Smoking
The rule of thumbs is that no smoking is permitted either in the building or immediately near the building from outside in order to reduce the risk of accidental fires as well as the nuisance of smoke and odours.
No-smoking signs also help, and maybe cigarette-butt holders away from the property.
2. Management Signage
On one side keep it all nice and clear with contact details for who is managing the property and who to contact in an emergency, and details about how to effectively use the building and any external areas like car parks.
On another side, a non-liability sign somewhere can help clarify that the entity managing the areas is not liable for accidents and issues arising.
Ideal in an accessible location with noticeboard information on such as contact details, summary of when contractors have attended, the fire evacuation procedures, and general building guide.
4. Storage Locks
Areas like store cupboards under stairs, or loft and wall hatches often require locks so that no one can mistakenly enter and harm themselves, for example if young children are visiting a property and end up entering a cupboard with dangerous electricity meters.
Ideally these should all have keys or digi-locks which only authorised people have details of, but at the very least high-level turn-locks being needed.
5. Storage Signage
Such store areas often need signage such as a fire door and warning electricity (if applicable), and no ‘unauthorised access’ and ‘keep closed’.
6. Electricity Measures
Where electricity cables and equipment are, warning electricity signs on the door, and a poster inside to advice on how to deal with electricity issues in addition to rubber matting on the floor.
7. Entrance & Exit Doors
They often have two contradictory roles, one being to provide security and effective locks and intercoms and even ‘keep-closed’ signs.
The other is to be an easy exit way out in the event of fire, including appropriate signage and maybe self-closers.
8. Fire Action Notices
A short fire-action summary often near exit points summarising what to do in the event of a suspected fire in 3 or so simple steps.
Make sure any general ones are not only applicable to the property’s actual Fire Evacuation Procedure, but all gaps like where the fire assembly point is are all completed.
9. Fire Assembly Point
A sign outside where the assembly point is for people to congregate may be required. This needs to be in the correct place as identified by any Fire Risk Assessment, and it may be best for each occupier to determine and sign-up their own locations.
10. Call Point Covers
Where you have a red box with a glass cover near main exit routes, the idea is for people to easily be able hit and activate the fire alarm if needed. However in order to restrict the consequences of false alarms both mistakenly and consciously, then you can install additional fire call point covers over them.
11. Fire Alarm Information
Where the fire alarm panel is, you need some basic information about it mainly for the fire brigade or contractors to use in an emergency.
This includes fire alarm contact details for contractors, access and user arrangements for the panel, and plans or lists of the zones and areas of the property covered by the alarm.
12. Fire Exit Signage
These are your typical directional signage around the property in green and white and maybe a running man, explaining to people how to vacate a property in an emergency.
They’re most critical where there is a change in direction or potential confusion on what to do, and can be illuminated by a lit box above, say, a main exit door, or ones that ‘glow’ in the dark.
13. Cleared Areas
As general housekeeping, all access ways should be kept clear of clutter and items that could block a fire escape route, and any storage areas kept clutter-free to reduce the risk of fire beginning in the first place.
Typical examples incliude bijkes, shoes and furniture, and mats.
14. Fire Stopping
This is making sure that hidden areas don’t have holes and gaps in where they shouldn’t and therefore permit smoke and fire to quickly spread throughout a building.
Classic examples are in store cupboards where holes are too large for pipes and cables, and require the right contractor or consultant to help dig these out and repair.
15. Fire Door Checks
Your main fire doors need periodically checking that they’re still operating okay in order to resist any fire and smoke spreading with more detailed information and checklist here.
Not only clearly identify them, including into occupied and storage areas in needed and internal corridor doors, but have everything correctly checked by a competent contractor.
16. Fire Detection Systems
Without getting too technical and knowing what unique features are at your property, these tend to cover fire alarm, smoke detection, and smoke ventilation systems.
They will need a competent contractor to maintain these with necessary documentation every 6 months or whatever period, and more day-to-day visual and operational checks such as weekly fire alarm bell testing and checking the operation of any smoke ventilation windows.
17. Fire Extinguishers
They may not in actual fact be required in the first place, but where they are then make sure they are the correct type and location, with the right maintenance and even user-training in place.
18. Emergency Lighting
After you have bottomed-out a correct schedule of these emergency lights, they need an annual discharge test and monthly flick test with necessary documentation to prove this.
19. Refuse Areas
Whether inside or out, make sure they are clean and hygienic, well accessed and lit, and have any necessary signs regarding how to correctly use them.
20. Car Movements
Right from the correct line markings and speed-limit signs, to policies for use and operation, this can be important where it’s a busy parking area with high-risk issues like children playing nearby.
21. Trip Hazards
It’s a classic health and safety issue that can appear in many forms – wonky slabs and pavements outside, or damaged carpet and trims inside; have a watch out for them all.
Not only check the basic function of these including secured banister rails and trims at the end of each step, but on some older properties you may have to reduce the gaps between the railings if there are risks such as children using them.
Of course if there are any lifts, these will need the correct maintenance and servicing in place, alarms and remote connections operating, and notices and procedures issued.
23. Lighting Levels
It can be taken for granted, but make sure there is enough well-lit areas for people, and enough to deter, say, kids from hanging around the property, and for people to safely walk to the property outside on a dark evening.
There can be helpful changes such as movement- or light-sensitive sensors that help trigger these on and off.
24. Electrical Testing
Checking that electrics are safe take two main forms:
Firstly a fixed wire test of the main circuits, for example, every 5 years, and secondly a PAT test for any portable appliances.
In addition to recent testing, make sure necessary action points have been completed.
25. Snow & Ice
A procedure for dealing with risks from ice and snowy outside areas needs to be in place, whether a formal method of arranging this to be cleared or gritted below a certain temperature, or perhaps a grit bin and shovel being provided with signs and notices for occupiers to use themselves.
26. Disabled Persons
A separate Disability Access Audit may be required to address specific issues for disabled persons using the property. Issues from this or general observations include handles and space in lifts, handrails and ramps, and good signage.
27. Access Arrangements
It sounds obvious, but make sure access can be easily prevented to people who should not be there, and permitted for those who should be including out-of-hours arrangements.
There may be special fobs and access-control systems and intercoms to monitor, tradesman’s buzzers, and back-up key copies and arrangements.
28. Gas Supply
In addition to the main servicing of gas which tends to be more for individual areas than communal ones, check the integrity and protection of any exposed pipes, and safety of the gas meters.
29. Water Supply
Again mainly affecting individual areas, but for communal ones like a disabled toilet or kitchen area or garden tap, make sure these are operating okay without any leaks and are not near, say, electrical points.
Also, any necessary risk assessment and measures such as regular temperature- and tap-testing being in place.
30. TV, Phones, & Internet
The main concern is suitable restrictions in any communal supply, as when these don’t work people can be tempted to tamper with these without permission.
31. Water Leaks
Although this is more to do with the general repair of the property and for example, leaking gutters and downpipes, or from occupied areas above, there can be issues such as slippery areas when frozen and health issues from mould.
Whatever contractors are instructed on site, these need to be correctly vetted and versed on the procedures for the property, considering the unique aspects of the property and people involved there.
Some will be carrying out riskier activities than others such as window cleaners needing correct work-at-height considerations, and electricians being correctly qualified.
33. Site Folder
A good site folder collating all necessary documentation is helpful to easily show that things are being dealt with, and an easy reference point for any emergencies.
An updated survey and management plan where applicable and which has been communicated to contractors and those involved with the property to abide by.
35. Window Openings
Windows that open need to often have safety catches and locks on them to stop people misusing them.
Although more down to the general fabric of the property which may not directly affect people’s personal safety, some of these do and can form part of good property inspections.
Tying it All Together
As mentioned earlier, here is a basic Risk Assessment template that can be used to begin noting issues and what the 'answer' to these are in terms of the risk and hazards involved, severity of them, and then appropriate action to address them.
In terms of these 36 core issues above, here is a checklist of all these together as a starting point to go down and consider before you then formally document in the actual final risk assessment.
These are then grouped into 3 different categories as coloured in a 'traffic-light' style to help determine the nature of action-points needed and therefore who the best person is to do these:
1. Red, qualified-contractor works like electricians and fire-system contractors who need to know what they're doing.
2. Orange, general repairs and maintennace which may be possible directly in addition to a good handyman.
3. Green, procedures and signage, more on the paperwork side to arrange and then communicate.
It should all boil down to genuinely making sure that people can safely use and enjoy a property, and hopefully mostly common sense. This will unfortunately involve numerous issues to consider together, not just in isolation, and whilst a final Risk Assessor has the job of correctly completing all of these, for those involved in property management these pointers can be a helpful checklist for the sort of issues to watch out for yourself and a point of discussion with any risk assessor.
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