A critical element of vacant property protection is carrying out a risk assessment as a means of formally identifying what hazards exist, and assessing whether the controls you currently have in place are adequate. The outcome of a risk assessment needs to be a list of actions which you are satisfied will control and manage these hazards when suitably implemented.
It is important that a risk assessment is carried out by a competent person. This needs to be someone with a broad knowledge of the business, the property itself and who can be relied on to carry out a thorough and structured assessment of the property. To this end they will also need to have a knowledge and awareness of health and safety, the technical aspects of any materials and equipment on site and what hazards and issues can exist in the fabric and operation of a vacant property.
The structure of a risk assessment on a vacant property should ideally be as follows:
The person carrying out the risk assessment needs to agree and keep in mind the key objective of the exercise. This can differ according to the nature of the building and the reason why it is vacant, but essentially the objective is likely to be one or more of the following: to keep the building safe and secure, to maintain a continuity of utility supply, to maintain the fabric and condition of the building, to maintain the building in a suitable condition for sale or re-let.
- What hazards are present?
In order to establish whether there are suitable controls in place to achieve the objectives, you need to identify the hazards that exist. With regards to a vacant property, hazards are likely to include: intruders, unauthorised people on site, deterioration of the building, utilities failure, nuisance and graffiti, alarm activation, security of equipment and materials. You would normally also identify who in terms of personnel is at risk from these hazards, but with a vacant property this doesn’t really apply, except that members of the public or passers-by could be at risk if the building is unsafe, and intruders could be at risk if dangerous materials or equipment are stored on site.
- What controls are in place?
Of course the existing investment in control measures may be minimal if the risk assessment is carried out at the beginning of the property being vacant, but the idea is to identify what is already in place to manage the hazards identified above. These can be any of the following: CCTV systems, steel security shutters, fire doors, intruder and fire alarms, perimeter controls, vacant property guardians, out of hours security patrols, car park barriers, technology sensors, access control systems.
The idea at this stage is to assess the hazards and the control measures to identify what is adequately controlled, where weak spots in the system exist and where corrective actions can be implemented to address these concerns. It is usually beneficial for this to be a collaborative process, as the person carrying out the risk assessment may not necessarily have budgetary control or have the authority to implement the actions required, and it is helpful to have a discussion on what is practical and necessary to implement.
A risk assessment should be treated as a formal process and as such it should be recorded and retained and revisited on a periodic basis to ensure the findings are still valid, and to assess whether the corrective actions have been implemented and have been successful. In terms of a vacant property, you can judge the success of the risk assessment by applying it to the original objective and whether that has been fulfilled. It is also recommended that the findings of a risk assessment are fully communicated to all relevant parties.