An important feature of the prevention of workplace accidents and damage is the control of the start and spread of fire.
Fire and its consequences pose a significant risk to any business whether a major industrial company or a small to medium business.
Neglect and misuse of electrical wiring, fittings and equipment can easily cause fires in the workplace.
- Overheating of electrical circuits
- poor wiring connections
- use of unauthorised electrical appliances
- multi-point adaptors
- problems with the use of extension leads
are all hazards that frequently result in fires starting. Therefore:
- Ensure that all electrical circuits and equipment in the workplace are inspected and tested on a regular basis. There is a requirement to do this under the Electricity at Work Regulations
- Have any faults in wiring or fittings repaired promptly by a qualified electrician
- Switch off electrical equipment when it is not in use particularly at the end of the day's work
Rubbish and Waste Materials
Rubbish and waste materials left to accumulate can easily contribute to the spread of fire, they are also a place for malicious fires to be started. Make sure that you:
- Remove all waste materials from the workplace on a regular basis
- Place all waste materials in a suitable container located in a safe position outside the building. Ideally this container will be of metal construction and fitted with a lockable lid
- Arrange for the container to be emptied regularly
- Do not burn rubbish on bonfires even if it is thought safe to do so. They can easily get out of control and spread fire to nearby buildings or structures
Smoking is still a major cause of fires in buildings. You should:
- Consider having a 'No Smoking' policy in your workplace
- Prohibit smoking in storage areas
- If the public visit your premises and you allow them to smoke be extra vigilant
- Check rooms at the end of the working day to ensure that no smoking material has been left burning
Many small businesses have kitchens where staff may prepare food themselves. These facilities are similar to domestic kitchens and cooking hazards may still arise:
- Avoid undertaking deep fat frying unless a thermostatically controlled pan is provided even then it would be wise not to leave the pan unattended
- Ensure that combustible materials such as cloths, towels and loose fitting clothing especially sleeves are kept well clear of hobs
- Toasters and microwave ovens should not be sited in office areas, they should only be available in kitchens
Portable heaters can often be hazardous in the work environment especially if placed too close to combustible furniture, fittings or materials. Convector heaters are safer than radiant fires. If you do need to use heaters:
- Ensure that they are securely guarded and properly fixed to prevent them from being knocked over
- Place them well away from any materials that could easily ignite
- Never stand papers or books on them or drape clothing over them
- Do not allow ventilation grilles to become obstructed
Clean portable heaters on a regular basis
If combustible items such as packing materials, glues, solvents, flammable liquids or gases, are used or stored in the workplace it is recommended that:
- The amounts brought into the premises should be kept to a minimum and sufficient for the day's work only
- The bulk supplies of such materials should be locked in a secure store preferably outside the main premises
If you use:
- Paints, solvents, adhesives, chemicals or gas cylinders, keep them in separate storage areas and well away from any sources of ignition
- Remember gas cylinders, even when empty, can explode when exposed to heat
- The Highly Flammable Liquids and Liquefied Petroleum Gases Regulations may apply to your operations
Arson and Deliberate Fire Setting
The setting of deliberate fires by vandals, thieves or disgruntled persons is, unfortunately, on the increase. Over 50% of major fires in the UK are caused by arson. Help prevent this happening to your workplace by ensuring that:
- All doors, windows, gates and fences are secured effectively especially when the premises are closed at night and over the weekend
- Waste materials and rubbish are easy targets for the arsonist so ensure that all such materials are carefully stored away and not left lying where it can be easily ignited
Portable Fire Fighting Equipment
Fire extinguishers must be provided which are suitable for dealing with small fires involving the types of materials and hazards that exist in a particular workplace.
Current practice is that all extinguishers are red with zones of colour indicating their contents. Former practice was that the whole of the extinguisher cylinder was coloured to indicate its contents. Either type is still suitable for use but it is a good idea to have extinguishers of the same style at each fire point.
Whatever kind of extinguisher is provided ensure that they are inspected and tested by a competent person on a regular basis and keep a record of such maintenance.
The illustration below shows a range of extinguishers that are colour coded in line with the latest British Standard and their intended uses.
Escape Routes and Exits
It is important that all escape routes from the premises are identified and kept clear of obstructions at all times people are at work.
They should be clearly indicated with directional signs that conform to the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations or BS5499 (those with the 'Running Man' symbol).
Fire exit doors should not be locked. If it is necessary for them to be kept secure then fastenings not requiring the use of a key should be used to allow doors to be opened immediately from within.
Since smoke and heat from a fire can spread rapidly through a building it important that any fire-resisting doors provided in the premises are kept shut at all times especially where they are protecting designated escape routes such as stairways and corridors. This will ensure that the fire is confined in the area of origin and keep escape routes available for use.
Remember that failing to protect escape routes by allowing fire-resisting doors to be tied or wedged open can be an offence under fire safety legislation.
If people are to escape from a fire then they must be warned of the danger at the earliest possible time. Every workplace must therefore be provided with a suitable fire alarm.
In very small businesses all that may be required is a manual gong or a simple break-glass electric fire alarm.
In larger premises or workplaces with fire hazards which pose a more serious threat to life and the smooth running of the business a more elaborate installation may be necessary.
Automatic Fire Detection
Where serious hazards are present it is advisable that an automatic fire detection system be installed.
Whether the installation consists of simple point-type detectors or is a fully addressable analogue system it should be designed, installed and serviced according to the appropriate British Standard. In the event of a fire the alarm will then be raised automatically allowing staff to evacuate the premises without delay and the fire brigade to be called. Many fires occur outside normal working hours so clearly it is of benefit to have the installation continuously monitored by a remote-receiving centre to alert the fire brigade automatically.
The fire risk assessment involves identifying the potential sources of ignition in the workplace and the combustible materials that are present as part of the business operations, the furnishings and the structure in which the business is carried out. The aim is to reduce these to a minimum.
Opportunities may be taken to eliminate, substitute, avoid or transfer the various hazards that have been identified. Once this has been done the residual sources of ignition and combustible materials that form the core of the day-to-day patterns of work must be separated as far as is practicable.
The people who use the premises must also be considered. These include staff, customers, visitors or members of the public.
The means of escape, equipment for detecting and giving warning in case of fire and fire fighting apparatus must be appropriate for the premises and the numbers of people present.
Consideration has to be given to the age, agility and health of the people who may be on the premises. Different factors have to be considered, for example, for shops, residential care homes, hotels, tyre and exhaust fitters' etc.
Primarily a fire risk assessment will ensure that:
- Satisfactory escape routes are identified and kept available for use
- That suitable arrangements are made to detect and give warning of a fire
- That appropriate fire-fighting equipment is strategically located around the workplace
The Workplace Regulations also require that:
- Employers make sure that employees are trained in appropriate action to take when a fire breaks out, or if one is suspected
- Employees know how to use the fire fighting equipment provided
- Adequate records are kept of all staff training
Records are kept of tests and maintenance of fire equipment
The fire risk assessment checklist will provide a useful prompt when undertaking a fire risk assessment.
- The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations (LEGUK)
- HSG 64: Assessment of Fire Hazards From Solid Materials and the Precautions Required For Their Safe Storage And Use (HSE)
- HSG 124: Giving your own Firework Display - How to run and fire it safely (HSE)
- HSG 146: Dispensing Petrol - Assessing and controlling the risk of fire and explosion at sites where petrol is stored and dispensed as a fuel (HSE)
- Fire Safety - An Employer's Guide (HSE)
- Business Fire Risk Assessment Guide - How to assess the fire risks in a small business (FPA - Fire Protection Association)