Jane Embury, director, looks at the main causes of fire in the workplace.
In the year ending March 2019, 576,040 incidents were attended by fire and rescue services in England. This was a two per cent increase compared with the previous year (566,433).
However, it’s also a 20% decrease compared with ten years ago (717,805).
Of those incidents, there are some 300 primary fires every week in non-dwelling buildings. Annually, over 600 in hospitals, and some 700 in educational premises.
There were also more than 1,500 fires in shops and some 2,000 in industrial sites.
Yet in most cases, damage was limited to the room or floor in which the blaze started.
This reflects the presence of effective fire protection measures such as fire doors and advanced glazing systems.
Employers by law must appoint a “responsible person” to be in charge of fire safety. That starts with a fire risk assessment that should be kept up to date.
A fire risk assessment takes the same broad approach as a health and safety assessment and can be carried out as part of an overall risk assessment.
Based on its findings, employers must ensure that appropriate safety measures are put in place to minimise the risk of injury and damage to property.
The risk assessment is often an exercise in common sense. For example, making sure that appropriate fire extinguishers are in appropriate places. Or that flammable materials are kept safe.
Importantly, staff must be fire trained and regular fire tests carried out.
In guiding that fire risk assessment, what are the six most common causes of fires in the workplace?
This is probably the most common case of workplace fires. Often caused by defective wiring or overloaded sockets.
It is a legal requirement to make sure that all such equipment is regularly tested by a Portable Appliance Test (PAT). Everything that passes the test are then labelled with the date of the test.
Most offices are full of combustible material, even if that is just paper. But it’s also about refuse and how that’s stored.
Again, common sense is the best defence. Make sure that as much paper as possible is stored away in filing cabinets. Make sure that waste is stored away from the building in a safe place.
In other words, don’t give a fire the fuel to burn. If it has nothing to burn it will go out.
Many offices or workplaces use flammable or combustible materials, particularly in manufacturing processes. Correct storage, handling and disposal are vital to ensure safety.
That means regularly educating staff not to cut corners. Remember, after a fire, there could be insurance liability if correct procedures were not followed.
To err is human, so basic mistakes can’t be ruled out in assessing fire risk.
That can be anything from burning food to spilling flammable liquids. Or it could be improper use of equipment.
It underlines the need for fire extinguishers in appropriate places and for staff to be trained in their use. Every new member of staff also needs to be trained.
Sometimes, doing things right involves a bit of extra work. The temptation is therefore to take a short cut, and get the job done quicker.
That could be anything from allowing a build-up of paper to improperly storing flammable materials.
Again, staff need to understand the importance of fire safety and to buy into the correct procedures for doing things.
It might be a hassle to store flammable materials between jobs rather than at the end of the day, but doing things right is the fire safe way to do things. Once again, training is key.
Sadly, deliberate fires are not that uncommon.
That could be a disgruntled member of staff, or simple vandalism.
Good exterior lighting and CCTC cameras are obvious deterrents. So too a sprinkler system if an arsonist does gain entry.
Remember, most deliberate fires are set at night when a building may well be deserted.
However, an important consideration is to ensure that gaining entry is made as difficult as possible.
That’s where our advanced systems are a valuable asset against break-in. Designed primarily to contain fire for up to 120 minutes, our interior and exterior doors, screens, windows and curtain wall systems also provide a robust barrier to unwanted guests.
Also, if a fire is set inside, our interior systems will contain the fire in that discrete area and prevent it from spreading.
That could be absolutely vital in allowing for continuity of operations. Many companies who suffer a serious fire quickly go out of business.
So, at the start of 2020, it’s maybe a good time to look again at your fire risk assessment.
If nothing else, it’s all about peace of mind.