Every year workplace fires cause not only serious damage to property but also injury and death. In the UK there were 22,200 non-residential fires reported in 2013/4, with a significant proportion of these fires occurring in the workplace.
Although there are a number of reasons why these fires break out, many are due to negligence and could be prevented with more care and attention. As well as ensuring your business is compliant with fire legislation by having a Fire Risk Assessment completed, you can also minimise risk by identifying potential fire hazards in the workplace.
Whilst all working environments are different, here are some common fire hazards in the workplace to look out for to reduce the risk of accidental fire.
Storage of Waste and Combustible Material
Build-up of waste such as paper, cardboard and other combustible materials can be a problem in many workplace sites, in particular offices. Regular disposal of such materials reduces the risk of it acting as a fuel for potential fires should they break out. A simple source of ignition, for example a discarded cigarette, can set this alight resulting in a fire that burns rapidly.
Avoiding storing rubbish on-site is the best solution, or if this isn’t possible make sure it is in a designated area away from main buildings and any possible sources of ignition.
Flammable Liquids and Vapours
Workplaces particularly at risk may include industrial warehouses and factories, where large amounts of flammable liquids may be stored. Flammable liquids are at risk of igniting instantly when they come into contact with a spark or naked flame. Vapours are also equally dangerous as they risk exploding with devastating consequences.
To reduce the risk of a fire from liquids or vapours, always ensure that containers of flammable liquids and solvents are properly sealed, and in the event of any spillage, they are cleaned up immediately.
Dust and powder build up from wood, plastic and metal operations can cause explosions in enclosed spaces if there is no proper ventilation. Where there is a risk of dust in the air, for example in factories, extraction fans should be installed. Equipment and machinery that heats up when used should also be kept clean and free of grease and dust.
Blocked Fire Exits
Ensure all fire exits are free from clutter and easily accessible. Blockages or obstructions prevent safe and speedy escape if a fire breaks out, posing a major hazard as it endangers lives.
Fire Doors Left Open
The purpose of a fire door is to prevent the further spread of fire throughout a building. Often, fire doors are propped open which renders the door useless in the event of a fire.
Objects that Generate Heat
As one of the three elements required to start a fire, heat generated from electrical equipment and machinery can pose a real threat. Ensure combustible materials such as paper are kept away from such heat sources and unplug any equipment that is not being used if possible. Electrical equipment or machinery should never be left on overnight unless absolutely necessary.
Faulty Electrical Equipment
Fires caused by faulty electrical equipment are one of the most common fire types in the workplace. Keep an eye out for any signs of loose cabling or damaged plugs and replace any faulty equipment. All electrical equipment should be regularly checked and PAT tested by an expert.
Untested Fire Alarms
Having a fire alarm system installed is great, but is no use whatsoever if they don’t work or the batteries have run out. Having a maintenance schedule and contract in place for your fire alarm system will ensure it works when you need it most.
Overloading Power Sockets
Whilst this is a common cause of electrical fires, it is one that is easily avoided too. Too many appliances plugged into the same socket or using faulty extension leads can result in overheating and potentially a fire. Using one plug in each socket and not using appliances that total more than 13amps or 3000 watts across the whole socket can lessen the fire risk from power sockets.
If not put out and disposed of properly, discarded cigarettes can very easily cause fires. If smoking is allowed to take place near areas where flammable materials are present, it is particularly hazardous. Designated smoking areas should be allocated away from main buildings and flammables. Encouraging staff to make sure their cigarettes are properly put out and using specially provided bins helps to minimise risk.
Human Error and Negligence
One of the most common causes of fires in the workplace is simply human error. Negligence through such things as improper use of equipment, accidents, spilling drinks over electrical equipment and leaving cooking unattended are just some of the simple ways fires can start.
Although human error can’t be removed entirely, ensuring staff are properly trained in fire safety can reduce the risk.
If the worst does happen and a fire starts, having the correct fire-fighting equipment on site such as fire extinguishers is vital. However you should make sure that all staff are trained to use the correct type of fire extinguisher as incorrect usage can be dangerous. Installing P50 fire extinguishers across your site can help minimise this risk.
Why not download our free 50 Essential Fire Safety Checks booklet to see if you’re compliant with fire safety legislation? Created by a team of fire safety specialists,the free guide is packed with great advice and practical guidance.