A risk assessment of fire hazards should be carried out before designing and implementing a strategy for fire safety in the workplace. You need to decide if a hazard is significant and if you have put in place the right measures so that the risk is acceptably low. In our guide to fire safety at work, we’ll look at how to perform a risk assessment and implement fire safety measures.
Following a simple process to look at the potential hazards can prevent avoidable accidents in the workplace. This will keep staff and any customers safe, and ensure the employers duty of care is carried out.
Risk Assessment for Fire Safety at Work
For Risk Assessments looking at fire hazards in the workplace there are 5 steps to take:
1. Identify Potential Fire Hazards in the Workplace
- Sources of ignition.
- Sources of fuel.
- Work processes.
2. Decide Who Might be in Danger
For example, you would look at risks posed to employees and any visitors in the event of a fire. You also need to assess the risks that might arise while trying to escape from a fire, and note their location.
3. Evaluate Risks Posed by the Hazards
You should then decide whether your existing fire precautions are adequate, or if more should be done to remove the hazard and control the risks.
Fire risks to consider include:-
- Control of ignition sources or sources of fuel.
- Fire detection and warning.
- Means of escape.
- Means of fighting fire.
- Maintenance and testing of fire precautions.
- Fire safety training of employees.
- Carry out any improvements needed.
4. Record your findings
You should include details of the action you took as a result of your fire risk asessment and discuss these with your employees.
You should then:-
- Prepare an emergency fire plan.
- Inform, instruct and train employees in fire precautions.
5. Regularly Review Fire Risks at Work
Keep the fire assessment and plan under review and revise it when necessary. Set regular dates to review previous findings and revise if the situation changes
How to Plan a Workplace Fire Evacuation
If there is a fire, the main priority is to ensure that the workplace can be evacuated quickly.
Putting the fire out is a secondary consideration. This is because the greatest danger from fire in the workplace is the spread of the fire and the heat and smoke caused by it. A workplace needs to have means of detecting fire, sounding the alarm, and allowing escape. A fire can trap people or they may be overcome by the heat and smoke before they can escape.
It’s important to look at any areas, particularly unattended ones, where there could be a delay in detecting the outbreak of fire. Any areas of the workplace where fire alarms could go unnoticed by employees should also be looked at.
Reducing Risks of Fire in The Workplace
For a fire to occur there has to be three elements – ignition, fuel and oxygen.
It is important to take precautions to reduce the risk of fire in the workplace as follows:
Reducing Sources of Ignition
- Removing sources of heat from the workplace, or replacing them with safer alternatives.
- Replacing naked flame and radiant heaters with fixed convector heaters or a central heating system.
- Making sure that all electrical fuses and circuit breakers are of the correct rating and fit for purpose.
- Making sure that sources of heat do not arise from faulty or overloaded electrical or mechanical equipment.
- Keeping ducts and flues clean
- Banning Smoking.
- Making sure that all equipment that could provide a source of ignition is left in a safe condition, even when not in use.
- Taking steps to reduce the risk of arson.
Minimising the Potential Fuel for a Fire
- Removing flammable materials and substances or reducing them to the minimum required for the operation of the business.
- Replacing materials and substances with less flammable materials.
- Ensuring flammable materials are handled, transported, stored and used properly.
- Ensuring adequate separation distances between flammable materials.
- Storing highly flammable materials in fire resistant stores and containers, called flammable cabinets.
Reducing Sources of Oxygen
- Closing doors, windows and other openings not required for ventilation, particularly out of working hours.
- Shutting down ventilation systems which are not essential to the running of the workplace.
- Not storing oxidising materials near or with any heat source or flammable materials.
Fire Detection and Warning in the Workplace
You need to have a system for detecting any outbreak of fire and for warning people quickly so that they can escape to a safe place before the fire can make any escape routes unusable.
Fire Safety Checklist
- Is the length of time it will take to evacuate all people to a place of safety adequate?
- Are there enough exits and are they all in the right place?
- Make sure the exits suitable for all people, wheelchair users for example?
- Are all escape routes easily identifiable, accessible and adequately illuminated
- If the fire detection and warning system is electrically powered, does it need a back up supply?
- Have you trained your staff in using the means of escape?
- Do you have a meeting point once you have evacuated to account for all members of staff?
Means of Fighting Fire
You need to have enough fire fighting equipment, such as fire extinguishers, in place for your employees to use in fighting a fire in its earliest stages.
The equipment must be suitable to the risks. The right fire extinguisher for the type of fire that may break out in a particular area should be provided.
For example, there should be an electrical fire extinguisher near electrical cupboards. Employees should be trained in how to use all fire equipment. There should also be no doubt as to when it is time to evacuate the building should the fire get out of control.
Fire Equipment Maintenance and Testing
It is important to keep the fire safety measures and equipment in the workplace in good working order and to carry out regular checks. Regular workplace fire drills should be done.
Reducing Fire Risks Through Good Management
It is important to have a fire safety policy for the workplace which promotes good housekeeping and reduces the possibility of a fire breaking out. All employees from day one should have an understanding of what is expected of them in event of fire. Lack of care and neglect are two of the most common reasons for outbreaks of fire in the workplace and no employer or employee should ever be complacent enough to think “it won’t happen to us”.