As with all other areas of health and safety in the workplace, a thorough risk assessment of potential fire hazards should be carried out prior to devising and implementing a fire safety strategy. The important things you need to decide is whether a hazard is significant and whether you have covered it by taking satisfactory precautions so that the risk is acceptably low.
Risk Assessment for Fire Safety at Work
For fire Risk Assessments 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 (e.g. employees, visitors) in the event of a fire or while trying to escape from it and note their location.
3. Evaluate the risks arising from the hazards and decide whether your existing fire precautions are adequate or whether more should be done to eliminate the hazard and control the risks.
- Control of ignition sources/sources of fuel
- Fire detection/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 and details of the action you took as a result and discuss these with your employees.
- Prepare emergency plan
- Inform, instruct and train employees in fire precautions
5. Keep the assessment under review and revise it when necessary.
- Revise if the situation changes
Evacuation of Work Premises in the Event of Fire
If there is a fire, the main priority is to ensure that everybody can reach a safe place quickly. Putting the fire out is absolutely secondary to this because the greatest danger from fire in the workplace is the spread of the fire and the heat and smoke caused by it. If a workplace does not have adequate means of detecting and giving warning or means of escape, a fire can trap people or they may be overcome by the heat and the smoke before they can evacuate.
You need to give particular attention to any areas, particularly unattended ones where there could be a delay in detecting the outbreak of fire and any areas where the warnings may go unnoticed by people who may not be able to react quickly.
For a fire to occur there has to be three elements – ignition, fuel and oxygen.
It is possible to take precautions and preventative steps to reduce the likelihood of fire in the workplace as follows:
Reducing Sources of Ignition
- Removing unnecessary 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
- Ensuring that all electrical fuses and circuit breakers are of the correct rating and suitable for the purpose
- Ensuring that sources of heat do not arise from faulty or overloaded electrical or mechanical equipment
- Keeping ducts and flues clean
- Prohibit Smoking Entirely
- Ensuring that all equipment that could provide a source of ignition is left in a safe condition, even when not in use
- Taking precautions 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
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 an effective means of detecting any outbreak of fire and for warning people quickly enough so that they can escape to a safe place before the fire can make any escape routes unusable.
- 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?
- Are 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, e.g. 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 correct fire extinguisher for its purpose, for example) and employees should be trained in how to use it. There should also be no doubt as to when it is time to evacuate the building should the fire get out of control.
Maintenance and Testing
It is imperative to keep the fire safety measures and equipment in the workplace in effective working order and to carry out regular checks and to practice your evacuation procedures routinely.
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 occurring. All employees from day one should have an understanding of what is expected of them should a fire break out. Carelessness and neglect are two of the most common reasons cited 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”.
Last Updated on 25 May 2021