Fire Hazards – Potential Sources of Ignition, Fuel & Heat in the Workplace

To put together an effective workplace fire risk assessment, it is essential to understand workplace risks and fire hazards.

Every workplace has possible fire risks and these should be identified and regularly reviewed. Anything that has the potential to cause a fire should be noted as a potential fire hazard.

In each workplace, there should be staff who are trained in fire safety. The presence of fire wardens is a legal requirement for every workplace. The role also involves identifying potential sources of ignition, fuel, and heat.

The Fire Triangle

The fire triangle can also be called the combustion triangle. The term refers to the three components required to ignite and fuel a fire.

A fire needs 3 elements to ignite. These are; heat, fuel, and oxygen. If one of these components is missing, a fire cannot be ignited. All 3 work simultaneously to ignite and spread a fire.

To stop a fire, one or more elements of the triangle need to be extinguished. Much of the time, it is the oxygen that is suppressed using an appropriate fire extinguisher.

What are the 5 Most Common Workplace Fire Hazards?

It is vital to be able to effectively pinpoint workplace fire hazards. Not all fire hazards are glaringly obvious ones, either.

Being aware of the 5 most common workplace fire hazards is a good start.

1.      Electrical Equipment

In a world so reliant on electrical equipment and outlets, it’s not surprising this makes the top 5.

Technology is fantastic when it works but when it doesn’t, it has the potential to start a fire. This could be down to a faulty socket, a frayed cable, or an appliance overheating.

Anything electrical needs regular cleaning and ensuring the immediate area around is clutter-free.

2.      Combustible Materials

Combustible materials exist in every workplace and have the potential to cause a serious fire.

Included in the combustible list are materials such as cardboard, paper, fabrics, and packaging. The danger increases when such items are stacked in one area. Spreading the supplies out means minimising the fire risks.

Also, they must be disposed of appropriately. Incorrect waste management can create workplace fire hazards.

3.      Flammable Liquids

Some work environments need to have flammable liquids stored on site and these are serious fire risks.

Such items must be stored safely and well away from any potential ignition sources. Even cleaning equipment needs to be kept somewhere secure such where it cannot be knocked over and spilt. Many businesses use specialised flammable liquid storage cabinets to reduce their fire risk.

The correct fire extinguisher for flammable liquids should be located near the store.

4.      Smoking

Most workplaces enforce outdoor smoking, but accidents can still happen and fires can start around designated smoking areas.

Having cigarette bins with ashtray attachments can go some way in preventing cigarette fires. The work environment should have a designated smoking area and enforce this.

Many companies use sand buckets for cigarettes to be put out to reduce fire hazards.

5.      Cooking Equipment

Kitchen fires, in particular arising from cooking equipment, make the top 5 most common workplace fires.

Whether it’s human error or a faulty deep fat fryer, there are so many hazards in industrial kitchens. Chip pan fires make up the bulk of kitchen fires and it is essential to keep an extinguisher close by.

Keeping the kitchen area clutter free will help too.

Identifying Workplace Fire Hazards

To be fully prepared for the possibility of a fire in your work space, you need to be able to confidently identify every workplace fire hazard.

By doing this, you can be sure your environment is fully provisioned with all the fire safety measures possible. This includes blankets, fire extinguishers, and smoke alarms. It also helps create safe fire exit routes.

Potential Sources of Ignition

Heat is one of the elements of the fire triangle and it creates the ignition source of a fire.

There are many potential sources of ignition in the workplace and it is essential to be aware of them so you can act accordingly. This may mean moving them, where possible, or controlling them.

These include:

  • Electrical faults
  • Overheated appliances
  • Combustible materials
  • Radiated heat
  • Kitchen equipment
  • Fireplaces or heaters.
  • Electrical sparks
  • Overloaded socket points.
  • Boilers
  • Welding equipment
  • Friction

Potential Sources of Fuel

The second part of the fire triangle is fuel. They help ignite and keep the fire burning and gaining momentum.

Being aware of the fuels present in the workplace will help you choose the correct fire extinguisher type to deal with any fires. Using the wrong extinguisher on a fire can make the blaze much worse, creating a possible danger to life.

Potential sources of fuel in the workplace include:

  • Cardboard
  • Fabric
  • Plastics
  • Newspapers
  • Paper
  • Rubbish
  • Wood
  • Furniture
  • Building materials
  • Electrics
  • Paints
  • Chemicals
  • Oil
  • Petrol

Potential Sources of Oxygen

Oxygen is needed to complete the fire triangle and obviously, it is present everywhere.

However, there are measures that can be taken to reduce fire risk by minimising the possibility of oxygen being able to fuel a fire once it has started.

Oxygen supply can be increased by:-

  • Opening doors
  • Opening windows
  • Sources of natural ventilation.
  • Air Con units.
  • Oxygen cylinders

Oxygen can be a positive and negative in fire safety terms. In some situations, it is vital, such as when handling flammable liquids. Allowing good ventilation in fuel storage areas can prevent the build up of flammable vapours if there is a leak or spill.

Other times, oxygen can escalate a fire very quickly. For example, if a fire door has been propped open.

Understanding and assessing the risks in the work environment means proper fire safety measures can be taken.

How to Prevent Fire Hazards in the Workplace

To prevent fire hazards in the workplace, you need to understand all the potential fire risks.

This involves identifying them individually and using them to create a fire risk assessment. There are fire hazards in all work environments, however meticulous staff are. Keep in mind the three sources of fire and assess these individually and together. For example, are there sources close together that could be adjusted?

It is also important to regularly review your fire risk assessments. The working environment evolves constantly. New staff start and new areas are built – it is important to add any changes to the assessment.

New staff should have access to the risk assessment and should also be offered fire safety training.

Keeping the workplace tidy, with appropriate signs and storage all help to prevent fire risks. Making sure you have all the fire safety equipment you need for your environment is also essential.


Is friction a source of ignition?

Friction is a source of ignition. Friction involves two objects rubbing together which can generate heat.

Is paint a source of ignition?

Paint is a source of ignition. Paint contains many chemicals which are flammable and must be stored safely.

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