Business risk management: fire safety
Fire risk assessment
Ensure that you have had a fire risk assessment of your workplace(s) completed by, or with the help of, a competent person and that this has been recorded.
By this assessment you will need to have identified those measures needed to reduce the risk of death and injury to your employees and other persons on the premises; in particular persons with disabilities, the young, elderly, infirm or other vulnerable groups.
There are a few exceptions, but generally most employers, amongst others, have a legal obligation to do this, so make sure that you are aware of, and comply with, where applicable, the fire safety legislation applicable to the country that your premises are located in e.g. Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order for England and Wales, Fire (Scotland) Act and the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 for Scotland, etc.
External storage and the arson risk
It is believed that at least half of all fires in commercial premises are caused by children, vandals or malicious persons. Waste bins, skips, pallets, crates, and similar combustible goods left outside are particularly prone to Ignition. If close to the building when lit a fire can quickly spread inside.
Where possible do not leave combustible goods outside your buildings particularly when they are unattended. Where external storage cannot be avoided consider whether you can store the items within a locked metal container or change an open skip to an enclosed lockable one. Secure mobile waste bins away from the building where possible or at the very least make sure that you only use bins with lockable lids, and lock them at least whenever your premises are unattended.
Electrical installation and appliance testing
Reduce the risk of fire and electrocution by ensuring that the electrical installations at your premises are regularly inspected and tested, by a competent electrician in accordance with BS7671: Requirements for Electrical Installations. The frequency with which this needsto be done will depend upon what the buildings are used for and the present condition of the installations.
General advice can be obtained from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) via their web-site at www.hse.gov.uk and the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) Tel: 020 7564 2323 or on the internet at www.niceic.com
You will also need to ensure that portable mains operated electrical appliances, including extension leads, are periodically inspected and tested, by a suitably trained competent person, to make sure that they are safe to use.
Employers have a duty under the Electricity at Work Regulationsto make sure they are providing an electrically safe workplace for their employees. You should keep detailed records of inspections and tests which have been carried out.
Smoking is now illegal in most buildings which are workplaces or to which the public have access. The regulations are extensive and vary between the countries of the U.K. There are offences for which you can be fined or prosecuted, and some of these relate to persons who control or manage premises.
Make sure that you are familiar with the regulations which apply to the country that your premises are in. Check that you have provided the necessary signs at all entrances, and elsewhere if required; also that any smoking shelters outside are sufficiently open sided that they are legal.
Smoking shelters should be located away from buildings and hazardous areas. They should be included in your fire safety risk assessment. As a rough rule of thumb, the more combustible their construction, the further away they need to be. Ideally smoking in all yards and compounds should be banned and warning signs displayed to that effect, however there are some places outside where smoking should not be permitted e.g. on petrol filling station forecourts, LPG gas and highly flammable liquid, waste and/or combustibles storage areas etc.
Train your employees so that they are aware of the smoking ban regulations and what to do if confronted with persons who are smoking within the premises, particularly if they refuse to stop. Keep signed records of the training provided. Where the regulations permit you to designate that a room is not “smoke-free” e.g. a certain guest bedroom in a hotel, make sure that ashtrays in that room are emptied daily into a suitable lidded metal container for removal from the premises, and not mixed in with other rubbish.
In order to minimise the risk of fire, it is important to ensure that any heating appliances are of a safe and suitable type for the building and the environment in which they are used (particularly if it is a hazardous one), also that they are in good order.
Ensure that heating appliances have been installed, serviced and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and Building Regulations.
Give careful consideration, by means of a risk assessment, to where heating appliances, and any associated fuel oil or LPG gas tanks and pipes, are to be located – in this regard , don’t forget to take into account the risk of vandalism or theft as well other hazards such as fire, explosion, fuel leakage, etc. In particular, where there is a risk of impact by vehicles, make sure that suitable substantial high visibility protection is provided, especially to tanks, cylinders and associated pipes.
The location of LPG gas appliances below ground level is not recommended.
Where possible the use of portable or mobile heating appliances should be avoided. Where this is not possible, and they are used, make sure that your insurance broker or insurance advisor is aware of the fact, as this could affect your insurance cover.
Electrical fork lift truck battery charging units
When lead/acid batteries are being recharged there can be a risk of fire and explosion, particularly when a battery is overcharged. This is when hydrogen gas is released during the charging process. Whichever types of lead/acid batteries you recharge, precautions are necessary. In deciding what these should be, one of the first steps needs to be the completion of a risk assessment, following the HSE’s guidance in their suite of Approved Codes of Practice for the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR). Following this guidance should ensure that vital aspects such as control of ignition sources and ventilation, in areas where battery charging is carried out, are appropriate. Ideally you should avoid charging batteries when your premises are unattended.
Basic housekeeping measures are also important, such as keeping combustibles away from charger units, in case they malfunction and catch fire. Don’t allow storage on top of, or against chargers. Protect chargers from vehicle impact, where this is possible. The free HSE leaflet “Using electric storage batteries safely”(INDG139) gives further advice.
Waste materials and housekeeping
If you allow your premises to become dirty and untidy the risk of fire and injury to your employees, and others, may be significantly increased. Ensure that you have arranged a safe method for collecting, handling and removing waste materials as frequently as is necessary to maintain a clean and tidy premises.
No waste materials should be allowed to remain on the floor or other flat surfaces beyond the end of the working day.
Fires in the kitchens of commercial premises are very common. If you have a kitchen within your premises and it is used regularly for cooking, and in particularly deep fat frying, then there is a significant risk of fire.
You can reduce the risk by making sure that the equipment is in good condition and serviced in accordance with the manufacturers instructions, also by ensuring that items such as cooker hoods, grease traps and filters are cleaned weekly and the associated ductwork and fans cleaned at least once every six months by a specialist contractor.
Select cooking equipment which have safety devices incorporated which will reduce the risk e.g. back-up thermostat or overriding thermal cut off switch. Make sure that there is a safe accessible place in which the electrical and gas supply to the kitchen can be turned off in the event of a fire and that staff know where this is. Fire fighting equipment should, at least, include a fire blanket and suitable fire extinguishers, including one suitable for Class F (Cooking Oil & Fat Fires) where you have a deep fat fryer. Depending upon the size of the kitchen and the nature of your business you may also wish to consider providing further fire protection in the form of a suitable automatic fire extinguishing system such as one approved under the Loss Prevention Certification Board LPS 1223 scheme.
Rags and wipes
If your business has a workshop area where dirty rags or wipes are used then ensure that suitable metal lidded bins are provided in which they can be placed until safely disposed of or until removed for cleaning. Don’t allow cardboard or wooden boxes, sacks or bags etc to be used for this purpose.
Highly Flammable Liquids
Where flammable and highly flammable liquids are used, transported or stored, as part of your business, your health and safety risk assessments should already have looked at the various hazards and risks which such liquids present. Where reasonably practicable, you should seek to find suitable safer practical alternatives.
For the fire and explosion hazard, ensure that you understand, and comply with, the requirements of the Dangerous Substances & Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR).
With a few exceptions DSEAR applies to workplaces where there is the use or storage of any dangerous goods, i.e. substances which are explosive, oxidising, extremely flammable, highly flammable or flammable; dusts which can, in air, form an explosive atmosphere; or any other substances which are a similar fire or explosion risk.
Where the use of such dangerous substances cannot be avoided, the aim should be to keep the risk of fire and explosion, from them, “as low as reasonably practicable”.
A DSEAR risk assessment can be a complicated technical matter so needs to be undertaken by a person who is competent for what is involved. The regulations set out what aspects the risk assessment has to take into account. U
sing the ACoPs as guidance, ensure that you provide a safe and suitable place in which these liquids are stored when not in use. Make sure that your employees only remove from the bulk store those quantities which they need for the task in hand and that they have safe containers for these. A suitable marked metal cabinet should be provided in the work place and such liquids placed in it when not in use and at close of business. Aim not to exceed a total of 50 litres within such a cabinet and workplace.
Where areas within a workplace are identified which may have (even for short periods) an explosive atmosphere, then these must be allocated a “zone” in accordance with DSEAR. The zones reflect the frequency and duration of the explosive atmosphere. Entry points into “zoned” areas have to be marked with EX signs of a type described in Schedule 4 of DSEAR.
DSEAR includes some other specific requirements which you will need to comply with. These include a requirement that “equipment”, including electrical equipment, must be of a suitable type for the zone involved and that risk reduction control and mitigation measures are applied in the priority order set out in DSEAR.
Where an area may have an explosive atmosphere for the first time i.e. a new building or due to a change of process or equipment within an existing building, then before it is used it must first be confirmed as being safe by a person competent in the field of explosion protection for your trade. This is referred to as the “verification process”.
Ensure that employees who may use or handle flammable or highly flammable liquids are adequately trained. Make sure that employees working in “zoned” areas are issued with “appropriate work clothing” which does not give rise to electrostatic discharges” (DSEAR Regulation 7(5)).
Fire alarm systems
An important part of your fire risk assessment isthe consideration of what provision, if any, has been made to detect the outbreak of a fire and to warn people within the building quickly enough to allow them to escape to a place ofsafety i.e. before the escape routes become unsafe to use.
For most buildings, a fire alarm system would be the way in which this is achieved. Under BS 5839: Part 1: 2002 there are a number of ways (design “Categories”) in which, under either the L(ife)safety route or P(roperty) protection route a fire alarm can be designed and installed. Each of these categories differ in where the devices, which make up the system, are located.
One of the choices, associated with deciding upon a category, will determine whether a M(anual)system is installed i.e. one in which the alarm’s local warning devices are activated only by someone operating a manual call point (“break-glass”) or whether it also has automatic fire detection devices, and where these are located. Usually a combination of M & L/P systems is fitted.
The decision, on which category your fire alarm will conform to, needs to reflect the precautions needed to assure life safety, means of escape from fire, and legal obligations.
A fire alarm system may, of course, also be required under Building Regulations, or by an enforcing authority, because of a particular statute or regulation, or sometimes as a condition of insurance. Apart from life safety purposes, they can, if properly designed and equipped, also be useful for asset and business protection. A fire alarm which has automatic detection can be at its most effective when it also sends an alarm signal to a 24 hour manned alarm monitoring centre.
If your fire alarm includes smoke or heat detectors but only provides a warning within your building, your fire alarm maintenance company should be able to advise whether the existing control equipment is suitable for remote alarm signalling. The signalling equipment should be a constantly monitored type e.g. BT Redcare Fire GSM dual path signalling version.
The installation and maintenance companies as well as the alarm monitoring centre, that you intend to use, all need to be acceptable to your local fire and rescue service. Normally this will mean firms who are approved by an UKAS accredited third party inspectorate or certification body who have the CFOA Policy within their scope of accreditation.
For alarm monitoring centres this will usually mean a centre which conforms to BS5979. Fire and rescue services will often publish their policy details on their website.
Fire Fighting Equipment
There are a number of elements to ensuring that the fire safety standards in your premises make them safe for your employees and other persons to use.
We have already mentioned one i.e. a fire risk assessment (FRA). Another ist he provision of suitable means for fighting a fire.
Quite what this should comprise is something to be determined by your FRA. Basic fire fighting equipment includes different types of fire extinguishers.
For the latter you should ensure that all of your fire extinguishers are covered by an annual inspection and service contract with a competent firm, e.g. an LPCB-approved or BAFE-registered one who works under BAFE scheme SP101.
You might ask “If employees are not expected to risk death or injury by fighting a fire with an extinguisher, why provide them at all”?
Sometimes a fire will occur that is detected before it has a chance to grow. At this very early stage it may be possible for a trained person to extinguish the fire.
More importantly, although your fire risk assessment should have ensured that the premises have adequate safe means of escape, there is always a risk that an employee or other person will be trapped by a fire. An adequate number of suitable maintained fire extinguishers are therefore also needed as an emergency aid to escape.
Note: In most cases, other types of fire safety equipment will, of course, be needed as well, e.g. fire alarm, emergency lighting etc.
Depending on the nature of the goods or materials on fire, there may be a choice of extinguishing method and types of fire extinguisher that may be used, so your FRA should have identified the numbers, types and sizes of fire extinguisher needed for the fire risks inherent in your premises, where they need to be located, and covered other relevant matters such as ensuring employee training, extinguisher service and maintenance etc.
This article originally appeared on Allianz.