What are the Fire Hazards in the Workplace?
A fire in the workplace presents huge risks to property and the health of your employees and the public. It can physically damage or destroy buildings, contents and equipment.
It can also be responsible for serious injuries and even death. Common injuries include burns, respiratory damage from smoke inhalation, oxygen depletion and trauma (such as broken bones) from escape attempts.
Common sources of fires at work
Fires need three things to start: a source of ignition (heat), a source of fuel (something that burns) and oxygen.
- Sources of ignition include heaters, lighting, naked flames, electrical equipment, smokers’ materials (cigarettes, matches, etc.), and anything else that can get very hot or cause sparks.
- Sources of fuel include wood, paper, plastic, rubber, foam, loose packaging materials, waste and furniture.
- Air is the primary source of oxygen. Other sources include chemicals that contain oxidizing agents, and oxygen supplies from cylinder storage and piped systems.
How to Prevent Fires in the Workplace?
Employers (and building owners) should carry out a fire safety risk assessment and keep it up to date. This can be carried out either as part of an overall risk assessment or as a separate exercise.
Based on the findings of the assessment, employers should make sure that adequate and appropriate fire safety measures are in place to minimize the risk of injury or loss of life in the event of a fire.
To help prevent fire in the workplace, your risk assessment should identify what could cause a fire to start—that is, sources of ignition and substances that burn—and the people who may be at risk. Your risk assessment should also identify dangerous substances that can result in fires or explosions.
What to do to prevent fires at work
Once you have identified the risks, you can take appropriate action to control them. Consider whether you can avoid them altogether or, if this is not possible, how you can reduce the risks and manage them. Also consider how you will protect people if there is a fire.
- Carry out a fire safety risk assessment.
- Keep sources of ignition and flammable substances apart.
- Avoid accidental fires. For example, make sure heaters cannot be knocked over.
- Ensure good housekeeping at all times, such as avoiding build-up of rubbish that could burn.
- Determine how you can detect fires and warn people quickly if they start, such as by installing smoke alarms and fire alarms or bells.
- Have the correct equipment for putting a fire out quickly.
- Keep fire exits and escape routes clearly marked and unobstructed at all times.
- Ensure your workers receive appropriate training on procedures they need to follow, including fire drills.
- Review and update your risk assessment regularly.
The Importance of Fire Safety Plans
Fires are a serious risk for businesses of all types and can stem from things like negligent cooking, improperly discarded smoking materials and faulty electrical equipment. One of the best ways employers can protect their organization from costly and devastating fires is by establishing a fire safety plan.
A fire safety plan is a detailed document that covers all aspects of fire safety for a specific building or property. An effective plan will include the following:
- Specific maintenance and housekeeping requirements used to prevent fires
- Methods for minimizing the damage caused by fires when they occur
- Details regarding emergency procedures, including how to sound the alarm, notify the fire department and evacuate all employees
- Specifics on how fire drills are conducted and how often
- Actions related to fire hazard prevention and control
- Information regarding employee training on fire hazards and prevention
- Detailed maintenance procedures for fire protection systems
Fire safety plans should match the unique risks of an organization. Conducting a regular audit of your facilities can help you build a plan that’s right for your company.
Items to examine in this audit include site layout, points of entry and exit, roadways, use of the building, where and how items are stored, and alarm and sprinkler systems.
In addition to using a fire safety plan, organizations can reduce their risk by highlighting fire safety during safety meetings and utilizing informational resources like a fire prevention checklist.
Case Study: Fire Safety in the Workplace
A shopkeeper regularly put packing waste by the back door of his store as he stocked the shelves after a delivery. His workers sometimes opened the back door to have a cigarette break outside.
One week he left the pile of garbage for several days, and a discarded cigarette butt caused it to catch fire. By the time the fire was spotted and put out, it had caused substantial damage to the shopkeeper’s back door and shelving units. There was a significant cost in damaged stock and repairs.
How to Prevent the Fire
This fire could have been easily prevented if the shopkeeper had completed his risk assessment and taken simple steps to control the risks.
Contact your commercial property insurance broker for more details about how the risk of fire in the workplace can be costly.