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Fire Safety at Work

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As a business, ensuring that your employees are able to work in a safe environment is paramount. A staggering number of injuries are caused by fires at work. The government’s communities website shows some startling statistics. There were 19 fire related workplace fatalities in between 2010 and 2011 and a total of 1,200 people injured due to fires at work. Each incident is a reminder of the obligation of businesses to limit the likelihood of a fire starting in the workplace. The law is very clear on the steps you must take to protect your employees from the risk of fire. Fire Safety At WorkBusinesses are governed by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. These regulations are in place to prevent injuries and the tragic loss of life in the workplace. They state that you must take certain steps to make sure that you have taken fire safety precautions and that they are up-to-date. This order applies to premises in England and Wales. For Scotland, it’s slightly different. You can find out about the regulations in more detail at www.hse.gov.uk.

Fire Risk Assessment

Step 1 – Identify fire hazards in your building

The first step is to identify anything that could be a fire hazard. Remember, a fire needs three things – a source of ignition, fuel and oxygen. The ignition could come from any sort of flame, for example smoking, pilot lights, welding equipment, cookers and gas or oil heaters. Or the fire could be ignited by work processes that cause friction, hot surfaces, or sparks created by static electricity or metal impact. Next, the fire needs fuel. Anything that burns can fuel the fire. This includes solvents, gases and textiles. The oxygen needed to sustain the fire can, of course, be present in the air but there may also be oxygen present in gas cylinders or pipes.

Step 2 – Identify those at risk

The second step is to assess who would be at risk in the event of a fire. When you’re assessing the workplace, imagine: if a fire broke out, who would be around? Who works in that area? Do they have a means of escape in an emergency? Remember that it may not just be workers at risk from fire but also visitors and contractors. Is the escape route accessible at all times? Consider if people could become trapped, or how you will alert people that there’s a fire. You’ll need a reliable fire detection and alarm system in place.

Step 3 – Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect from risk

Next, you’ll need to evaluate the risks of fire, taking in to account steps one and two, where you assessed the source of ignition and who might be affected. You should already have a robust fire policy and procedures in place to mitigate the risk of fire. If there is the possibility that a fire could start then your fire safety plan will need to be revised.

Step 4 – Record, train, instruct, inform and retrain

Finally, make a note of the steps you’ve taken. Make any necessary changes and document these too. Now you’re ready to begin an emergency plan in the case of a fire. You must communicate all of your steps with your employees. In a larger firm, you may wish to designate fire officers who will work in specific locations and ensure that your fire safety procedures are carried out, so that employees can escape safely in a fire.

Step 5 – Review

This step is reviewing your fire safety procedures. You must re-evaluate your fire safety plan regularly. You should bearing in mind that your workplace is a changing environment and different risks may pose themselves at different times. You may want to amend your fire safety procedures in line with those changes. Note: You might also be interested in the following article – Five Steps to Fire Risk Assessment.

What Else Can You Do to Prevent a Fire at Work?

There are many ways that you can limit the risk of a fire starting at work. Or if a fire does occur, then you can take steps to ensure that the fire is contained.

Reduce the Source of Ignition

You can limit the risk of a fire starting in a number of ways. If you use equipment that could spark or be a source of ignition, then make sure that it’s used by trained employees and is stored safely when not in use. Keep the area clean and free from debris, including flues and ducts. Make sure that all equipment is checked and up-to-date. Faulty electrical equipment can also ignite a fire. Try to remove sources of heat, or keep them to an acceptable level. You should also try to eliminate heaters with open flames and install central heating or convector systems. It’s worth noting that arson is another way in which a fire could start – so you must try to limit the risk of arson occurring at your workplace too.

Don’t Fuel the Flames

Make sure that flammable materials are reduced as much as possible, or replaced with less flammable materials. Ensure that employees are properly trained in the handling of flammable materials and that they are transported and stored safely.

Cut off the Source of Oxygen

If they’re not in use for ventilation, keep windows closed. Don’t store any oxidising materials nearby and shut down ventilating systems whenever possible.

Fight Fire with Fire Equipment

Make sure that your workplace is equipped with all the necessary tools for fighting fire. You’ll need equipment such as alarm systems and fire detectors in case of fire. Newer buildings should comply with fire safety regulations, such as fire doors. If a fire does start, you should have tools such as fire extinguishers and blankets on hand for employees to use. The extinguishers should be suitable to put out the type of fire that has started. Your risk assessment should be an indicator of what type of fire it could be. You should ensure that your employees are trained to use the equipment. Inductions for new employees should include your evacuation procedures and fire safety policy. Your fire safety policy should be clearly communicated with each and every employee. Signage should be clearly in place so that visitors are aware of evacuation procedures and fire safety policies such as no-smoking. You want your place of work to be the type of environment where everybody conducts themselves in a responsible way, taking ownership by alerting others of potential fire risks or other health and safety risks.

What If There Is a Fire?

If there is a fire, the priority is to make sure that all personnel can escape safely. This should take precedence over trying to put out the fire. The safety of people within the premises is the most important thing. If a fire does start, it’s vital that everybody knows what to do and where to go. You should have established this procedure with your employees beforehand, with regular fire drills. The building should be fitted with floor plans and evacuation routes so that people can leave as quickly as possible. There should be designated personnel in place to ensure that the building has been cleared successfully. Employees should report to the designated person at a safe distance from the building. If anybody is missing, they should be identified and the position of their last location noted. Employees should remain there until they are informed that it is safe to leave.

What Are My Responsibilities?

The ‘responsible person’ is the employer, occupier, owner, or somebody who is in charge of any part of a premises. This person is responsible for complying with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order October 2005. According to the Order, you must comply with different fire duties. These include: 1. Designating fire safety duties to a competent person or persons, depending on the size of the company. 2. Nominate people to carry out certain duties in the event of a fire. 3. Communicate with your employees about any fire risks to themselves and the measures you’ve taken to protect them. 4. Inform non-permanent members of the workforce about the fire safety procedures you have in place. This includes people like temporary workers or contractors. 5. Keep your premises in good condition with regular maintenance. This extends particularly to fire fighting equipment, emergency exits and routes and fire alarm systems. 6. All employees must work together to keep the premises safe. They should be aware of fire hazards and know how to raise the alarm in the event of a fire. 7. You must ensure that there is a suitable means of alerting the emergency services in place. When you ring for the fire service, you should be able to tell them about any relevant substances that will help them to put out the fire. It’s important to read up on the fire safety regulations and to be aware of the risks of fire in the workplace, as well as your responsibilities. If you would like to receive additional expert advice or get your site surveyed, feel free to contact us. Photo credit: dhunfini via photopin cc
  1 COMMENT
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  • Written by: Ken

    A great overview of fire compliance in the workplace. It’s important that fire safety is addressed in the workforce beyond a weekly fire alarm test.

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