How to prevent a fire in the workplace

All workplaces are at risk of fire. It’s just that in some workplaces this risk is more obvious (and usually higher) than in others. This means that all businesses need to take the risk of fire seriously and take active measures to minimize it. Here, Peter Watson, Director of Watson and Watson Health and Safety Consultants shares his insight into the power of fire risk assessments to prevent a fire at work.

Undertake scheduled risk assessments

Risk assessments are the foundation of all health and safety measures. They need to be conducted regularly so that businesses are quickly alerted to any changes which could impact their results. In the context of fire prevention, here are some key points to check.

  • Is the building clean and tidy?
  • Are the fire doors kept closed?
  • Are materials stored appropriately (especially combustible ones)
  • What is your waste-disposal procedure?
  • Are your electrics in good order?
  • Have appliances been PAT tested?
  • Do you have suitable alarms and are they working?

These risk assessments should be scheduled (to make sure they happen) but not announced. The basic idea is to see what is actually happening on an ordinary day. Undertaking a risk assessment when people are “on their best behaviour” may give you a misleading impression of your fire safety and this can be very dangerous.

Work with your employees

Legally, you need to train all your employees how to evacuate the building safely in the event of a fire. Depending on your business, you may need to train at least some of your employees to evacuate members of the public as well. You also need a suitable number of trained fire marshals. The fire marshals will take overall responsibility for the safe evacuation of the building.

If your workplace is classed as low risk, you need one fire marshal per 50 people. If it’s medium-risk you need one fire marshal per 20 people. If it’s high risk, you need one fire marshal per 15 people. Regardless of the risk level, you are required to have a minimum of two fire marshals. It’s strongly preferable to have more so you can be sure to have cover for absences (including unplanned ones).

In addition to providing mandatory training, ask your employees to give you honest feedback on your fire prevention measures. Listen to what they say. In the real world, it’s generally better to work with human nature than to try to fight it. For example, if employees tell you they want to charge their gadgets at work then consider providing approved chargers or making it easy for them to get their own PAT tested.

Similarly, accept the fact that some of your employees are going to want a place to smoke. There are legal restrictions on this but try to do your best within them. For example, one common issue in workplaces is people smoking where they shouldn’t. This is often because these locations are more sheltered than the designated ones so try providing some element of shelter in your smoking area.

Keep your defences strong

No matter how much fire-proofing and training you do, you are still at risk of a fire. This means that you need suitable defences to protect your employees (and other people) from it. Firstly, you need to make sure that the alarm is raised as quickly as possible. That means investing in smoke and fire alarms and making sure that they’re always working.

Secondly, you need to make sure that people can always exit the building in the event of a fire. As a minimum, that means ensuring walkways are clear, relevant signs can be seen (through smoke) and fire doors work properly. Thirdly, you need to have measures in place to control the fire if possible. You may be able to deal with small fires yourself. You may also need to contain a bigger fire temporarily so that people have time to evacuate.

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About the Author: Peter Watson

Peter Watson, Director at Watson & Watson Health and Safety Consultants. Watson & Watson are experienced health and safety consultants, providing health, safety and risk management solutions throughout the UK.