Evaluate fire risks
Generally, the risk of fire breaking out will be low if you have separated flammable material from sources of ignition.
In each section of your premises, try to identify if a fire could occur in any way (including potential arson attacks).
In your workplace, look at:
- The layout of your business:
- Your business housekeeping (e.g. escape routes not being blocked and flammable material in suitable fire-resistant containers).
- Properly arranged and managed storage areas (e.g. not using roof voids for storage and removing combustible packaging from the area).
- Storage, display and use of dangerous substances (e.g. ensuring you have the minimum required stock and that all flammable liquids are in a fire-resistant area).
- The management of equipment and machinery (e.g. ensuring ventilation isn't blocked and safety features aren't disabled).
- The existing layout and construction of the building (e.g. for false ceilings and voids containing gas or water pipes or electric cables).
- Hazards in corridors and stairways used as escape routes (e.g. if they're used to store combustible materials sources of ignition).
- Areas containing insulated core panels — normally consisting of a central insulated core sandwiched between an inner and outer metal skin, with no air gap. The external surface is normally coated with a PVC covering. This central core can be made of various insulating materials, ranging from virtually non-combustible through to highly combustible.
- Particular policies and operations:
- The safety of your electrical equipment (e.g. ensuring all electrical works and portable appliance testing is done by a competent electrician and combustible material is placed away from them).
- Smoking (e.g. ensuring it takes place in permitted areas only and employees are aware and comply with any smoking policy).
- Building work and alterations (e.g. ensuring that contractors have performed a risk assessment as required by the law and you frequently monitor the impact of the building work on the general fire safety precautions).
- Fire escape routes and current precautions.
For all the above consider:
- Likely incidents
- Unlikely or probable incidents
- Previous incidents
- Near misses in the past
- Anything relevant in the accident book
Evaluate risks to individuals
When evaluating the risk to individuals, you should consider the following (non-exhaustive) circumstances:
- Fires may start on a lower floor affecting the only escape route for people on upper floors or people with disabilities.
- Fires may develop in an unoccupied space that people have to pass by to escape from the building.
- Fires or smoke spreading through certain routes may affect people in remote parts of the building. These routes can include vertical shafts, service ducts, ventilation systems, and poorly installed, maintained or damaged walls, partitions and ceilings.
- Racked displays may be susceptible to the spread of rapid vertical fire.
- Fire and smoke may spread through a building because of poorly installed fire precautions (e.g. badly fitted fire doors).
- Fire and smoke may spread through the building because of poorly maintained or damaged fire doors, or because of fire doors being left open.
- Fire may start in a room containing hazardous materials.
- Fire may spread quickly through the building because of combustible structural elements and/or large quantities of combustible items.
Remove and reduce risk
After identifying the fire hazards, you must find ways to remove the risk. If this isn't possible, you must reduce the risk to a minimum.
Make sure your actions don't result in another hazard or risk, such as replacing a flammable substance with a toxic or corrosive one.
Remove or reduce ignition sources
- Replace a potential ignition source with a safer alternative and separate ignition hazards from flammable materials.
- Replace heaters with a naked flame or a 'glowing' heat source with convector heaters or a central heating system.
- Keep the minimum amount of flammable materials, liquids and gases both in public areas and in storage.
- Use specific areas in the storeroom to keep flammable materials, liquids and gases. Don't store them together.
- Keep areas containing flammable gasses ventilated.
- Ensure that all-purpose built ventilation, such as for computers and cooking equipment, aren't blocked.
- Use designated smoking areas and ban smoking elsewhere.
- Ensure electrical, mechanical and gas apparatus are installed, used, maintained and protected according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Ensure employees check the areas where work causes a build-up of heat, such as welding, to make sure that an ignition hasn't occurred or that smouldering materials remain.
- Prevent the chance of arson by removing sources of fuel from plain sight.
- Restrict the spread of fire and smoke by keeping display materials to a minimum if they contain flammable material, such as cardboard.
- Remove or treat large areas of highly flammable wall and ceiling linings, such as carpet tiles, to reduce the rate of a fire spread across its surface.
- Control flammable waste by ensuring that it's not built up and is carefully stored until properly disposed of.
- Consider the installation of automatic sprinkler systems or other suppression/extinguishing systems.
Remove or reduce oxygen sources
- Shut down non-essential ventilation systems.
- Don't store oxidising or flammable materials near a heat source.
- Close all doors, windows and other openings that aren't required for ventilation.
- Ensure oxygen cylinders aren't leaking.
Remove or reduce risks to people
Even once you've done all you can to remove or reduce the fire hazards and risks from the workplace, there will still be a risk of fire to people. You must reduce any remaining fire risk to a minimum feasible level. This means you must have a system in place that, in case of fire, gives your employees enough warning so that they can escape safely.
The level of fire protection you need to provide will depend on the level of risk that remains in the premises after you've removed or reduced the hazards and risks.