A major fire or explosion at work can destroy a business and can cause serious injury and even death. Highly flammable substances like petrol and certain gases are the most obvious risks but sugar, flour, wood dust and other less apparent materials have also been known to combust and cause a major fire.
Complying With the Law
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have produced a book entitled ‘Fire Safety – An Employer’s Guide’ which contains all of the information an employer needs to know in order to comply with the law with regards to fire issues. It explains how a company should conduct a proper fire risk assessment and outlines the safety measures you should have in place alongside explaining how to draw up a plan in the event of a fire emergency.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, which came into force in 2006 and affects all non-domestic premises in England and Wales, was introduced in order to place greater emphasis on fire prevention and to ensure that lives were not put at risk, wherever possible and it is aimed at the person who has ‘sole responsibility’ for this area, which, in most cases, relates to the employer. Legislation covers issues such as having appropriate fire detection and warning systems in place, evacuation provisions, fire fighting appliances like extinguishers and fire blankets and training for staff in fire safety.
The Dangerous Substances and Explosives Atmosphere Regulations (DSEAR) 2002 may also apply to both employers and the self-employed, depending on the type of business being conducted.
Fire Extinguishers and Fire Blankets
There are several different types of fire extinguishers and fire blankets and they each serve a specific purpose. It’s crucial that employers install the correct type(s) within the premises and that staff are fully trained in how and when to use them and what each of them are designed to do as using the wrong extinguisher on a particular type of fire can cause the fire to become even more dangerous. Where these kinds of appliances are located or mounted is also critical and they should be tested every year.
How Best to Prevent Fire from Occurring
No company can ever be completely certain that they will never experience a fire on the premises but there are certain precautions that will minimise the risks. Hard wiring (main electrical circuits) need to be inspected by a qualified electrician at least every 5 years and, for some workplaces, these inspections need to be carried out even more frequently.
Great care should be taken that you do not overload electrical circuits and that any extension leads are used properly and not overloaded by plugging one extension lead into another and that they are kept away from where people could trip over them. All portable electric appliances also need to be regularly tested and where any of them are faulty or damaged, they should be immediately taken out of service and either disposed of or fully repaired.
Fire alarms and any emergency lighting your company might also use needs to be regularly tested and you need to carry out a full fire drill evacuation procedure at least twice a year. For some companies, you might need to carry out more than two fire evacuation drills per year and, if you operate a business which runs 24 hours a day, the tests must be carried out to include all shift patterns so that all of the staff who work for you have been exposed to the evacuation drill. You should also make sure that the workplace is kept clean and tidy and that you keep any potentially combustible material well away from heaters and that all flammable liquids are stored properly and kept secure and out of harm’s way.
What to do in the Event of a Fire
Before even considering whether or not a fire which has broken out can be tackled internally, you must first raise the alarm in order to activate the safety fire emergency procedures your company has in place. A fire is not something which should be tackled out of heroism. Extinguishers and blankets are only for small fires so if you have any doubts whatsoever about your ability to tackle a blaze, just get out of harm’s way and evacuate by the nearest exit and never try to extinguish a fire yourself that involves burning gas.
Do not attempt to tackle a fire if there is even the slightest possibility that your escape route might be cut off, either from the fire itself or from the smoke it emits. If you’ve time and it is safe to do so, try to close any doors or windows behind you in a room where a fire threatens to get out of control. It will buy you and the other people on the premises more time in which to make your escape but you should only do this if it’s not going to jeopardise your own safety.
Ultimately, however, if you have any doubts, you need to place evacuation as your number one priority and leave the fire to the fire brigade to deal with.