Why Fire Risk Assessments Are Essential
A fire in the workplace can be a very dangerous and potentially deadly accident. However the sad reality of these is that many of the fires are preventable. Those who are responsible for workplaces and other buildings are obliged to do what is reasonably practicable to prevent fires.
So how can you make sure that your workplace is fire safe? The first step is to carry out a fire risk assessment, which will help you to identify the potential fire risks within your workplace. The next step is to take the observations that you made from your fire risk assessment and make the right changes to the workplace in order to reduce these risks.
As well as carrying out a first safety risk assessment, you should keep sources of flammable substances and ignition apart from each other, avoid accidental fires and make sure that you practice good housekeeping so that rubbish that could burn is cleaned up promptly.
What Does a Fire Risk Assessment Include?
The typical fire risk assessment includes a number of steps, such as the following:
- Identifying the potential fire risks. This involves taking a close look at the working environment and practices to determine where fire risks might be present.
- Identifying people at risk. Who is at risk for fire danger? Are some employees or members of the public more at risk than others?
- Evaluating, removing or reducing the risks. How can you make changes in the workplace in order to make it safer?
- Recording your findings. The next step is to make a record of your findings so that you can prepare an emergency plan and provide the right training to your staff.
- Making regular reviews and updates to your fire risk assessments.
The fire risk assessment should be a very thorough look at the workplace and should focus on fire detection and warning systems, emergency routes and exits, firefighting equipment, emergency fire evacuation plans, staff fire safety and evacuation training and much more.
When it comes to identifying the people at risk, it is important to evaluate the likely speed of growth and the spread of the fire – as well as the heat and smoke associated with it. Some fuels will burn a lot faster and spread at a quicker pace than other fuels. Also consider the people who are in the area such as employees, visitors, contractors and other members of the public. How will these people make an escape from the fire and how will they receive warning if a fire occurs?
What Are Some Examples of Potential Fire Risks?
When it comes to general fire safety risk, there are three things that a fire needs to start. It requires a source of ignition, a source of fuel (an object that burns) and oxygen. If any of these three items are lacking, the fire will not occur.
A source of ignition could be a number of things, including lighting, heating, cigarettes, electrical equipment, matches or anything else that emits heat. When one of these objects comes in contact with a source of fuel such as paper, wood, foam, rubber, furniture or plastic and there is a source of oxygen – a fire is likely to start.
In order to prevent a fire in the workplace, your risk assessment will need to identify what would cause the fire to start and which substances could potentially fuel it.
Some examples of this could include naked flames, pilot lights, gas welding, cookers or gas/oil heaters. Also, hot surfaces such as boilers, machinery, lighting, engines, heaters and electrical equipment can also be potential sources of ignition. There is even a risk of ignition from sparks that are generated by metal impact, electrical contacts or static electricity.
Sources of fuel could include liquids such as adhesives, varnish and thinners as well as gases like acetylene and LPG.
Sometimes the risk of fire can be caused by deliberative ignition, such as arson, so appropriate security measures should be in place to avoid trespassing and sensitive fire alarms should be installed.
Tips for Avoiding Fire in the Workplace
- Change the processes that you carry out so that you are using a slower burning fuel.
- Remove or reduce any possible ignition sources.
- Move the hazard to a different area, such as away from the premises, so that it affects the fewest amount of people as possible.
- Provide fire detection and alarm systems that will warn people of the fire in early stages.
- Provide appropriate fire-fighting equipment – such as a sprinkler system.
- Train staff so that they know what to do when a fire occurs, as well as how to prevent one from happening. Always ensure that everyone knows the fire evacuation procedure.
- If your building is very old, it will likely have higher fire risks. Make sure that it was issued with a fire certificate under the Fire Precautions Act.
The Responsibility of the Employer
If you are the employer or the building owner, it is your responsibility to carry out a fire safety risk assessment and to keep it up to date. It can be carried out as part of an overall risk assessment or as a separate exercise. If you are an employer of more than five employees, it is necessary for you to record the findings of your risk assessment, as well as the details of any people who are under particular risk.
When you have determined the findings of the assessment, you will need to make sure that appropriate fire safety measures are in place – so that the risk of injury and fatality in the event of a fire can be reduced. In order to prevent the risk of a fire in the workplace, the risk assessment should identify the factors that cause a fire to start and the people who are at risk.
A fire risk assessment is not only a legal requirement; it is also a moral obligation to protect the health of everyone in the proximity of the workplace as well as the workplace itself.
Training for Responsible Persons
The NEBOSH Fire Certificate is designed for managers, supervisors, personnel responsible for fire safety and aims to equip holders to contribute to the conduct and review of fire risk assessments and fire preventative and protective measures within most workplaces.
Make sure that you are keeping your workplace safe!