Common Fire Hazards in the Workplace
Every year fires break out in workplaces across the country resulting in serious damage to property and even injury and death. In the UK each year there are around 25,000 non-residential fires reported, with a significant proportion of these fires occurring in the workplace.
There are a variety of reasons why these fires break out, although many are due to negligence and could be prevented with more care and attention. One of the best ways to protect your business against fire is to educate your staff on the causes of fire and encourage them to be vigilant and report any potential fire hazards, so that they can be dealt with swiftly.
Although each working environment is different, here are some common workplace fire hazards that you should look out for and how to reduce the risk of them causing a fire.
Waste and combustible material being stored on site
In many workplaces, in particular offices, there can be a build-up of waste such as paper, cardboard and other combustible materials. If this is not disposed of regularly, it provides plenty of fuel for any potential fires should they break out. All it takes is a source of ignition, for example a discarded cigarette to set this alight and it could result in a fire that burns rapidly.
For this reason you should avoid storing rubbish on site is possible, or if you must – make sure it is in a designated area, away from main buildings and any potential sources of ignition.
Flammable liquids and vapours
This may be more of a threat in some types of workplace than others. Those particularly at risk include industrial warehouses and factories where there may be large amounts of flammable liquids and vapours stored. This can also cover anywhere that these materials are present such as garages, hotels and kitchens. Flammable liquids can ignite instantly when they come into contact with a spark or naked flame. Vapours are also particularly dangerous as they spread out, carrying the risk of an explosion with devastating consequences.
To reduce the risk of a fire, always ensure that flammable liquid and solvent containers are sealed properly and if any spills do happen, they are cleaned up immediately.
Dust and powder from wood, plastic and metal operations can cause explosions in enclosed spaces if there is no proper ventilation. Extraction fans should be installed in places where there is a risk of dust in the air, for example in environments such as mines and factories. Equipment and machinery that heats up when used should also be kept clean and free of grease and dust so that this does not burn, starting a fire.
Objects that generate heat
Heat is one of the vital ingredients of fire. Some electrical equipment and machinery warms up when used providing the potential for a fire to start. Make sure you keep combustible materials such as paper away from heat sources and remember to unplug any equipment that is not being used if possible. Never leave any electrical equipment or machinery on overnight unless it is necessary.
Faulty electrical equipment
Fires caused by electrical equipment are one of the most common types of fire in the workplace. Look out for any signs of loose cabling, damaged plugs and replace any faulty equipment. All electrical equipment should be regularly checked and PAT tested by an expert.
Overloading power sockets
This is a fairly common cause of electrical fires but it is one that is easily avoided. If too many appliances are plugged into the same socket or if faulty extension cords are used, this can result in overheating and potentially a fire. Always make sure that you use one plug in each socket and don’t use appliances that total more than 13amps or 3000 watts across the whole socket.
Discarded cigarettes can cause fires if not put out and disposed of properly. Smoking can be especially hazardous if it is allowed to take place near areas where flammable materials are present. Therefore a designated smoking area should be allocated in your workplace away from main buildings and flammables. Staff should also be encouraged to make sure that any cigarettes are put out properly and to use specially provided bins for their cigarettes.
Human error and negligence
It has to be said that one of the most common causes of fires in the workplace is human error. Fires can occur as a result of negligence in a variety of different ways including improper use of equipment, accidents, drinks being spilt over electrical equipment and leaving cooking unattended.
Although you cannot completely remove the human error factor, through proper training you can take steps to reduce it by providing effective training and guidance for your staff advising on best fire safety practice.
If the worst does happen and a fire starts, having fire fighting equipment on site such asfire extinguishers, blankets and hose reels are vital for bringing fires under control. However you should use caution and make sure that all staff are trained to use the correcttype of fire extinguisher.