Fires occur due to the combination of oxygen, a source of fuel and an ignition site. The source of oxygen is the air. Ignition sources can include lighting, electrical equipment, naked flames and heating sources of any kind. Sources of fuel are substances that sustain flames and keep on burning; these include paper, wood, packing materials and furniture. All owners of business premises, landlords and private home owners have a duty to carry out a fire risk assessment. For domestic homes, this does not need to be as elaborate as a business premises but still needs to incorporate the same principles to keep the family safe. Due to findings from the risk assessment, adequate safety measures must be in place to prevent harm through fire. For a business of five or more people, a written record must be kept.
When carrying out the risk assessment the fire hazards must be identified and people at risk identified. The risks must be removed or reduced, the findings recorded and an emergency plan prepared. The risk assessment must be updated regularly in line with the changes and needs of the business. Once the risks have been identified they need to be controlled. The risks must be eliminated or reduced and managed. A ‘competent person’ should be employed to carry out the risk assessment in a professional manner and at periodic intervals. The Fire and Rescue authorities deal with general fire safety in the workplace, however the HSE deals with fire safety on construction, nuclear premises and shipbuilding sites.
General approaches to good fire safety housekeeping:
- Fire risk assessments must be carried out regularly
- Sources of ignition and flammable substances must be kept apart, for example naked flames and aerosols
- Fire alarms and smoke alarms should be installed
- Fire extinguishers and fire blankets should be kept nearby for use in case of fire
- Accidental fires should be avoided, for example, heaters should be positioned so that they cannot be knocked over
- Fire exits and escape routes should not be obstructed
- Fire drills should be carried out regularly and workers trained in how to respond
Depending on the nature of the workplace, different ignition sources may be hazardous. These can include paint thinners, welding gases, dusts from wood and foodstuffs and oils. As this is different from a general office environment, i.e there are obvious combustible materials, the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) is applicable here. In this situation employers must assess the risk of fires and explosions arising from work activities involving dangerous substances and determine who may be at risk and harmed. In all cases appropriate firefighting equipment must be installed including a fire-detection and warning system. Equipment must be properly installed, tested and maintained. A fire drill should be carried out at least yearly and the results recorded as part of the fire safety and evacuation plan.