Is your company prepared for a major fire?

24 November 2015

The physical damage fires can cause is often dwarfed by non-physical losses, which companies sometimes underestimate – until it’s too late.

Without appropriate risk management and business continuity plans, a small fire can quickly spread and pose a threat to a company’s trade, squeezing cash flow and endangering a company’s client accounts and market share.

The top four causes of fires are: 

  • Electrical faults
  • Process
  • Arson
  • General negligence.

Electrical faults cause most fires, but arson is also on the increase, while some companies, particularly in the manufacturing and heavy-metal sectors, have a risk of fire inherent in their business operations due to the use of high temperatures and/or naked flames. 

And despite most companies taking more care over fire prevention these days, human error is still a cause of many fires.

Risk management

Employee training is vital to reducing the risk of and damage caused by fires. All staff should be:

  • Given fire safety training on induction 
  • Provided with a copy of the emergency action plan 
  • Given annual fire safety refresher training 
  • Trained in the use of fire extinguishers, and 
  • Made aware of the location of assembly points.

Companies should also ensure that:

  • A suitable number of appropriate staff are appointed as fire wardens and adequately trained 
  • A staff non-smoking policy is enforced 
  • Fire drills are regularly carried out 
  • Records are kept of all staff training and fire drills 
  • Staff are aware of the visitors’ policy in the event of a fire.

Similarly, as the risk of arson grows for some companies, weaknesses in security should be identified and eliminated. For example, doors, windows, gates and fences should be secured effectively, especially when premises are closed or less well attended. 

Along with sprinklers, thermographic surveys and cameras are increasingly used by companies. These help identify physical hotspots in fixed electrical installation and inside machinery of a premises, indicating where fires are most likely to occur and where special measures should be installed. 

Need for change

Even when fire safety measures are employed, companies can still struggle with change management. Many companies start off with good fire risk management measures but do not review and amend them often enough. 

For example, if partition walls are built within a workspace, the newly created space will prejudice the capability of any previously installed sprinklers, fire extinguishers, alarm systems, if they are no longer ideally positioned.

Also, fire risk management is not always updated when a company’s machinery and work practices change, despite such changes often affecting the risk of fire and the company’s ability to quickly detect and tackle a fire.

Companies should therefore stress test their fire safety plans regularly, to ensure they are still fit for purpose and will work well in practice.

Checklist: fire risk assessment review

  • Have there been alterations to the building, including the internal layout?
  • Has there been an introduction, change of use or increase in the storage of hazardous substances?
  • Has there been a failure of fire precautions, such as fire detection and alarm systems or sprinkler systems?
  • Have there been significant changes to the type and quantity and/or method of storage of combustible materials?
  • Have there been any significant changes in the occupancy levels?
  • Has there been a significant change in the mobility level or other factors influencing the response of staff or visitors in an emergency?
  • Have there been any changes to the management of the organisation?

5 steps of fire risk assessment process

  1. Identify potential fire hazards and take steps to minimise the risk 
  2. Identify people at risk should a fire occur 
  3. Evaluate the risks of fire and assess existing fire safety measures 
  4. Record, assess and plan 
  5. Complete a periodic review

(Source: Fire Protection Association, Fire Risk Assessment for Small Businesses)

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For more information please contact Sally Swann, Head of Nottingham Risk Practice on +44 (0)115 935 5350