Each year, fire and the effects of fire lead to a substantial loss of life. Fire costs money and many businesses do not re-open. Employers must carry out a fire risk assessment of the workplace using a competent person. Common causes of fire include:
Faulty electrical equipment;
Flammable products; and
Accumulations of rubbish.
To understand how to assess the risk and prevent fire there is a need to understand the combustion process. There are three requirements for a fire to start and continue to burn; these are referred to as the three sides of the fire triangle.
The Fire Triangle
Oxygen - This is approximately 20% of the atmosphere. If a fire has started then smothering the flames will deprive the fire of oxygen and will put the fire out.
Heat - There has to be an initial source to spar the ignition. Fire can be prevented by controlling possible ignition sources, for example, by ensuring smoking bans are implemented in the workplace or not using open flames.
Fuel - Such as paper or wood and flammable substances. Fire can be prevented by storing fuels safely within the workplace, removing waste and ensuring ignition sources and fuels are kept apart.
By controlling the three elements of fire, the risk can be reduced. This can range from an electronic system to a shout of 'fire!' Other control measures could include:
Detection and warning - All workplaces should have arrangements for detecting and giving warning of fire so occupants can escape. In most cases, an electrically operated device should be installed with break glass call points situated next to exit doors. However, in smaller, lower risk premises a shout of 'fire!' can be effective.
Means of escape - Everyone in a workplace should be able to evacuate quickly without being placed at risk. There should be an alternative routes of escape. These should be clearly signed with green signage and offer occupants the shortest, safest route to a place of safety. While the workplace is in use, doors on evacuation/escape routes should not be locked or fastened. It must always be possible to easily and immediately open doors from the inside and they should never be blocked.
Means of fighting fire - There needs to be enough firefighting equipment in place for occupants to extinguish a fire in its early stages, or aid their escape. The use of firefighting equipment should not put anyone at risk.
Fire procedures and training - In the event of a fire, all occupants must know what to do. Employers must write a plan of procedures that everyone should follow. The plan should be rehearsed regularly (Fire Practice). Everyone should know the evacuation routes, assembly point, particular procedures for their area of work and provisions for disabled persons. The employer must bring the plan to everyone's attention by publishing it, putting it near escape routes and providing training and information on a regular basis.
Ensure good house keeping is maintained;
Check escape routes are kept clear, alarms function and equipment works;
Test and maintain electrical and gas equipment; and
Ensure good security to reduce the chance of arson.