Preventable fire hazards – what you need to know!October 06, 2021
Fire outbreaks can cause major disruption and catastrophic devastation if not brought quickly under control. Chubb fire safety expert William Ryan explores the topic of fire safety hazards, associated measures and how those responsible for premises should ensure that adequate and appropriate fire safety measures are in place.
Recently we saw how a large fire at a coffin makers1 in Strabane, County Tyrone brought businesses in the local area to a standstill as members of the public were urged to stay indoors with all windows closed, whilst 80 firefighters tackled the blaze. The fire was reportedly caused by a lightning strike – one of a few unpreventable fire hazards. But, unlike weather hazards, thankfully most types of fires are preventable.
Looking after premises is a huge responsibility and involves far more than protecting the building and its assets alone. Safeguarding staff and visitors comes first and foremost for those responsible – in the event of a fire, preventative measures are essential to have in place to avoid injury and, in the worst case, loss of life.
Fire safety hazards
A fire needs three things to start – a source of fuel, a source of ignition and oxygen. There are many different sources of fuel, just some of these include wood, paper, plastic, rubber, loose packaging materials and waste rubbish. The most common sources of ignition include heaters, lighting, electrical equipment, naked flames and smokers’ materials (cigarettes, matches etc.)
Of these, you might be surprised to learn that cigarettes are in fact the most frequently occurring fire safety hazard. New data released by the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service2 last year showed a dramatic rise in accidental house fires in Ireland caused by cigarettes since lockdown – up 87 percent, with call outs during the pandemic increasing from 327 in 2019 to 376.
And it’s a similar story in the workplace. Smoking is a common cause of workplace fires with over a third of deaths in non-domestic buildings being attributed to smokers’ materials.
Fire safety legislation
It might sound obvious, but those responsible for a building have a legal obligation to carry out a fire safety risk assessment and keep it up-to-date. The key piece of legislation governing fire safety in Ireland is the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. This specifies that employers must assess their workplace to identify any fire-related risks and ensure their business complies with health and safety law.
In addition, the Fires Services Act (1981 and 2003) is another source of legislation in Ireland. This places a duty of care on all individuals who have control over a premises, where the public has access.
Fire prevention measures
So, what measures do employers need to take to prevent fire hazards in their building?
Once a fire risk assessment has been completed, employers need to ensure that adequate and appropriate fire safety measures are in place to minimise the risk of injury or loss of life in the event of a fire. The risk assessment should identify and include potential sources of ignition, substances that burn, and the people who may be at risk.
Armed with this information an employer can then take the appropriate action to control the fire risks; consideration must be given both to whether a risk is avoidable or where its not avoidable, how the risk can be reduced.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) offers some useful advice on fire preventative measures for employers on its website, this includes:
- Carrying out a fire safety risk assessment
- Keeping sources of ignition and flammable substances apart
- Avoiding accidental fires e.g., making sure heaters cannot be knocked over
- Ensuring good housekeeping at all times e.g., avoiding build-up of rubbish that could burn
- Considering how to detect fires and how to warn people quickly if they start e.g., installing automatic fire detection systems with appropriate audible and visual alarms
- Having the correct fire-fighting equipment for putting a fire out quickly
- Keeping fire exits and escape routes clearly marked and unobstructed at all times
- Ensuring your workers receive appropriate training on procedures they need to follow, including fire drills
- Reviewing and updating your risk assessment regularly
At Chubb, we offer a comprehensive portfolio of fire safety solutions designed to prevent, detect and contain a fire, and enable time to escape. From an initial fire risk assessment to the design and installation of the appropriate fire detection and suppression technologies, our range includes the most sophisticated detectors and alarms, through to fire extinguishers, fire suppression systems and other essential products such as signage and emergency lighting.
To find out more visit www.chubbfiresecurity.com