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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 build-up

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.

Smoking

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 as fire 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 correct type of fire extinguisher as incorrect usage can be dangerous.

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How to Choose a Fire Safety Supplier

Choosing which fire protection company to supply your business is an important decision, there are many choices available to you and you should look beyond cost when deciding. Fire safety equipment is designed to protect businesses from the threat of fire and save lives. Therefore it’s essential that you take time and do some proper research to weigh up the options available to you.

Firstly your fire equipment must comply with safety standards, so check with the supplier that shows awareness of the latest fire safety standards and can guarantee that their equipment is in line with these requirements.

Look out to see if the supplier is a member of any relevant fire safety bodies or if they’ve received any accreditations from within the industry. This should show a level of expertise and demonstrate that the company is recognised by the industry. A few of these that are a good indication include BAFE approval, CHAS & SafeContracor accreditations, membership of the British Fire Consortium and the Fire Protection Association.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, this is the best way to delve deeper and find out if the supplier can provide not just equipment, but also the service that you are looking for. Enquire about their product’s safety records and ask to be supplied with testimonials from previous clients. It will be very telling if the company refuse to allow you to do this!

To take your investigation further, you could then contact these past customers and ask if they would recommend the company’s services. If you don’t fancy doing that, you could always try a good old fashioned Google search looking for reviews on the company or complaints. Type in the company’s name followed by ‘complaints’ and feast your eyes on the results.

Another important check is to find out how long the supplier has been in business. If the company is fairly new, you may not know how stable they are and how long they will be around. Ideally you want a long term supplier, not one that could go under and leave you with equipment that cannot be replaced. For a similar reason make sure that the supplier isn’t tied to a single manufacturer because if the manufacturer ceases to be then your fire protection supplier will in turn have issues supplying your business.

Ideally you want a team of specialists that can cater for all of your fire protection needs. That will cover not just equipment but also additional services such as fire risk assessments. It helps to have the same company carrying out a risk assessment as providing fire safety equipment, as then they have a better idea of your premises fire safety needs and can tailor the products they provide to this.

As an added bonus, look out for companies that provide a free site survey. These are extremely helpful in evaluating which fire protection equipment is most appropriate for your business.

The level of customer service that you receive is also an important consideration, so monitor all of your dealings with the company, looking especially at the time it took them to respond and how helpful they were. Did they go out of their way to help you? These considerations should all play a part when you’re weighing up your options.

Think about the type of service that you require, will you need maintenance 24/7 and replacements in the event of equipment failure? Choosing a supplier that is local is a good idea, especially if you may need emergency equipment maintenance.

Finally when you’ve chosen a few companies that you are interested in, it’s then time to bring cost into the equation. Get an estimate from each of the companies and make an informed decision based on the benefits that each provides against the cost. Of course, don’t be tempted to go for the cheapest option. Especially when safety is concerned, paying that bit extra can be worthwhile if you will be getting a better service.

Choosing the right supplier for fire protection equipment is a vital part of your business’s fire safety strategy and should not be taken lightly. If you follow the steps that we have mentioned in this article then you should be able to find a supplier that suits your requirements and provides you with peace of mind that you will get the service that you need.

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