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What is the Fire Triangle?

The fire triangle is used to show the three elements that when present together can cause a fire to start. These three ingredients are fuel, heat and oxygen, under all circumstances they should be kept apart to avoid a fire starting. Understanding the basic principles of the fire triangle is essential in helping to protect your business and prevent fires from breaking out.

How does the fire triangle work?

When fuel or flammable materials are heated, the energy stored inside starts to react with oxygen in the air, giving off heat. This creates a vicious cycle, which causes the fire to spread. To stop the spread of a fire you have to remove one of these elements to break the triangle.

Tips for fighting and preventing fires based on the fire triangle:

Oxygen

This makes up about 20% of the air we breathe, so there is a ready supply to fuel a potential fire if flammable materials come into contact with enough heat to start a fire. Once a fire has started, depriving it of oxygen will weaken extinguish it. This is a principle used by some fire extinguishers. Foam and dry powder extinguishers can be used to smother flames and deprive the fire of oxygen, whereas the CO2 in carbon dioxide fire extinguishers will replace the oxygen to deprive the fuel source of it.

Without a sufficient supply of Oxygen a fire will stop burning, so it’s always handy to keep appropriate fire extinguishers near areas with a high risk of fire. Always use fire extinguishers with care and check that you are using the correct type of fire extinguisher for the type of fire you are dealing with.

Heat

All flammable materials have a flash point, this is the lowest temperature at which they will ignite. If you are storing flammables on site then you will need to be aware of their flashpoints and make sure that all materials stored away from sources of heat and under their flash point temperature.

If a fire does break out then having a water fire extinguisher on standby is a good idea. Water has the effect of cooling the fire, thus removing heat from the equation. However remember not to use water on electrical appliances or cooking oil fires.

Fuel

A fire will continue as long as there is fuel to burn. Fuel comes under three categories, solid, liquid and gas. Each type should be treated specially to ensure that their presence does not result in a fire.

The most common types of fuel are solid materials. Just look around you, everyday materials that surround you such as paper, card, clothing, fabrics and furniture could all be potential fuel for a fire. To reduce the chance of a fire starting, keep these materials away from electric heaters, radiators and direct sunlight.

Liquid fuel and flammable gases require more special attention. Ideally you should keep liquids and gases in a sealed container away from other flammables and possible sources of ignition or heat. You should regularly check for signs of damage to the containers and keep as small an amount as necessary on site.

Of course following these tips can only help reduce the chance of a fire breaking out, so it is strongly advised to only keep flammable liquids and gases are absolutely needed and if no non-flammable alternative is available.
Once a fire has started it is very difficult to remove the fuel, but wet chemical fire extinguishers which are specially designed for cooking oil and grease fires can achieve this. The chemicals released react with oil to form non-combustible soapy layer, which stops the spread of fire in its tracks.

Each year there are many non-domestic fires that could have easily been prevented. By understanding the basic principles of the fire triangle you can ensure that your business is best prepared to avoid potential disaster caused by fire.

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How to Reduce the Threat of Arson on Your Business

During the riots of August 2011 we all saw the devastating effects of arson. Across the country, fires were deliberately started destroying many homes and businesses. The capital was one of the areas hit hardest with hundreds of fires breaking out, affecting shops, industrial areas, factories, residential buildings and destroying livelihoods.

Here in Croydon, who can forget the images of the Reeves furniture store on fire? This became one of the iconic images of the riots and a harsh reminder of the devastating consequences of arson attacks.

Arson is the largest cause of fires in the UK. It poses a bigger threat to businesses than the other leading causes of fire (electrical, heaters and smoking related fires) together. The effects of an arson attack on a business are often irreversible, with loss of premises, data, stock and working hours meaning that some never recover.

Although arson attacks are not entirely preventable, you can take some steps to protect your business and reduce the threat and impact of a potential arson attack on your premises.

Is your business at risk from arson?

Usually arson attacks occur when a building is unoccupied, particularly at night. This means that fires can go undetected and spread throughout a building. Without a proper fire detection system, this type of fire will only be noticed once significant damage has been caused.

Some businesses have a higher threat than others from arson. Buildings that provide recreational, leisure or cultural activities tend to have the highest threat. This is followed by schools, retail distribution centres, shops, pubs and catering facilities. Industrial premises and factories are also another type of business that could become victim to arson.

Tips on preventing arson attacks on your business

As is often the case with fire safety, people are the key to preventing fires both accidental and deliberate. All of the employees involved on your premises must be aware of their role to remain vigilant and protect the business. In practice this means reporting suspicious behaviour, limiting access from outside persons to the building and if necessary questioning or removing people that do not have good reason to be on your premises.

Particular caution should be paid by those who are last to leave and lock up. If a building is left unoccupied at night, checks should be carried out to ensure that all people have left the premises before it is locked. This duty should be designated to a responsible individual and measures should be taken to make sure that all staff that access the premises during non-standard working hours are known of and are aware of their responsibilities and need for safety.

If passes or keys go missing, this should be followed up and dealt with appropriately and quickly. You should also change any passcodes if you suspect someone has gained unauthorised access to your premises using them. Ideally you need to limit the number of people that could have access to your business premises so any keys or passes should be regained from former employees.

Secure your premises

Of course a would-be arsonist doesn’t need to gain access to your building to start a fire. Petrol bombs can be thrown through windows and lit materials posted through letterboxes. This makes preventing arson attacks more challenging, but there are still a number of measures you can take to secure your premises.

Secure windows

All windows should be locked at all times when there is nobody present on site. This may sound like fairly basic security advice, but it’s easy enough to overlook. Checks should always be carried out by the last person(s) who leave the premises before closing. To provide extra security, shutters can be placed in front of glass so it cannot be broken by a petrol bomb.

Lock away flammable materials

If you are storing flammable materials on site which could possibly be used in/worsen an arson attack, then you should make sure these are carefully locked away at all times. Keep areas clear of rubbish and arrange regular disposal to limit the amount of fuel a fire could have.

Keep storage and rubbish disposal areas secure

Bin fires are a common form of arson, so any bins or storage areas should be in a secure area away from main buildings. It’s surprising how quickly these fires can spread, so pay extra caution to this point.

Control which people can enter your premises

You could also invest in a perimeter fence if appropriate for your site. A fence around your premises is good for controlling who enters your premises, adding an extra level of difficulty which may deter would-be arsonists.

Fit a metal container to letterboxes

If your business premises have letterboxes then you can fit a metal container on the inside. Should any lit materials be posted through the letterbox, this will contain the fire limiting the damage.

Check your fire protection system

Fire protection equipment is your essential to defend your business against arson. To be best prepared for a potential arson attack you need a system in place to be able to detect a fire and contain it before irreversible damage has been caused.

You need a fire detection system installed in your building, with smoke detectors fitted on every floor to quickly establish if a fire breaks out. If there is no-one present at night for example, some fire alarm systems can be set up to notify designated staff or automatically alert the fire brigade. This can save valuable time and the earlier you catch a fire, the less damage it will ultimately cause.

To combat the fire, it would be recommended to have sprinkler systems installed or at the very least fire extinguishers on site. Fire extinguishers can be used to put out fires in their early stages, so if an arson attack is spotted quickly it can be dealt with.

Arson should be considered in your fire risk assessment

Your company’s fire risk assessment should cover arson as a potential threat to your business. It should also identify hazardous areas on your premises, all of the entry routes and which materials must be treated with caution and locked away. The action that needs to be taken will be described in detail to enable you to successfully reduce the risk of a potential arson attack and provide special measures for dealing with one, in the unfortunate event that it occurs.

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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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