Fire Safety, Fire Risk Assessments and Fire Safety Training Courses
The term fire safety encompasses a broad range of issues, covering both the prevention of fire, as well as what to do in the event of fire in order to limit the consequences.
Creating a safe place to work will ideally start at the design phase of the building, although changes can be made afterwards through further construction work. A sufficient number of fire exits should be incorporated into the building, which are suitably located so that a person will be close to at least one exit no matter where they are in the building. Ideally, they would be able to get to two at opposite directions so if the route to one was blocked by fire or debris, they could evacuate through the other. Fire extinguishers and fire alarm activation points should also be located throughout the building and be easy to reach.
A fire safety risk assessment should be performed both at the start of the premises occupation, and at regular intervals (typically once every year). In fact, these are so important that the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 states that it is now compulsory for organisations to conduct a fire risk assessment. This fire risk assessment will form part of the organisation's overall health and safety policy, which should also be reviewed regularly as changes to the firm's working practices, use of rooms etc will alter the safety procedures.
The Difference Between Fire Safety in the Workplace and Fire Safety in the Home
Fire safety in an organisation will to a large extent follow the same prevention and remedies as a fire in the home. In terms of prevention, this includes not having naked flames near flammable materials, not having water near electrical points etc. Dealing with the fire also follows similar lines, in that the alarm should be raised when a fire is discovered to warn others in the building. It should then be tackled if it is safe to do so and means of escape is still assured, otherwise evacuation is the priority with the fire being left for the fire brigade to deal with.
One way in which fire safety in the workplace differs from the home is in the fact that there will usually be a large number of people in the building who can be affected by the fire, and procedures will already need to have been planned and implemented with regards to a pre-arranged fire assembly area which is a safe distance from the building. A role call should be performed in order to account for everyone who was in the building. For this to work, an effective signing in/out system needs to be operated, and needs to be strictly adhered to in order for the role call to work. Lives can be put at risk if rescuers go searching for someone in the building who had already left, or somebody who did not sign in could be left in the building if they are unable to evacuate and nobody knows they are in there.
Although the home can contain a number of hazards such as petrol in containers, a workplace is likely to contain a greater number of dangerous substances. This will vary hugely depending upon the type of organisation and their activities. For example, a fire at an oil refinery or a nuclear power station is likely to be much more of a risk than a fire in an office, although the size of the blaze will to a large extent be the main issue, as a fire which engulfs the entire office and threatens neighbouring buildings is more serious than a small fire in the cigarette disposal bin at the oil refinery. But in general terms, a fire which gets out of control is more dangerous at the oil refinery due to the products and chemicals which are on the premises that have flammable and explosive properties.
Common Fire Hazards and What to do About Them
Although fire hazards are found in every workplace, some workplaces are more prone to fire than others. Fire hazards in the work environment could have the potential to cause significant losses such as loss of life, injury to workers, property damage, product damage, loss of information, equipment damage, environmental harm and tarnished brand image.
It is therefore important to have a proper fire safety policy as part of an overall workplace health and safety plan, in conjunction with fire safety training and related courses like the NEBOSH Fire Certificate for instance. It is everyone's responsibility to manage fire safety in the workplace and reduce the risk of fire hazards.
There are several ways a fire may happen in the workplace. The most common fire hazards are as follows:
Human Negligence and Error
Unfortunately one of the common causes of fire is human negligence. It can cause fires in a number of ways including improper and incorrect use of equipment, workplace accidents, fluids being spilled over electrical equipment and leaving the kitchen unattended while cooking.
Although human error can never be entirely removed from the work environment (apart from removing all humans and having an entirely robotic workforce of course), it can be minimised through proper safety training and advice on the best practices for maintaining health and safety in the work environment.
Cigarettes that are discarded and not properly extinguished when disposed of can cause fires, especially when flammable materials are nearby. There may also be gas or dust (e.g. coal dust) which can ignite from the striking of a match or use of a lighter. To manage this risk a designated smoking area should be provided with cigarette bins. The smoking area should be located away from flammables and the main buildings.
Overloading Power Sockets
This is an easily avoidable fire hazard but it is unfortunately a common cause of electrical fires. It is usually caused by using too many appliances on a same socket or with a faulty cord leading to overheating and potentially a fire. This can be solved by using one appliance per socket and ensuring that the total demands from the appliances on each socket do not exceed the recommended amounts.
Damaged or Malfunctioning Electrical Equipment
Loose cabling, faulty equipment and damaged plugs are a fire hazard. To minimise this risk, electrical equipment should be checked and maintained regularly by a qualified electrician. Whilst managers should facilitate the regular inspection of such equipment, employees too need to be vigilant against the possibility of damaged or malfunctioning equipment. They should check it thoroughly before use, and if found to be faulty should immediately take it out of service and inform management rather than leaving it and risking the health and safety of the next unsuspecting operator.
Equipment Which Generates Heat
Some industries use machinery and equipment that heat up (such as ovens). These objects that generate heat could provide the means for a potential fire to start. To lower the risk of this happening, combustible materials such as cardboard and paper should be kept away from objects that heat up. Even equipment which does not have the purpose of generating heat may still create it as a by-product, such as motors with fast moving parts.
As mention in the 'Smoking' section above, dust accumulation and build-up can cause explosions. Also, dust can block air vents and intakes, limiting cooling efficiency and causing machinery to overheat and either explode or catch fire. To minimise this risk, extraction fans should be used in enclosed spaces, and machinery that generates heat should be cleaned and clear of dust and grease, not to mention careful monitoring to watch out for increases in operating temperatures.
Many workplaces contain and make use of liquids which are highly flammable. The speed with which the fire spreads and the amount of liquid present on the site can quickly lead to a major fire incident. High risk places of work include oil refineries, chemical plants and sites where large quantities of fuel are present such as airports.
To minimise the risk, ensure that the containers of these liquids are properly sealed and if any spills occur they should be cleaned up immediately. Certain areas should only be allowed to be accessed by employees with explicit authority who have been trained in the correct handling and storage of such material.
By managing these fire hazards you will reduce the risk of them occurring and help maintain the health and safety of employees in your workplace.
Fire Safety - Hose Reels
Many large buildings have in-built fire hose reels which can be used to tackle fires. These hoses can deliver a much greater volume of water per second than single fire extinguishers, which means there is a much better chance of putting a fire out in a reduced amount of time, thereby limiting the potential damage to property and health of those in the premises or nearby. Hose reels will usually be connected to the mains water supply which means they will provide water for as long as necessary when tackling a blaze, unlike a hand-held extinguisher which only has a finite amount of water in it and therefore a limited use.
Whilst they provide a practically unlimited supply of water and a much more powerful jet of water, there are also a number of disadvantages of fire hose reels. For a start, this powerful jet of water can in some circumstances cause embers to be disturbed and spread the fire. Also, the fact that it is water that comes out of the hose means that it will not be suitable to be used on certain types of fires such as electrical fires.
Fire hose reels are typically quite heavy, cumbersome affairs which means a significant amount of effort may be required in order to get the hose from where it is stored to the site of the fire. It may be difficult for some people to manoeuvre and use the hose, although if this is the case it may also be difficult for them to lift and carry a fire extinguisher also.
The large volume of water that comes out will mean that it needs a fairly thick hose to carry it. Not only does this make it heavy as mentioned in the paragraph above, but it can also present a trip hazard as it lies on the floor. In the event of a fire, particularly a large one, people are likely to be hurrying about as they evacuate or perform their particular fire roles, which means they may not be paying full attention to what is on the floor. It is also possible that smoke from the fire has reduced visibility. In either case there is a real risk of them tripping over the hose. Not only can this lead to serious injury, but can also be potentially deadly if for example the person trips, hits their head and becomes unconscious with nobody else around (e.g. if the person using the hose has decided to evacuate the building and left the hose on the floor), as they may then be consumed by the flames or overcome by smoke inhalation and asphyxiation.
Aside from being a trip hazard, the hose itself also has other factors which need to be considered. As it is connected to the mains the hose will only have a certain length to which it can be unfurled. This means that if the fire is further away than the hose can stretch then it will not be of any use unless the jet of water can reach the fire. It may also need to be taken through fire doors, which will then not be able to close fully. This will leave gaps for the fire to exploit and allow it to spread more easily than if the fire doors were properly shut.
SMSTS - The Site Management Safety Training Scheme certificate contains a section on fire safety on a construction site.
Fire Safety - Openings
Certain elements of a building can contribute greatly to the slowing down or prevention of a fire spreading from one area to another, such as brick walls, fire doors, fire resistant glass etc. However, if there are gaps for some reason in this barrier then a fire can easily get through, meaning that gaps or openings in the barrier create a weakness that a fire will exploit to spread through the building.
These openings can be present for varying reasons. It could be that they have always been there as a result of a poor design or sub-standard work when it was built. The openings may also be caused as a result of the actions of others, such as propping open a fire door and then forgetting about it.
It could be the case that construction or renovation work taking place on the structure has led to the creation of temporary holes and gaps, for example creating the space for a new doorway to be put in. If working on multiple surfaces/rooms it is important not to leave openings in each until the end of the work and then filling them all in one go as this will mean there is a very real risk of any fire that starts causing widespread devastation as it can sweep through the building largely unhindered. The dangers from fire when it comes to construction work means that construction health and safety courses including the Site Management Safety Training Scheme and the NEBOSH Construction Certificate courses encompass fire safety on a construction site as a key component of the syllabus.
Fire Safety - Sources of Fuel
A fire needs a source of fuel in order to burn, and unfortunately a typical workplace contains a great variety of flammable material which can catch fire and burn. The resulting fire can not only be a danger to the health and safety of workers on the premises and members of the public nearby, but can also cause severe damage to buildings and their contents. Along with being an inconvenience and disrupting trading and operations in the short term, it can be particularly damaging to the financial health of a company if it does not have suitable insurance.
Companies and organisations in different industries are likely to have differing types of potential fuel for a fire, as well as having many similar ones. Sources of fuel at a typical place of work may include paper and cardboard, chemicals, fuel kept on site such as petrol of gas, wood used in the construction of the building or as part of the manufacturing process, plastic, foam insulation, dust which can ignite and/or cause an explosion and resulting fire, and many more.
It is therefore essential that workers have not only received fire safety training and regular refresher courses as part of their overall health and safety training programme, but that suitable risk assessments and control measures are undertaken and put into place to prevent the outbreak of fire.
Many health and safety courses contain an element on fire safety because of the high risk and potential serious consequences of fires, as well as there being specific fire qualifications such as the NEBOSH Fire Certificate which are aimed primarily at those with fire safety responsibilities within an organisation. At the BCF Group, we also provide bespoke training courses on fire issues including fire marshall and fire warden training.
Fire Safety - Storage
The storage of any items can present a fire safety risk for a number of reasons. For starters, the more flammable material that is present on site such as paper or cardboard boxes means that not only is there more fuel for a fire that has already broken out, but there is more material available that can come into contact with a potential source of ignition such as a hot surface which can then start a fire burning.
If these boxes are stored in corridors and passageways, as well as presenting a trip hazard, they can also obstruct workers or members of the public as they try to evacuate the premises in the event of a fire or other emergency occurring. This can delay their escape, with this extra time sometimes being the difference between them getting out ok or succumbing to the flames or smoke inhalation, so could literally be the difference between life and death. They may also block access to emergency escapes, alarm points and fire extinguishers, all of which increases the chances of people being injured or killed by fire.
A cluttered room can make it easier for a fire to take hold and spread once it has started, and can also conceal a fire and make it hard for somebody to notice and raise the alarm before it becomes out of control.
If you are interested in fire safety, health and safety courses like the NEBOSH General Certificate cover fire safety as part of the syllabus. Alternatively, there are specific fire safety qualifications like the NEBOSH Fire Certificate available as well. For more information on these, please use the "Health & Safety" drop-down at the top of the page.
Location of Fire Extinguishers
In the event of a fire the availability of a fire extinguisher can potentially be the difference between a small fire being quickly extinguished with little damage to people's health or property, or in it becoming a raging inferno which can be deadly and turn the entire building into a large pile of ash. This makes these small pieces of equipment an essential necessity for fire safety, in conjunction with health and safety courses and training on how to prevent fires from starting in the first place, and could potentially save lives.
Just as the provision of fire extinguishers is important, so too is their location:-
For a start, it is a good idea to place them near machinery or in areas where the fire risk assessment has identified the potential for fire to be high(er). However they should not be situated so close to a machine that they would immediately be engulfed if the machinery were to burst into flames, as a person would then not be able to get to the extinguisher and use it to put out the flames, rendering the extinguisher pretty much useless. Contrastingly, it should also not be placed so far away that it would take a lot of time and effort to fetch it and then carry it back to the fire as this extra time may be enough for the fire to have gotten out of control and too ferocious to be tackled by fire extinguishers.
A fire extinguisher should not be placed too near to a source of heat or coldness, otherwise it may not function correctly when called upon. Even if not situated in such a location it should be regularly tested so that there is less chance of it failing if or when it is needed.
Extinguishers will also be particularly beneficial if placed along the route of escape and evacuation. Whilst a fire may be too large to put out, the extinguishers can be used to keep a route clear from fire as people evacuate the building.
CO2 Carbon Dioxide Fire Extinguishers
A carbon dioxide (CO2) fire extinguisher, identifiable in the United Kingdom by a black colour code, is ideal for tackling fires involving live electrical equipment, unlike the more common water extinguishers which are likely to make an electrical fire worse or create new fires from the sparking caused by water coming into contact with live electrical wiring. It works by replacing the oxygen which surrounds the fire with carbon dioxide gas which deprives the fire of oxygen so that it cannot burn. It does not however remove the heat element of the fire triangle and so care must be taken to ensure that the fire does not reignite, as well as keeping in mind that surfaces will still be hot even when the fire has been put out so there is still a danger of burns to the skin.
Suitable fire safety training courses such as the NEBOSH Fire Certificate will teach delegates a wealth of information including the correct type of fire extinguisher to use depending upon the type of fire or the material that is burning. Many other health and safety courses which are not specifically devoted to fire will still cover fire risks and fire safety due to the commonality of the potential for fire in all places of work, such as the NEBOSH General Certificate, CITB SMSTS courses and IOSH Managing Safely courses. It is also important that people read and familiarise themselves with the instructions on fire extinguishers BEFORE a fire starts, as trying to figure them out whilst a fire continues to grow is not the ideal environment and may let it get out of control.
Paradoxically, in contrast to the burning there is also a danger to a person from cooling as the carbon dioxide gas coming out of the CO2 extinguisher can freeze the skin. Care must be taken not to direct the gas onto exposed skin or hold onto the nozzle as the fire extinguisher is being operated.
CO2 extinguishers are only capable of lasting for a relatively short period of time which can limit their effectiveness in tackling fires. The fact that it is gas coming out can also mean it may be difficult to operate outdoors in windy conditions as it will be hard to direct the gas properly onto the fire.
Also Consider... Online Fire Extinguisher Training Courses
Online courses are perfect for short courses on specific topics, which can be taken at a time that fits in around your work and personal commitments.
Our online Fire Extinguisher course provides an introduction to the various types of fire extinguishers and the situations in which each should be used. For more information on this course, please click here.
Fire Safety Training
A positive commitment to health and safety training and fire safety training in particular can play a huge part in both the prevention and response to a fire. Fire safety and other related health and safety training courses will give workers a sound understanding of relevant fire safety regulations, how to reduce the chances of a fire occurring and what to do in the event of a fire.
Appropriate fire safety training will vary depending on the depth of information and what is required by the training. For example, a company or organisation may require a bespoke fire safety training course which informs workers of information that is specific to their own procedures, such as where to assemble after evacuating the building, the sound that the alarm makes, who is responsible for certain roles like performing the duties of a fire marshal etc.
In addition to bespoke training programmes, there are also accredited qualifications which have set prescribed syllabuses that have to be followed. The most comprehensive of these courses is the NEBOSH Fire Certificate. It is intended primarily for managers and supervisors who are responsible for fire safety within their organisation, as well as the compliance with applicable fire safety legislation. It aims to give delegates the knowledge to conduct and review fire risk assessments, along with fire prevention and protective measures within most workplaces. We offer the NEBOSH Fire Certificate both as the full course and a conversion course. The conversion course is for those who have already passed the NEBOSH General Certificate within the last five years and so have obtained the NGC1 unit. This unit makes up the first week of the full NEBOSH Fire Certificate course, so those who already have it do not need to repeat it.
Other health and safety courses and qualifications such as the NEBOSH General Certificate, NEBOSH Construction Certificate, SMSTS, SSSTS and IOSH Managing Safely courses all have a unit on fire safety taught in them, such is the danger from fire in a place of work.
Aside from the comprehensive NEBOSH Fire Certificate qualification, we offer a number of other fire safety training courses which focus on specific areas of fire safety. Our Fire Safety course gives those attending a basic awareness of fire safety issues. This course is perfect for workers in organisations of any size, and can be tailored to the exact working practices and specific fire hazards that they face whilst working in your building. Lasting just half a day, it also means they are not away from their work duties for too long when the training is done in-house at your premises.
Our 2-day Fire Risk Assessment course has been designed to help you comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and is aimed at facilities managers, health and safety professionals and fire officers responsible for conducting effective fire risk assessments and the practical implementation of the Fire Safety Order within their organisation.
For those who are an active fire officer within their organisation, our 1-day Fire Officer/Incident Controller course introduces delegates to the relevant legal framework and current HSE recommended best practice, as well as giving those with fire officer/incident controller responsibility a sound footing in the process and procedures required. Similarly, we also offer a Fire Warden/Fire Marshall course which covers the legal requirements, fire evacuation and reporting procedures for those with a fire marshall responsibility. When delivered as an in-house fire safety course, they can be tailored to suit your particular organisation and evacuation procedures.
If you would like more information regarding fire safety training and how we can assist you and your organisation with its fire safety requirements, please call one of our expert health and safety consultants on 0844 800 3295 or contact us online by clicking on the "Contact" tab at the top of the page.