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Fire Safety, Fire Risk Assessments and Fire Safety Training Courses


Red fire extinguishers in a line

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.

Fire Health and Safety - Early Detection

When it comes to the outbreak of fire in a place of work - just as it is in the home - early detection can often be the difference between death or escaping with no or very minor injuries. This is because detecting the fire early gives people more time to evacuate the building before the fire spreads and grows to such an extent that it traps people and prevents escape, or allows them to tackle the blaze with fire-fighting equipment such as fire extinguishers before it becomes so large that this is no longer appropriate and the emergency services need to be called to deal with it.

There are a number of possible reasons for failing to detect a fire that has started in a timely manner. These include the lack of a fire alarm system, the fire starting in an area of the building or grounds that are usually unoccupied, or the fire starting at a time outside of business hours when nobody is around to see it. Many businesses have incinerators or burn waste/materials and so the sight of smoke or the smell of burning may not immediately signal danger to a person as it would if nothing was ever burnt on-site.

Along with being provided with health and safety training which gives employees a greater understanding of the risks they face at work from fire and how their actions or inactions can contribute to a fire breaking out, they also need to receive training which makes them aware of the specific fire and emergency procedures that are in place at the company, including what the alarm sounds like and the location of emergency exits, equipment to tackle the fire and emergency assembly points. This should also extend to site visitors who will also need to know what to do in the event of a fire or other emergency requiring them to evacuate the premises.

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. 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.

Dust Accumulation

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.

Flammable Liquids

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

A fire hose on a reel in a building

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.

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.

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.

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.

Fire Extinguishers

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.

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 Plan

Workplace fire safety has always been a top concern of business owners. There should be no argument that protecting workers from the harm of fire is a basic component of running a successful and safe business, and a significant element of any health and safety training that is provided to both new starters and long-serving employees alike. Some forget though that workers must also shoulder some of the responsibility for their own safety. Together, businesses and workers can take various steps to improve fire prevention in the workplace.

A fire safety plan should already be laid out. This fire safety plan should contain three pillars, each acting as a backup if the previous one fails.

  • First - prevention methods
  • Second - small fire fighting
  • Third - an emergency evacuation plan

Pillar 1 - Fire Prevention

Fire prevention can be an easy or difficult task, depending upon the workplace.

For companies that are located in the average office building, fire prevention is a fairly simple task. Companies should not allow the usage of an open flame within the building. No electronic item that is prone to dangerous levels of overheating should be purchased or operated by the company. Office spaces should not have unfinished wood furniture, since these pieces of furniture can act as great kindling if a fire does occur. Although offices are still dangerous places which also require a lot of safety precautions and considerations, they will not contain as many risks, or the severity of risk, that some other places of work exhibit.

Unfortunately, for the companies that are engaged in a field that involves fire or flames as part of the work environment and process, fire prevention is a more difficult and possibly expensive task, although expense should always be a secondary concern next to the primary concern of safety. One method of fire prevention for businesses that utilise open flames is containment. Any usage of an open flame should take place in an area with absolutely no flammable objects around. When dealing with a large open flame, workers should be provided with the appropriate protective equipment. Work with open flames should be quarantined to a specific area or areas. If quarantine is impossible, businesses should make sure that every employee has some sort of protective divider between he or she and the next worker while work is in progress. Whether it be quarantines, dividers, or no separation at all, workers should always be suitably trained by the company to deal with open-flame before any work commences, including the familiarisation, usage and adherence to hot permits to work. Training lowers the risk of not only a fire, but of injury or death.

No matter what industry the company operates in, every business should have regulations and safety controls that forbid workers from using unauthorised open flames and from disposing of hot or burning objects in flammable areas or containers.

Pillar 2 - Small Fire Prevention

If fire prevention fails and a small fire breaks out, companies should have their workers trained in the proper method of how to handle the fire. Employees should also learn how to tell when a fire is "too big to handle." Workers should have easy access to fire extinguishers and fire blankets to put out small fires. A heat-sensitive sprinkler system that covers the entire workspace should be installed, which is calibrated properly according to the work environment. For example, a sprinkler system in an office building should be less heat-sensitive than a sprinkler system in a welding factory.

Pillar 3 - Emergency Evacuation

When all else fails, companies must have an emergency evacuation plan. Workers should be familiar enough with this plan that even in moments of utter panic, they will still be able to act. An emergency evacuation plan should detail which exits workers should use to leave the building and where they should assemble after they leave the building. In addition to this, employees should know basic precautions to take when dealing with a dangerous fire. These basic precautions are simple - considering most learned them in primary school - but very important. Workers need to have their knowledge refreshed in these issues to ensure that they have not been forgotten, such as not using lifts in the event of a fire and not re-entering the building to collect possessions until told that it is safe to do so by the fire brigade.

Importance of Regular Fire Drills

Running an evacuation drill once a year is often not enough when the implications of not following it correctly are considered. People forget what they had for lunch within a few hours time, so the likelihood of workers forgetting evacuation procedures within a year is high. A worker not knowing or forgetting the evacuation plan, such as who is responsible for ensuring everybody is out of certain sections of the building, could result in injury or death to themselves and/or somebody else. Businesses which have a higher risk of a fire breaking out, or ones which have significant changes in personnel, workplace layout or process should perform fire and emergency evacuation procedures frequently as well as fire safety training.

Businesses should emphasise the importance on all three pillars of fire safety: fire prevention, small fire fighting, and evacuation procedures. Unfortunately, most businesses neglect the final pillar of fire safety. Workers and companies alike must make sure that everyone knows the proper evacuation procedure, the basics of exiting a smoky and hot building, and the possible backup plans if the evacuation plan, for some reason, proves impossible to enact. Circumstances can always defeat the safety an evacuation plan is supposed to provide. When circumstances become that severe, knowing the primary school basics of fire safety is of the absolute importance.


Most companies have fire prevention covered. There are not many offices in existence that allow workers to do such activities as light candles and smoke and dispose of cigarettes within the building, particularly since the introduction of legislation in many countries banning smoking in public places and places of work. Most companies provide workers with the means of putting out small fires. People would be shocked to come upon a workplace without a single fire extinguisher. Just because two pillars of safety are covered, businesses and workers must always remember that the purpose of the evacuation plan is for when those two pillars fail. Without a well-reviewed evacuation plan, businesses are leaving their worker's safety in the balance, as no safety measures are 100% guaranteed and there is always the potential for an emergency situation such as a fire to occur.

Workers must also take part in the burden of workplace fire safety. If a company neglects one, several, or all of the pillars of fire safety, workers should request managers of the business to improve their fire safety measures. If that fails, workers should take the initiative themselves to better ensure their own safety or anonymously report the company to the relevant authorities.

All this being said, companies and workers need to take account of the risk of fire in the specific workplace they are in and adapt measures accordingly, as there is no one-size-fits-all standard when it comes to fire safety. Having a bi-weekly evacuation drill and 100 fire blankets stored away for the average office work environment would be excessive, whilst doing the same for a pyrotechnic factory may be ideal.

Fire safety, no matter the workplace, is an important issue. Whatever the location of a job, a fire can be dangerous. Businesses and workers alike can lower the likelihood of injury or death from workplace fires by following the three pillars of fire safety mentioned above.

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