Keeping your employees safe and ensuring your premises are fully compliant with fire safety regulations puts you in the best possible position should a fire event occur.
Conducting regular fire risk assessments should form an integral component of an organisation's comprehensive risk management framework. It helps to identify and avoid loss events in the workplace that can potentially endanger employee health and safety and disrupt normal business operations.
For perspective, the UK Fire & Safety Service (FRS) attended more than 600,000 incidents in the year ending September 2022, a 16% increase from the previous year1. This increase is partly attributed to a 63% increase in outdoor primary fires following a hot, dry summer in 20222. Fire risk assessments are also a legal requirement, and all businesses must conduct a fire risk assessment and regularly check their fire safety protocols to conform to the law.
Why you should undertake a workplace fire risk assessment now?
A fire incident can have devastating consequences. Workplace and people safety should be the first priority for commercial business operators, noting the often significant impact to normal business operations that a fire event can have.
Consequences of workplace fire events include:
- Injuries and fatalities
According to official statistics, there were 135 fatalities in the workplace in 2022-233 Workplace fires may cause significant injuries and fatalities to employees and customers, with burns and smoke inhalation being two of the more common injuries. Victims may require extensive medical treatment and smoke inhalation can lead to respiratory problems, including asthma and can carry long-term health impacts.
- False alarm prevention
With more than 40% of fire events4 attended by emergency service providers being caused by false alarms where a fire device is incorrectly activated, it is important to ensure all fire apparatus installed at a business premises is operating correctly. Fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, and sprinkler systems should be regularly checked as part of your fire risk assessment process.
- Property damage
Fires can cause significant damage to property, including buildings, vehicles, and personal belongings. The damage can be particularly severe in the workplace because of valuable equipment, inventory, and essential documents that it contains.
- Business interruption and lost productivity
With premises closed for business while awaiting repair, downtime may result in loss of business hours, revenue and potentially customers. Aside from the physical damage, psychological distress following a fire event can lead to employee absence and compensation. Additionally, there may be insurance claims to file and paperwork to complete, which can be time-consuming and further disrupt the workday.
- Public and employers liability
Business and/or premises owners may be liable for accidents, faulty (or inadequate) fire safety equipment relating to workplace fire events. Legal action and high-value claims settlements can be costly, stressful and time-consuming, and in many cases, are generally avoidable.
- Increased insurance premiums
A single fire incident can directly trigger a considerable hike in insurance premiums at renewal as some insurance companies can often view businesses that have already experienced a fire as higher risk and more likely to file a claim in the future. These higher premiums can significantly impact the business’s bottom line.
- Occupational health & safety issues
Occupational health and safety issues are consequences in the aftermath of workplace fires. Fires can release hazardous chemicals in the workplace environment. This can pose a serious risk to the health and safety of employees, particularly those who work close to the fire or are responsible for cleaning up immediately after the fire incident.
- Regulatory fines and penalties
According to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, most commercial premises are required to undertake regular fire risk assessments5. Not doing so could invite fines and potential legal proceedings. Stricter action for non-compliance may be taken if the business has already experienced a fire event.
Any combination of the above consequences can intensify the impact of a single fire incident on a business operator. The good news is that by implementing a structured fire risk management approach, these events can generally be avoided or the claims loss severity be reduced.
Common workplace fire hazards
Although each working environment is different, there are a number of common workplace fire hazards to watch out for. Business owners and operators are recommended to schedule regular assessments of potential fire hazards and work on ways to eliminate or reduce the risk emanating from them. Following are some of the most common hazards in the workplace that can cause fires.
- Faulty electrical equipment
With faulty equipment being a principal cause of a high percentage of fire incidents, periodically checking equipment and an annual PAT test by a qualified electrician can make all the difference. Look for signs of loose cabling, exposed components, and damaged plugs, and replace faulty equipment at the earliest opportunity.
Overloading power sockets is another common cause of electrical fires. If too many appliances are plugged into the same socket, it can result in overheating and lead to a fire. Don’t plug in more than one appliance into a socket, and it is generally best practice to unplug electrical equipment when not in use.
- Flammable and combustible materials
Improper storage of combustible materials such as cardboard, paper, paints, chemicals, and plastics can lead to workplace fires. The main risk areas for this kind of hazard include industrial warehouses and factories where large amounts of flammable liquids and vapour may be stored. Also, consider the spaces where these materials are stored, such as garages, hotels, kitchens, and workspaces where cooking equipment and appliances are used.
Always ensure that flammable liquid and solvent containers are appropriately sealed and labelled as “flammable”. Keep them away from direct heat sources when not in use, and ensure that any spills are cleaned up immediately.
- Inadequate or inoperable fire safety equipment
Ensure your workplace has functional smoke detectors, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, and an evacuation plan. All fire exits must be free from clutter and easily accessible. The fire exits should not be kept open either, as fire doors are meant to prevent the fire from spreading further in a building. There should also be proper ventilation with equipment such as extraction fans or LEV (Local Exhaust Ventilation) where there is a risk of dust in the air, which is combustible, usually in environments such as mines and factories. A maintenance schedule should be followed to ensure repair works when needed.
- Natural hazards
While fire events are primarily related to human activity, naturally occurring events such as lightning strikes, heat waves, and wildfires can also cause workplace fires. Interestingly, recent scientific research has revealed that lightning-related natural hazards may increase by up to 12% in the coming years due to global warming and climate change6. If your workplace is located in a higher-risk exposed area, including a focus on potential climate and weather-related risks can provide an additional layer of fire risk safety in your response plan.
While most of the above risks are preventable, others are unavoidable. Ultimately, what matters is how business stakeholders practically respond to these risks.
Gallagher can support and advise on your fire risk assessment framework
A practical fire risk assessment entails more than taking a walk around the office and checking that fire extinguishers are regularly inspected and maintained using a certified company to complete fire risk assessments to the highest standard possible. These providers are well placed to spot issues that inexperienced eyes could miss and provide clear guidance and recommendations to improve your fire safety management framework.
As fire risk assessments are legal documents that could be referred to in court, it is often prudent to have your assessment and risk management process reviewed by professionals to reduce risk to your business, employees and customers.
Talk to us
To speak with a member of our friendly risk management team about any of the content in this article or how we can help you with any of your risk management requirements, call 0800 138 7538.