One of the most devastating things that can happen to any business is a fire on the premises. Even if nobody is hurt, vital documents and materials can be lost, and equipment damaged. Even if you have full insurance, it may take a long time to pay out, leaving you struggling in the meantime. For this reason, it’s really important to do all you can to prevent workplace fires, and to control them if they do break out. This will also enable you to comply with health and safety legislation and will help ensure that your insurance company can’t wriggle out of paying if the worst happens.
Every workplace is different and faces different risks, so the first thing you need to do is work out what your risks are and establish ways of minimising them. If you work with flammable materials, you will need to take industry-specific advice and implement all possible risk control methods. Flammable waste, such as oily rags, must be placed in suitable containers and disposed of frequently. Make sure that the workplace is properly ventilated and equipment properly maintained.
It’s important to understand that even if you’re running an ordinary office, you still face fire risks. Key actions you can take include reducing clutter, making sure that escape routes are well signposted and kept clear, and ensuring that electrical panels are easy to access so that the power can quickly be turned off if a fire starts.
No matter how careful the arrangements you make in your workplace, there is always a risk of a fire being started deliberately. For this reason, it’s important to have a good security system and to be careful not to create easy targets for arsonists – for instance, by leaving bins full of flammable rubbish in unsecured areas. Knowing exactly who is on your premises at any given time also means that you can check everybody is safe if you have to evacuate due to a fire, and you can advise the emergency services if anyone is thought to be still inside.
One major risk that applies in practically every workplace comes from electrical problems. As these can develop unseen, leading to sudden fires, it’s important to have your electrical systems checked regularly by a fully qualified professional, even if everything seems fine. Day to day, you can reduce the risks through small actions such as keeping cables tidy to reduce the risk of them being damaged.
If a fire does occur, you’ll need to know about it as soon as possible. Your local fire department can give you advice on the best places to fit smoke alarms and heat detectors in your workplace. These should be linked so that if one of them is triggered, an alarm sounds everywhere. If your work involves smoke and high temperatures, you can get advice on alternative alarm options. An automatic sprinkler system connected to the alarms can provide vital protection in high-risk workplaces.
Once a fire starts, it’s imperative to control its spread so that it presents as little danger and does as little damage as possible. There are different grades of fire door available that you can fit in your workplace; the most basic ones can prevent a fire spreading for half an hour, buying valuable time for staff to escape and for the fire service to arrive. Using fire resistant glass is important to stop internal windows from shattering and allowing the fire to spread. Used in external windows, it can stop fires from sucking in the oxygen they need to keep going.
If a fire seems to be getting out of control, only professional firefighters should attempt to tackle it, and everybody else should leave the building. Sometimes, however, small fires can be put out as soon as they start. To make this possible, you should have fire extinguishers and fire blankets throughout your buildings, and make sure that staff are trained in how to use them. You should also have staff members trained in first aid and have adequate first aid supplies on the premises for them to be able to treat any injuries caused by such fires straight away.
In order to protect people working for you, it’s important to make sure that they are properly trained in what to do if a fire breaks out, and that they know where to assemble after leaving the building. This training should be provided on the first day they arrive, and it should extend to people who are only there on short-term contracts. Visitors to the building should also be shown where the emergency exits are. You should hold fire drills at least every six months. If you have disabled employees, make sure you have a tailored plan in place to cater to any special needs they may have in the event of an evacuation. If they are likely to need assistance, there should be a dedicated member of staff assigned to that at all times.
To reduce the risk of losing valuable data in the event of a fire, you should make regular back-ups from your computer system on detachable hard drives. These should either be kept off the premises in a secure place such as a bank vault or home safe, or they should be kept in a fire safe on the premises. Some people opt to do both, with a full back-up offsite and another backed up once or twice daily.
Whilst instituting all these measures might seem like a lot of work, it’s significantly less hassle than dealing with the consequences if a fire does happen. It also gets easier with practice – a lot of ongoing measures quickly become habit. Your workforce will feel a lot more secure knowing that there are full fire safety precautions in place, even if they grumble a bit if they’re evacuated when it’s raining. You’ll feel a lot more secure knowing that the risk to your premises, equipment, materials, data and personnel are minimised.