Fire Safety in the Workplace

Health & Safety Toolbox Talk

28th August 2019 | Info

Most fires are preventable. It is imperative that those responsible for workplaces (and other buildings to which the public have access to), take responsibility for, and adopt, the right behaviours and procedures to reduce the risk of them happening.

General fire safety hazards

Three things are needed for a fire to start – Heat, Fuel and Oxygen.

  • Heat (sources of ignition) can include heaters, lighting, naked flames, electrical equipment, smokers’ materials (cigarettes, matches, lighters, etc.), as well as anything else that can get extremely hot or spark.
  • Fuel (something that burns) can include wood, paper, plastic, rubber or foam, loose packaging materials, waste rubbish and furniture.
  • Oxygen is included in the air around us.

What is expected of employers?

Employers are responsible for carrying out a fire safety risk assessment, and it must be kept renewed regularly. Much like a health and safety risk assessment, fire safety risk assessments can be included as part of an overall risk assessment or can be done separately.

As an employer, it is also essential that employees know where the fire risk assessment is and that they familiarise themselves with it. It is important to value and listen to your employees’ comments as they can help suggest sections that may need to be reviewed, making it a safer place for all.

Based on the findings of the fire risk assessment, as an employer, you will need to make sure that all essential and necessary fire safety measures are put into place to reduce the risk of employee injury or loss of life in the unfortunate case that a fire breaks out.

To help prevent fire in your workplace, your risk assessment should identify what could cause a fire to start, i.e. what could be the source of ignition (heat or sparks), are there substances that can burn, and who are the people that would be at risk.

After having identified the risks, you can put steps into action to control them. You should consider whether you can avoid these risks altogether or, if this isn’t possible, what actions you can put in place or do to reduce and manage the risks. Also, it is important to consider how you will protect people if there is a fire.

As an employer, you should:

  • You must conduct a fire-safety risk assessment.
  • Keep heat sources and substances that burn, separate.
  • Avoid the risk of accidental fires (e.g. make sure that stand-alone heaters are in a place that they can’t get knocked over).
  • Always ensure that your workplace has good housekeeping (e.g. avoid piles of rubbish that could build up over time and burn quickly).
  • Consider how you can detect fires in the workplace and how to warn people quickly if they start (e.g. this could include installing smoke alarms and fire alarms).
  • Having the correct fire-fighting equipment within the workplace that is needed to put a fire out quickly (e.g. fire extinguishers).
  • You must always keep fire exits and escape routes clearly marked and unobstructed.
  • Ensure your employees fully understand your workplace’s fire safety rules that they need to follow – this includes regular fire drills.
  • Review and update your risk assessment regularly.

Dangerous substances that cause fire and explosion

As arborists, even in the office, we are always around sources of fuel (and ignition!). – In the tree surgery industry, the biggest threat for fire and explosions are fuel as well as hot machinery.

Work, in which the storage, use or creation of chemicals, vapours, dust etc. is in practice, and that can readily burn or explode, is considered to be hazardous. Each year people are injured at work by flammable substances accidentally catching fire or exploding.

What are the hazards?

In the workplace, many substances and materials can cause fires or explosions. Some of these can range from the obvious such as petrol and flammable chemicals to the less obvious; engine oil, packing materials and dust from wood. It is deeply important that as an employer, you are aware of these potential risks and take action to control or eliminate them to prevent an accidental fire from occurring.

What do I have to do?

To prevent a fire from occurring, you must remember to identify:

  • What is in the workplace that has the potential to cause a fire – this includes substances/materials that can burn or explode and what may ignite them.
  • The people who may be at risk.

Having identified the risks, you should then take into consideration what measures need to be taken to lower the possibility of people within the workplace getting hurt. This includes establishing methods and practices that can be put in place to reduce the likelihood of these events happening, as well as what actions you can take that will prevent people from being harmed if there is a fire or explosion in the workplace.

Key points to remember

  • Take into consideration the risks of fire and explosions from the materials and/or substances that you use or create in your business and what you could do to remove or reduce these risks completely.
    • As tree surgeons, our industry works with fuel. We should always consider (when on-site) an appropriate area for the fuelling site, which should be a minimum of 5m from the work site as well as from any other hazards or people/public.
    • Our COSHH (Control of Substances that are Hazardous to Health) gives more in-depth details of substance that are likely to be found and used within our areas of work. This should be made available in the workplace or on individual vehicle pads. The COSHH assessments indicate the hazards and how to reduce the risks of
  • Remember to use supplier safety data sheets as a source of information about which substances/materials may be flammable in your place of work.
  • Consider reducing the amount of flammable or explosive substances that you store on site.
  • Keep your heat sources (sources of ignition – e.g. naked flames, sparks) and fuel materials/substances (something that burns – e.g. vapour, dust) apart.
  • Limit or remove all flammable/explosive substances safely (i.e. via regulations).
  • Review and update your risk assessment regularly.
  • Maintain good housekeeping within your workspace (g. Avoid a build-up of rubbish, dust or grease on-site or in the workplace that could start a fire or make one worse).

What to do if a fire breaks out in the workplace

Do not ever try to fight a fire on your own. Fire extinguishers are in the workplace for a reason. These are for your own safety and for users to get out of harm’s way, not for you to be a hero.

The steps to follow are:

  1. Raise the Alarm.
  2. Evacuate.
  3. Get to the designated meeting point.
  4. Dial 999.

It is important to consider what fire extinguisher you need when dealing with a breakout and how to use one to get to safety, e.g. you wouldn’t want to use a water extinguisher on an electrical fire. Below is the current colour coded fire extinguishers and what type of fire they are designed for:

Type of Extinguisher Class A

Solid Combustibles

Class B

Flammable Liquids

Class C

Flammable Gases

Class D

Flammable Metals

Electrical Fires Class F

Combustable Cooking Media

Type of Fire/Fuel wood, textiles, straw, paper, coal petrol, oil, fats, paints, tar, ether, alcohol, stearin, paraffin methane, propane, hydrogen, acetylene, natural gas, city gas magnesium, aluminium, lithium, sodium, potassium, allooys computers, electrical heaters, stereos, fuse boxes hot cooking oil/grease
WATER
X – Do not use X – Do not use X – Do not use X – Do not use X – Do not use
AFFF FOAM
X – Do not use X – Do not use
X – Do not use
CARBON DIOXIDE (CO2) X – Do not use
X – Do not use X – Do not use
X – Do not use
ABC POWDER
X – Do not use
X – Do not use
WATER MIST
X – Do not use
WET CHEMICAL
X – Do not use X – Do not use X – Do not use X – Do not use

A final thought for this Tool Box Talk...

Fire is always a very harmful hazard to anyone, so the more that we can do as individuals to minimise or control the risks is necessary for the wellbeing of everyone and the environment, the better. This is even more current this summertime following the extreme heat that we have had and the considerably drier outdoor environment that, at present, is still considered high risk from fire. We have all heard of recent fires nationally and locally and ask for everyone to consider their actions, use their common sense and think how to reduce the potential threat of fire within the workplace.

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