There are common fire hazards in the workplace that if not properly managed could result to serious fire accident.
In the UK each year there are around 25,000 non-residential fires reported, with a significant proportion of these fires occurring in the workplace.
Although each working environment is different, there are some common workplace fire hazards that you should look out for and understand how to reduce the risk of them causing a fire.
At the end of this article, you will understand the common fire hazards in the workplace which will guide you on how to manage each of them.
Flammable liquids and vapours
Main risk areas to this kind of hazards include industrial warehouses and factories where there may be large amounts of flammable liquids and vapour stored. This can also cover anywhere that these materials are present such as garages, hotels and kitchens. Flammable liquids can ignite instantly when they come into contact with a spark or naked flame. Vapours are also particularly dangerous as they spread out very fast into the surrounding atmosphere and saturate it.
To manage this hazard, always ensure that flammable liquid and solvent containers are sealed properly and if any spills do happen, they are cleaned up immediately.
Poor storage of waste and combustible materials on site
Build up of waste and combustibles is very common in most workplaces, particular offices. This provides plenty of fuel for any potential fires break out. All it takes is a source of ignition, for example a discarded cigarette butt to set this alight and it could result in a fire that burns rapidly.
To avoid this, waste and combustible materials should be properly stored and combustible well managed (Stored in designated areas).
Faulty electrical equipment
Fires caused by electrical equipment are one of the most common types of fire in the workplace. Most fire incident are caused by the use of faulty electrical equipment.
To manage this hazard, look out for any signs of loose cabling, damaged plugs and replace any faulty equipment. All electrical equipment should be regularly checked and PAT tested by an expert.
Overloading power sockets
This is a fairly common cause of electrical fires but it is one that is easily avoidable. If too many appliances are plugged into the same socket it can result in overheating and potentially a fire. Always make sure that you use one plug in each socket and don’t use appliances that total more than 13amps or 3000 watts across the whole socket.
Discarded cigarettes butt can cause fires if not put out and disposed of properly.
Also, smoking can be hazardous if it is allowed to take place near areas where flammable materials are present. Therefore a designated smoking area should be allocated in your workplace away from main buildings and flammables.
Dust and powder from wood, plastic and metal operations can cause explosions in enclosed spaces if there is no proper ventilation. Extraction fans or LEV (Local exhaust ventilation) should be installed in places where there is a risk of dust in the air, for example in environments such as mines and factories.
Objects that generate heat
Heat is one of the vital ingredients of fire. It is one of the component of the fire triangle and forms the ignition source. Some electrical equipment and machinery warms up when used providing the potential for a fire to start.
Since this hazard may not be eliminated, make sure you keep combustible materials away from heat sources and remember to unplug any equipment that is not being used if possible. Never leave any electrical equipment or machinery on overnight unless it is necessary.
Blocked Fire Exits
Blockages or obstructions of fire exits prevent safe and speedy escape if a fire breaks out, posing a major hazard as it endangers lives. We must always ensure that all fire exits are free from clutter and easily accessible.
Open Fire Doors
Fire doors are to prevent the further spread of fire throughout a building, when they are left open, it renders it useless in the event of a fire.
Untested Fire Alarms
Having a fire alarm system installed is great, but is no use whatsoever if they don’t work or the batteries have run out. Having a maintenance schedule and contract in place for your fire alarm system will ensure it works when you need it most.
Human error and negligence
One of the most common causes of fires in the workplace is human error. Fires can occur as a result of negligence in a variety of ways including improper use of equipment, accidents, drinks being spilt over electrical equipment, leaving cooking unattended, etc.
Other common fire hazards include:
- Systems using combustible hydraulic fluids.
- Hot work activity (e.g., welding, brazing, cutting and grinding).
- Industrial furnaces or ovens.
- Controls and safety interlocks on fuel fired boilers and hot water heaters, which can present a risk if inadequate or poorly maintained.
- Spray painting and use of flammable or combustible liquids.
- Operations using flammable gases.
- Combustible metal dusts.
- Pyrophoric materials (substances that ignite instantly upon exposure to oxygen).
- Water-reactive metals.
- Dip tanks using hazardous materials.
- Heat-treating operations.
All the above mentioned are major fire hazards in the workplace; your workplace may have have two or more of these hazards. Some of these hazards being present are unavoidable, since they are inherent hazards, what matters is how they are managed.
Recognizing these hazards is the first approach to managing them, as you cannot manage what you do not know.
Within the article, there are highlights on how to manage some of these hazards, follow them religiously to protect your workplace against fire accident.