Hazard alert! Don’t get burned by a poor fire risk assessment

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Fire safety has long been one of the manufacturing industry’s biggest risk challenges. And in the last 10 years, UK legislation has specifically put the onus on the responsible person (such as the building owner and/or employer) to perform regular fire assessments. Typically these assessments fall to the health & safety manager to perform, but often these individuals don’t have the time or expertise to create best practice documentation.

The benefits of a top-notch fire risk assessment are many, from reducing the likelihood of a fire to ensuring that, if there is a fire, everyone knows their responsibilities, there is minimal damage to property and no staff injuries. Additionally, a professional risk assessment and the subsequent risk reduction can even help minimise insurance costs or help companies achieve certificated health and safety management systems, such as OHSAS 18001/ISO45001.

Failure to undertake a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment can increase the risk of injuries or fatalities to staff and the monetary fines that can be incurred when a fire does occur. For example, a Reading manufacturer received a £200,000 fine in 2010 for failing to provide adequate fire safety clothing when an employee received burns on the job. Fire and rescue services also conduct ad hoc investigations of facilities to identify if the fire risk assessment is suitable and sufficient, and can take action where this is deemed appropriate (e.g. serve notices, prosecute, etc).

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It would be wise for those responsible for managing fire risk and safety to watch for some of the common pitfalls of weaker fire risk assessments by taking into account some of the following factors:

  • Ensure all staff are trained and accredited to the appropriate level with courses such as NEBOSH course in fire safety; there are a variety of relevant health and safety courses offered through delivery methods such as blended learning, e-learning and online training
  • Don’t just focus on the ‘fire triangle’ (sources of ignition, oxygen and fuel)
  • Investigate the elements of your building structure, including fire doors, breaches in compartment walls, shafts and voids (ways that a fire could spread) as well as travel distances to emergency exits (a strong understanding of technical building standards and drawings as well as the specifications of fire alarms is necessary to properly be able to address this)
  • Consider all building materials used and identify opportunities to retrofit with less flammable alternatives
  • Research any ‘near misses’ where a fire almost occurred or almost spread to become a larger problem to identify any opportunities for improvement
  • Fire safety doesn’t have an approved code of practice, so understanding the related standards that should be referred to is key (these need to be applied subjectively depending on the building use)

Fire risk assessments should be regularly updated, particularly when there are building works, such as an expansion or renovation that could affect building materials and risks. Additionally, new operating processes could affect status of the fire risk assessment. 

EEF experts regularly help UK manufacturers minimise risk in their workplace. Get in touch to arrange a diagnostic visit.

Author

HSCE Consultant

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