A Guide to Fire Safety in the Workplace
Whether you work in a state-of-the-art office at the heart of London or in a weather-beaten quarry in Scotland, fire safety is and always should be of paramount importance in any workplace. It is, in fact, a legal requirement for almost every business, and in the event of an emergency, can save lives.
Fire safety procedures in the workplace are a necessary part of health and safety, but it can sometimes be hard to know where to begin with fire safety. This article is a comprehensive workplace fire safety guide to help employers and office managers ensure that their office is as fire safe as possible.
Every year there are thousands of fires within the workplace, which makes it crucial for businesses to be compliant with fire legislation, as well as being aware of any potential hazards. While many of these fires do not cause harm to employees, some fires cause fatal injuries and death.
Effective fire safety should be a top priority for every business. Government data shows that fires cost UK businesses approximately £8.3 billion per year, so it’s always worth taking the time to ensure that you have robust fire protection processes in place. Not only does this protect your employees, but it also helps to protect your business and finances by reducing the likelihood that you'll have to pay for repairs.
It is important that you understand your legal duties when it comes to ensuring your workplace is fire safe so you can be compliant with fire legislation while being fully aware of the potential fire hazards in the workplace.
The main piece of fire safety legislation you need to understand is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This informs businesses what they need to do to comply with fire safety law, including requiring businesses to carry out risk assessments, identifying the general fire precautions they need to have in place, and appointing staff who are trained in fire safety.
In order to comply with relevant fire safety legislation and keep your employees safe at work, some necessary procedures and protocols need to be followed to ensure fire safety at work.
All of the following steps should be reviewed and evaluated periodically, to maintain high levels of fire safety in the workplace. Regardless of where or how you work, it’s always worth remembering that a working environment can never be too fire safe.
Because all working environments are varied in layout and style, it is the law that every business has a fire safety risk assessment completed. A thorough fire risk assessment will help you to identify potential hazards, and provide you with an action plan that can be used to improve overall safety in the workplace.
Up-to-date and well-documented fire risk assessments are also mandated by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, so it’s always worth starting with a robust risk assessment process. This risk assessment takes into account everything that might be the cause of a fire and considers the various obstacles that might need addressing in the event of a fire.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) a good fire risk assessment:
A fire safety risk assessment can take whichever form your working environment requires, but generally should include the following steps:
You’ll find useful information on performing a fire safety assessment on the UK government’s website, alongside fire safety advice for various types of businesses.
Emergency action plans (EAP) are designed to cut down on panic and ensure that staff know how to respond should the unthinkable happen. In the event of a fire, a good EAP can be the difference between life and death.
You also should make yourself as aware as possible of the fire escapes and how different areas might present different congestion challenges during evacuation. A thorough EAP will account for all possible escape routes, and provide fallback options if certain parts of your premises become cut off during a fire.
If you’ve had the prerequisite fire safety training, it’s always worth spending some time on your EAP, paying particular attention to things that could be done to maximise safety and the wellbeing of your staff. Also note that in every office there will need to be a fire warden to orchestrate an evacuation, should a fire occur.
Fire safety equipment is often the backbone of a robust fire safety strategy, so it pays to make sure you’ve invested in the right things. A variety of different equipment is required for a fire-safe office, used both for calling attention and for fighting any fires that might start.
According to the HSE, proper emergency lighting, alarm systems and clear safety signs are all essential kit, as are fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems and high-quality fire doors.
Firstly, a robust system of alarms should be installed. The most common alarm setups are Conventional Fire Alarm Systems, which are made up of smoke or heat detectors, connected to a central control panel.
The detectors are split into zones, which is handy for finding out where the fire began and is spreading to. Some alarms are linked to the offices of the Fire Brigade, alerting them immediately when a fire is detected. Regardless of the model, an alarm system is a must for workplace fire safety.
Firefighting equipment is another wise addition. Fire extinguishers are the best and most widely used, but different ones must be used in different situations.
A water extinguisher is used against organic fires arising from organic materials, like wood, coal and plastic, while powder extinguishers work on liquid fires and carbon dioxide extinguishers work on electrical fires. Fire blankets and buckets also perform similar tasks, but aren’t quite as efficient.
Finally, a series of signs should be set up, alerting colleagues to the important aspects of fire safety in the office. Fire exits and points of assembly should be correctly labelled, as well as all equipment and alarms. It can be very helpful to place signs up detailing the evacuation procedure, for reference during an emergency. All signs should glow in the dark, for the purpose of visibility.
Under the terms of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, it is your responsibility to make sure you’ve made adequate provisions to purchase fire safety equipment in the workplace. We’d strongly recommend sitting down and thinking about the equipment that’s needed to guarantee effective fire safety protection.
Fire risk assessments, fire evacuation plans, fire safety equipment and all the work that goes into fire prevention are not worth much if they aren’t backed up by a trained workforce. For this reason, training is a must and should apply to all employees in the workspace.
Fire safety training sessions should be held and refresher courses ought to be hosted whenever the evacuation procedure changes. New starters should be inducted as part of their employment.
Trained staff will be better placed to spot risks, and take preventative action that’ll stop a fire from breaking out in the first place. They’ll also be much quicker to respond in the event of an accidental fire, and it’s also worth noting that the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 mandates that all members of staff receive up-to-date fire safety training.
Fire Warden and Fire Marshal positions must be created and assigned, and specialist training should be given to them to raise awareness of their duties and responsibilities. This can be given in person, but fire warden training online is becoming more and more common.
Our Fire Safety for Fire Marshals and Wardens Training course is the perfect tool for training new wardens and marshals from scratch or providing refresher lessons for those who are more experienced. Up to four hours of interactive content makes up an informative self-paced training routine which is designed to inform Fire Wardens of their responsibilities and to teach general fire safety to the workforce.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for fire safety protection. As such, effective fire safety protocols tend to have a multifaceted approach; starting with a comprehensive risk assessment process and then branching out to address any areas of concern in the most effective way possible.
Each individual business will have its own collection of unique fire hazards. For example, shops and retail outlets will need to be mindful of flammable display materials and plan for narrow or congested exit routes, while restaurants will need to be aware of the risks posed by open flames, hot oil and other high-risk fuel sources.
It is a good idea for all members of staff to be aware of potential fire hazards in the office so that they can look out for and reduce the risk of an accidental fire. Here are five ways to reduce hazards in your workplace.
In most offices, numerous computers, TV screens, internet cables, and adaptors create a need for extension leads and multiple plug sockets. However, overloading power sockets or using faulty extension leads can result in overheating and potentially a fire.
This is a common cause of electrical fires, but it’s also easily avoided by using just one plug in each electrical socket. It is also a good idea to stay clear from using appliances that total more than 13 amps or 3000 watts across the whole socket.
This may sound like a given, but it’s easy for companies to get caught up in business and forget to test their alarms. But having a fire alarm that doesn’t work is just as ineffective as not having one at all.
You can make sure that you don’t forget about this by having a maintenance schedule and contract in place for your fire alarm system, so that it is regularly tested. If any problems are identified, the alarms need to be replaced as soon as possible.
Because fire exits are used infrequently, they can often become a place where items are stored. However, if a fire does occur, even the smallest of items in these exits could make the difference between life and death as it stops workers from leaving the building as quickly as possible.
Businesses must ensure that all fire exits are free from clutter and are easily accessible. Make sure that there are signs in front of fire exits reminding employees of this and encourage everyone to clear away anything that they find blocking a fire exit as quickly as possible.
In most offices, disposable paper and cardboard very quickly build up. This type of combustible material is much more flammable than most substances and will fuel a fire should it occur, hence why it needs to be disposed of regularly.
A fire can be very easily started by combustible materials, with even the slightest source of ignition - like a cigarette butt - triggering a fire. The best solution to this is to avoid storing rubbish on site or to at least make sure it is kept in a designated area away from the main buildings.
Cigarettes that have not been discarded properly are often the cause of fires. If smoking is allowed on your premises, you must provide your employees with a designated area, away from any flammable materials and main buildings.
You can also encourage staff that do smoke to be extra cautious, ensuring they put their cigarettes out properly, while providing special bins for cigarette disposal.
Official advice from the UK government states that employers, building owners, landlords, building occupiers and anyone with control of building premises are responsible for fire safety at work. Being responsible means that you are accountable for implementing fire safety measures and ensuring that you’re acting in line with relevant workplace fire safety legislation.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) is the most important piece of legislation that covers fire safety requirements in the workplace. The Fire Safety Act 2021 is another important law, along with the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022.
Fire safety training in the workplace is important because it gives your staff the information and instructions they need to act quickly and responsibly in the event of an emergency like a fire. This kind of training means that everyone knows what to do in a fire and how to prevent it from happening, making the whole workplace much safer and reducing the risk of harm related to a fire.
The importance of fire safety training in the workplace is often brushed over because, in most working environments, the chances of a fire are quite low. However, promoting fire safety awareness in the workplace and ensuring that risk assessments have reduced hazards and led to preventative measures are all incredibly important, not to mention a legal requirement if you’re an employer.
If you’re looking for more advice and guidance on fire safety precautions in the workplace, we offer a CPD-certified ‘Fire Safety Training’ course which will enable you and your staff to learn about fire safety at your own pace.