Generic Fire Safety Advice

This page provides further information and tips on the prevention measures you can take to reduce the risk of a fire starting.  At its simplest, this means separating flammable materials from ignition sources.

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Good housekeeping will lower the chances of a fire starting, so the accumulation of combustible materials in all premises should be monitored carefully.  Good housekeeping is essential to reduce the chances of escape routes and fire doors being blocked or obstructed.

Many of the materials found in your premises will be combustible.  If your premises has inadequate or poorly managed storage areas then the risk of fire is likely to be increased. The more combustible materials you store the greater the source of fuel for a fire and poorly arranged storage could prevent equipment such as sprinklers working effectively.

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Specific precautions are required when handling and storing dangerous substances to minimise the possibility of an incident.  Your supplier should be able to provide detailed advice on safe storage and handling, however the following principles will help you reduce the risk from fire: 

  • Substitute highly flammable substances and materials with less flammable ones 
  • Reduce the quantity of dangerous substances to the smallest reasonable amount necessary for running the business or organisation
  • Correctly store dangerous substances, e.g. in a fire-resisting enclosure. All flammable liquids and gases should ideally be locked away, especially when the premises are unoccupied to reduce the chance of them being used in an arson attack
  • Ensure that you and your employees are aware of the dangerous substances present and the precautions necessary to avoid danger

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Highly flammable liquids present a particularly high fire risk.  For example, a leak from a container of flammable solvents, such as methylated spirit will produce large quantities of heavier-than-air flammable vapours.  These can travel large distances, increasing the likelihood of their reaching a source of ignition well away from the original leak.

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The total amount of LPG for display or demonstration in retail areas should be kept to the minimum necessary to meet business needs.  In no circumstances should it exceed 70kg and this should be reduced to 15kg if the retail premises are under residential accommodation or part of a multi-use building, unless the two are separated by a substantial partition that is imperforate and provides at least 60 minutes fire resistance.

Locate cylinders and cartridges in a safe and secure place where they: 

  • Cannot be interfered with 
  • Can be kept upright (with valve protection fitted)
  • Are away from sources of ignition and/or readily ignitable materials
  • Are away from any corrosive, toxic or oxidant materials; and
  • Are away from stairways, exit doors and places where they may obstruct the means of escape

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Some aerosols can contain flammable products stored at pressure and they can present a high level of hazard.  When ignited they can explode, produce fireballs and rocket to distances of 40m. Their presence in premises can make it unsafe for firefighters to enter a building and they have the potential for starting multiple fires.

The following should be considered to reduce these risks: 

  • All staff involved in the movement, storage and display of aerosol cans should be adequately instructed, trained and supervised
  • Damaged and leaking aerosol cans should be removed immediately to a safe, secure, well ventilated place prior to disposal.  Powered vehicles should not be used to move damaged stock, unless specially adapted for use in flammable atmospheres
  • Arrangements should be made for disposal at a licenced waste management facility

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Common causes of fire in equipment are:

  • Allowing ventilation points to become clogged or blocked, causing overheating
  • Inadequate cleaning of heat-shrink packaging equipment, such as that used in in-store bakeries
  • Allowing extraction equipment in catering environments to build up excessive grease deposits
  • Misuse or lack of maintenance of cooking equipment and appliances
  • Disabling or interfering with automatic or manual safety features and cut-outs

All machinery, apparatus and office equipment should be properly maintained by a competent person.  Appropriate signs and instructions on safe use may be necessary.

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Individual heating appliances require particular care if they are to be used safely, particularly those which are kept for emergency use during a power cut or as supplementary heating during severe weather.  The greatest risks arise from lack of maintenance and staff unfamiliarity with them.  Heaters should preferably be secured in position when in use and fitted with a fire guard if appropriate.

As a general rule, convector or fan heaters should be preferred to radiant heaters because they present a lower risk of fire and injury.

The following rules should be observed: 

  • All heaters should be kept well clear of combustible materials and where they do not cause an obstruction
  • Heaters which burn a fuel should be sited away from draughts
  • Portable fuel burning heaters including bottled gas (LPG) should only be used in exceptional circumstances and if shown to be acceptable in your risk assessment
  • All gas heating appliances should be used only in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and should be serviced annually by a competent person
  • In general, staff should be discouraged from bringing in their own portable heaters and other electrical equipment (e.g. kettles) into the premises

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The main cause of fire is the ignition of cooking oil, combustion of crumbs and sediment deposits, and ductwork fires from a build up of fats and grease.

The siting of cooking processes close to insulated core panels with combustible insulation can lead to the likely ignition of the panels and consequent rapid fire spread to other parts of the building, this practice should therefore be avoided.

The following should be considered to reduce the risk from cooking processes: 

  • Regular cleaning to prevent build-up of crumbs and other combustible material
  • Fire resisting containers for waste products 
  • A fire suppression system capable of controlling an outbreak of fire
  • Monitored heat/oil levels, even after the cooking process is complete and installation of temperature control/cutoff/ shut off devices as appropriate
  • Duct, joints and supports able to withstand high cooking temperatures
  • Seperation from wall and ceiling panels (with combustible insulation) e.g. 2.5m for walls, 4m for ceilings
  • Insulation of ducts to prevent heating/ignition of nearby combustible wall and ceiling materials
  • A regular programme for inspection and cleaning
  • A programme of electrical and mechanical maintenance
  • Annual service of all gas heating appliances by a competent person

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Electrical equipment can be a significant cause of accidental fires in shops and offices.

The main causes are:

  • Overheating cables and equipment, e.g. due to overloading circuits, bunched or coiled cables or impaired cooling fans
  • Incorrect installation or use of equipment
  • Little or no maintenance and testing of equipment
  • Incorrect fuse ratings
  • Damaged or inadequate insulation on cables or wiring
  • Combustible materials being placed too close to electrical equipment which may give off heat even when operating normally or may become hot due to a fault
  • Arcing or sparking by electrical equipment
  • Embrittlement and cracking of cable sheathing in cold environments

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Carelessly discarded cigarettes and other smoking materials are a major cause of fire.  A cigarette can smoulder for several hours, especially when surrounded by combustible material.  Many fires are started several hours after the smoking materials have been emptied into waste bags and left for future disposal.

Display suitable signs throughout the premises informing people of the smoking policy and the locations where smoking is permitted.

In those areas where smoking is permitted, provide non-combustible deep and substantial ashtrays to help prevent unsuitable containers being used.  Empty all ashtrays daily into a metal waste bin and take it outside. It is dangerous to empty ashtrays into plastic waste sacks which are then left inside for disposal later.

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Fires are more frequent when buildings are undergoing refurbishment or alteration.

You should ensure that, before any building work starts, you have reviewed the fire risk assessment and considered what additional dangers are likely to be introduced.  You will need to evaluate the additional risks to people, particularly in those buildings that continue to be occupied.  Lack of pre-planning can lead to haphazard co-ordination of fire safety measures.

Additional risks can include:

  • Hot work such as flame cutting, welding, soldering, or paint stripping
  • Temporary electrical equipment
  • Blocking of escape routes, including external escape routes
  • Introduction of combustibles into an escape route
  • Loss of normal storage facilities
  • Fire safety equipment, such as automatic fire-detection systems becoming affected
  • Fire-resisting partitions being breached or fire doors being wedged open
  • Additional personnel who may be unfamiliar with the premises

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Items that are a source of fuel pose an ignition risk, or are combustible and likely to increase the fire loading or spread of fire, should not be located on any corridor, stairway or circulation space that will be used as an escape route.

Such items include:

  • Portable heaters, e.g. bottled gas (LPG) or electric radiant heaters and electric convectors or boilers
  • Gas cylinders for supplying heaters
  • Cooking appliances
  • Unenclosed gas pipes, meters, and other fittings

However, where more than one escape route is available and depending on the findings of your risk assessment, items such as those below may be acceptable if the minimum exit widths are maintained and the item presents a relatively low fire risk:

  • Non-combustible lockers
  • Vending machines
  • Small items of electrical equipment (e.g. photocopiers)
  • Small coat racks and/or small quantities of upholstered furniture which meets BS 7176 or the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988

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Recent studies indicate that over 2,100 fires are deliberately started every week, resulting in two deaths and 55 injuries.  In shops it is estimated that 44% of all fires are arson.  All premises can be targeted either deliberately or just because they offer easy access.

Be aware of other small deliberately fires in the locality, which can indicate an increased risk to your premises.  Be suspicious of any small ‘accidental’ fires on the premises and investigate them fully and record your findings.

Fires started deliberately can be particularly dangerous because they generally develop much faster and may be intentionally started in escape routes.  Of all the risk-reduction measures, the most benefit may come from efforts to reduce the threat from arson.

Measures to reduce arson may include the following:

  • Ensure the outside of the premises is well lit and, if practical, secure the perimeter of the premises
  • Thoroughly secure all entry points to the premises, including windows and the roof, but make sure that this does not compromise people’s ability to use the escape routes
  • Make sure you regularly remove all combustible rubbish
  • Do not place rubbish skips adjacent to the building and secure waste bins in a compound separated from the building
  • Do not park vehicles, store goods or materials in the open next to windows or doors
  • Encourage staff to report people acting suspiciously
  • Remove automatic entry rights from staff who have been dismissed
  • Ensure that your security alarm/firedetection system is monitored and acted on
  • Secure flammable liquids so that intruders cannot use them
  • Secure all storage areas and unused areas of the building that do not form part of an escape route against unauthorised access, ensure access to keys to those areas is restricted
  • Fit secure metal letterboxes on the inside of letter flaps to contain any burning materials that may be pushed through

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