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Routine Fire Safety Checks

Fire risk assessment routine checks

Fire Safety Hazards

The main aim of fire safety is to reduce the chance of a fire occurring to an absolute minimum. To achieve this, companies are legally obliged to carry out a fire risk assessment and to implement any actions that this creates. You can support this process by undertaking fire awareness training and being aware of the main possible causes of fire in your workplace and ensuring risks are minimised.

Fires start with heat or ignition sources and these will vary according to the setting. For example, in a construction setting, contractors involved in welding roofing work create heat sources that must be carefully monitored and controlled and additional hotworks fire training may be required. Machines and fork lift trucks in factories can present a risk that must be minimised. You need to be aware of specific hazards in your own work place.

There are a variety of ignition sources that apply in most workplaces. Arson is behind as many as 40% of all non-domestic fires. You can help minimise the risk of arson by reporting poor external storage of combustible materials, damage to external fencing and broken security lighting.

Electrical heat sources can be found in all settings. Overloaded plug sockets may lead to overheating of the socket and cables and you should be aware of signs of scorching and burning and cases of recently blown fuses. Extension cables particularly when bunched and coiled should be avoided wherever possible. Many companies have a portable electrical equipment PAT testing policy. You can check PAT test stickers to ensure they have not expired.

Portable heaters create an obvious risk and should be restricted or not used wherever possible. If they are used, they should be kept away from combustible items and be kept clean and serviced regularly. Radiant heaters and those with naked flames present the highest risk.

Light fittings and portable lights should be safe and kept well away from combustible items. Any other electrical items must be checked including photocopiers, toasters, cookers and smoking materials which should only be found in designated smoking areas away from the workplace.

Combustible materials must come into contact with heat sources for a fire to start. Combustibles are all around, but if they are kept to a minimum and managed correctly, the risk of fire can be lowered. Items that are very flammable such as liquids like petrol, white spirts, cooking oils and adhesives must be kept in purpose built flammable storage containers. Flammable gasses such as LPG must be stored in accordance with industry guidance. All stored items should have appropriate signage.

In addition to your regular fire risk assessment, you should check that items such as curtains, soft furnishings, packaging and displays are not close to ignition sources. Good housekeeping will ensure that stationary supplies, packaging and stock items are managed and stored safely.

Fire Escape Routes

Once a fire has started, been detected and warning given, it is vital that everyone in the building can escape quickly to a place of safety without the aid of the Fire Service. Assuming your building conforms to building regulations and that escape routes and exits are of the correct layout and size, your checks can help ensure that they are safe to use at all times.

Corridors should be kept clear and hazard free at all times. You should look for trip hazards and ensure that combustibles are not stored in designated escape routes, final exits and escape staircases. If you have fire refuges, they must be freely available and escape equipment such as evacuation chairs must be in the correct locations and ready to use.

You need to make sure that fire doors are not blocked and can be easily open. You should check the seals and self-closing mechanisms on the doors to ensure that are in good condition. Fire doors form part of the fire compartment and play a vital role in smoke and fire containment.

Final exits doors must also be in good condition and freely available. Make sure you check push bars and other mechanisms on the door and ensure there is an appropriate sign.

Once outside, it is vital that the external escape routes are clear from obstruction. If left for long periods, items can be stored and rubbish may collect. Trees, weeds and other plants can often create an obstacle. If the route is from an upper floor, make sure that escape staircases are in good order and not blocked at any point and are free from combustibles in the close vicinity.

Fire Detection And Warning Equipment

Should a fire break out, it is vital that occupants are warned of its presence. The range of detection equipment will vary widely depending on the type, size and layout of your workplace. In very small premises, very simple systems and procedures may suffice. In most commercial premises, particularly those with more than one floor, an electrical alarm system incorporating sounders and manual call points will be required.

You should check the central alarm panel to ensure it is not damaged or obstructed and that lights indicate the power supply is working. The panel should indicate “normal”. Similarly, a quick visual check of alarm sounders will show if they are in good working condition.

Manual call points, often known as break glass call points enable a person who discovers a fire to immediately raise the alarm. These should be checked for obvious signs of damage and should not be obstructed.

Most premises will have some form of automatic detection and these should be in good order. You should familiarise yourself with the location of these detectors and be able to readily identify them. You should check that detector heads, particularly in kitchens, have not been covered up. Detectors may alert for smoke, temperature or carbon monoxide so you should be aware of the detector types in your premises.

Emergency Lighting

The primary purpose of emergency escape lighting is to illuminate escape routes but also serves to illuminate fire safety equipment. Generally speaking, larger and more complex premises with many occupants will need a comprehensive system of fixed automatic emergency lighting. Smaller premises may have individual stand-alone units. Some emergency lights can be incorporated into normal lighting systems. You should identify where your emergency lights are and ensure they are not obviously damaged or covered in any way. You may be asked to test the lights which can be done using a special key in a designated test switch. Any controls that you are made aware of can be checked for signs of damage.

Fire Fighting Equipment

Firefighting equipment will vary depending on the size, fire risk and complexity of a premises. In some buildings you will find sprinkler and other fire suppression installations, smoke control systems and wet and dry rising fire mains. These should be maintained and serviced by a person with specialist training but you should report any obvious signs of damage.

The most common type of firefighting equipment you will find are the range of fire extinguishers. These should be of the correct type, size and siting to suit the fire risk. There should be extinguishers at all fire points. You should check that all extinguishers are visible and not concealed behind displays, furniture and packaging etc. Extinguishers must be in good condition with clear operating instructions and colour banding. They should all have an inspection record sticker and you should ensure that an inspection has been carried out within the last 12 months. Fire extinguisher training should be given to employees, especially those with additional responsibilities such as the appointed fire marshals who will require fire warden training.

A vital check is to see that the extinguishers have adequate pressure. This is shown by the pressure gauge indicator being in the green area on the dial. If it is not in this area, the extinguisher may not function in an emergency. You should also make sure that anti-tamper devices are in place.

If you are aware of fire hydrant points, they should be available at all times and not blocked by vehicles or other items.

If you have fire blankets in kitchen areas, these should be clearly visible and show no signs of obvious damage.

Signage

Signs must be used to help people identify escape routes, find and identify the correct use of firefighting equipment including fire extinguishers. Fire notices will summarise what people should do in the event of fire and should be located so they can be easily seen and understood.

You should ensure that signs are undamaged and located on fire doors, final exit doors and at assembly points.

The range of factors that contribute to good or bad fire safety are endless and it makes sense to be vigilant and report back on anything that you feel would increase the fire risk at work or affect escape in an emergency.

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