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Common Causes of Workplace Fires (And How to Prevent Them)

Posted in Fire
Published on November 13, 2020

Workplace fires can be one of the most damaging accidents for any business. Not only can it destroy property, but it also poses a risk to life. Preventing workplace fires, and tackling them quickly and effectively if they do occur, should be a top priority for any business.

In this guide, we detail the most common causes of workplace fires and how to prevent them.

 

General Fire Safety

Before we look at any specific causes of workplace fires, it is important to address some general fire safety. Regardless of the cause of the fire, there are some things you can do to protect yourself, your employees and your property. 

Fire safety is vitally important on any business premises. Regardless of the cause, employers are legally obliged to ensure that their building is easy to navigate with a clear escape route in the event of a fire. 

A significant first step to adequate fire safety is fire alarm servicing. Being alerted to a fire as soon as possible is one of the biggest ways to reduce risk and damage. This allows you to respond quickly, tackling the fire before it spreads. Fire door installation is also important, as doors are crucial in reducing the spread of fire and protecting your employees while they evacuate the building. In the event of a fire, you want to be able to put it out quickly before it can grow. With that in mind, it is important to have fire extinguishers throughout the building. 

One of the most effective ways to make sure your business effectively reduces fire risks and is optimally equipped to put out fires is to carry out a fire risk assessment. This will cover how to implement the advice above and much more properly. To see a fire risk assessment broken down step by step, read our Guide To Fire Safety In The Workplace.

Now that we have addressed overall fire safety let’s look at the most common causes of workplace fires and how to prevent them. 

 

Arson

While leading with this cause sounds very dramatic, the National Fire Chiefs Council cited arson as the cause for 50.5% of fires attended in 2017/2018 by fire & rescue services. This is the single largest cause of fires attended by emergency services, and so it shouldn’t be overlooked by employers.

To prevent criminal activity on your premises, ensure that the building is kept well lit at all times and consider investing in CCTV. Any criminal is less likely to target your business if there’s a possibility that they’ll be caught on camera, as even a fire isn’t guaranteed to destroy the footage. 

 

Faulty Electrics

Electrical faults are one of the biggest causes of workplace fires. Faulty wiring, old and malfunctioning equipment and overloaded sockets all pose a risk. Electrical fires are particularly hazardous as they can’t be put out with water. An electrical fire is a costly mistake if not caught and contained quickly. Loose wires, faulty connections and overworked plugs can cause a spark that turns into an uncontrollable blaze.

There are several preventative measures you can take, and in some cases are legally obliged to, when it comes to electrical fires. 

Firstly you must have an annual PAT test carried out on your company’s electrical equipment. This will identify electronics that are safety hazards. (Read our guide to PAT testing for more details.) To further minimise the risk of faulty equipment causing a fire, all staff should be trained in electrical safety. Staff that can identify risk can correct errors before they cause a fire.

In addition to PAT testing, which looks at appliances, businesses should carry out Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) tests. An EICR test is a fixed wire test which checks the safety of electrical systems and installations. 

 

Improper Storage of Combustible Materials

Improper storage of flammable materials is a common cause of workplace fires. The risk is greater in workshops and garages, as the sparks from circular saws and cutting equipment can set light to nearby surroundings. Sparks could easily reach combustible chemicals and oil barrels in some workshops, contributing to a ferocious fire with devastating consequences.

The best way to reduce these fires’ risk is to store flammable materials away in a closed, dry and protected environment. If sparks or controlled open flames can’t reach your flammable materials, then your materials won’t catch alight! It’s as simple as that.

 

Human Error

Although there are many causes for workplace fires, many can be covered collectively under the umbrella of human error. This makes properly training employees a fundamental part of workplace fire safety. Employee fire safety training can be broken down into two parts; preventing fires and dealing with fires. 

The first, preventing fires, refers to creating an understanding of the causes of fires and how to act accordingly. For example, employees should be trained to use any machinery and appliances correctly – we have already touched on this point briefly in relation to PAT testing. 

Human error, like leaving food in the oven for too long or material over a vent causing overheating, can cause workplace fires. Any carelessness from employees is dangerous in a business environment, but accidents do happen. This is where part two of employee fire safety training, dealing with fires, comes in. To minimise the risk that employee error can introduce to your premises, ensures fire extinguishers are always readily available. Staff should be trained to the best of their capability to handle the extinguishers. As much as possible, encourage that employees pay full attention to what they’re doing, even when they’re on their break.

 

Being able to prevent fire in the workplace is an unavoidable requirement. Training employees on fire safety and implementing the fire prevention methods above manages the risks and reduces the chances of a fire in the workplace hugely.