Essential Fire Prevention Rules for the Workplace Environment
It’s easy to forget the risk of fire when working in an office environment. It seems so harmless due to the absence of significant sources of heat, as opposed to – say – a commercial kitchen. But offices do carry risks that need to be carefully managed so to prevent a fire from breaking out and damaging not just the business, but also people’s wellbeing.
Did you know that in 2014/2015, there were roughly 496,000 incidents attended by fire and rescue services in England?
What’s My Fire Safety Duty?
As someone who works in an office environment, you have a duty to familiarise yourself with fire safety, including fire safety signs and fire exit locations and procedures. Your company should offer you fire safety training and fire warden training (if you’ve been designated as a fire warden/marshal) so you can help in the instance of a fire and evacuation.
You should understand where hazards may exist and where they might arise due to people’s carelessness, indifference, or ignorance – or just from wear and tear that’s nobody’s fault in particular. Some people might not keep an eye on electronics for faults or clear away refuse that’s piling up near fire exits; they might think to themselves ‘It’s not my job’.
Well, you could be out of a job completely if a fire is allowed to happen and devastates the entire business. So it is your job; it’s everyone’s job to look out for fire hazards on a daily basis, not just when they smell burning.
What are the Common Fire Hazards in an Office?
People in an office environment should bear these 5 areas in mind:
- Small portable heaters being left unattended near flammable or vulnerable objects could start a fire.
- Many offices have cooking facilities nowadays, whether it be an oven, stove, or microwave. Being left on, left unattended, and/or used unsafely can lead to a fire.
- Discarded cigarette butts that have not been put out correctly or have been discarded near flammable materials can prompt a fire, especially with the right conditions (dry weather and some wind).
- The 2013/14 fire statistics published by the Department for Communities and Local Government state that more than a third of fire deaths in non-domestic buildings were caused by smokers’ materials or cigarette lighters.
- The most likely cause of fires in an office environment: electrical fires may originate from frayed/damaged wiring, overloaded plug sockets, or faulty equipment.
- According to the 2013/14 fire statistics, the main cause of fires in non-domestic buildings was faulty appliances and leads, which lead to roughly 2,700 fires.
- Another primary cause was the misuse of equipment or appliances, which lead to approximately 2,000 fires.
- The main source of ignition was electrical distribution, and accounted for nearly 1/5 of accidental fires.
- Refuse build-up
- Failure to remove a build-up of cardboard boxes, paper, and other flammable refuse – especially near a fire route/exit – means more kindling and a blocked exit in the event of a fire: trapped people.
These hazards are very easy to prevent by following simple fire prevention rules; anyone can look at a plug and notice that it’s overloaded or simply take the extra millisecond to put out and discard their cigarette properly.
Fire Prevention Rules:
- Avoid using open electrical bar heaters or halogen type heaters – oil-filled (radiant) radiators are a safer alternative.
- Avoid placing heaters near flammable objects or under desks.
- Keep heaters clear of any blinds/curtains/furnishings, etc.
- Ensure that heaters with time-switches are not set to automatically come on at certain times, as it might do when people are out of the office.
- Sit at least 1m away from a heater; your clothes are flammable!
- Set a reminder to turn heaters off before you leave the office.
- Ensure that you have a heater that will automatically switch off should it topple over.
- Look out for staining or discolouration of the appliance or surroundings and discontinue using the heater if you see any. The same goes for any strange smells.
- Do not leave food unattended during preparations.
- Make sure you switch off equipment, e.g. an oven or microwave, after use.
- Keep tea towels and other flammable materials well away from the stove or other heated appliances.
- Ensure the oven, stove, and grill is kept clean, as a build-up of fat and food debris can cause a fire.
- Do not place anything metal in microwaves.
- Do not use microwaves as an additional surface (this blocks the air vents).
- Make sure you fully extinguish cigarette butts and discard of them properly.
- Keep an eye on cigarette bins and empty them if they get too full (or notify whoever is responsible for doing so).
- Make sure electrical equipment has a British/European safety mark.
- Follow manufacturer’s instructions when using a device/piece of equipment.
- Use official chargers and cables for devices and equipment.
- Don’t leave appliances charging unsupervised for a long time.
- Don’t charge a battery that looks damaged.
- Don’t cover up items when charging, as they emit heat, and keep them away from flammable materials.
- Don’t leave appliances and equipment running overnight or when no one is in the office; make sure they are properly switched off and don’t have timer settings activated that could make them come back on when no one’s around.
- Don’t overload sockets – outlets, extension leads, and adaptors have a limit to how many amps they can take.
- Keep an eye out for burn marks or stains around plug sockets which suggest overheating.
- Keep an eye out for frayed or worn cables and wires.
- Keep an eye out for flickering lights, blown fuses, or circuit-breakers that trip for no apparent reason.
- Always switch off your equipment at the mains when it’s not in use and unplug where appropriate.
- Always ensure that damaged sections of cable is properly replaced – don’t simply repair them with insulating tape.
- Report faulty equipment and take it out of use immediately.
- Refuse build-up
- Keep walkways and fire exit routes clear of flammable materials, such as cardboard boxes, paper, fabrics, etc.
- Make sure it is properly disposed of/recycled away from the premises; don’t simply dump it outside, as this is equally hazardous.
Do a simple check on a daily basis and keep your eyes alert to any hazards.
Remember: everyone plays a part in keeping their office safe, and following these simple prevention rules will ensure that no one ever has to face the flames of a fire or its devastating after-effects.
- Fire Safety Quiz
- What to Include in a Fire Safety Evacuation Plan
- Fire Extinguisher Quiz
- Fire Safety Training
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