July 31, 2013

Fire Safety – Arson

During the summer months dry conditions mean that waste and other materials left in the open provide a good source of combustion.

Fire Safety – Arson

Within the last few weeks there have been two cases of arson or deliberate fire-raising. At one incident in Manchester 60 fire fighters attended a blaze at a hair products company. Initially staff attempted to fight the fire themselves but were overcome by the effects; two members of staff were taken to hospital one suffering from burns the other from inhalation of harmful fumes.

Later 8 fire crews attended the scene and began fighting the fire, during this time one of the fire fighters unfortunately died. Two teenage girls have been arrested in connection with the incident and suspicion of manslaughter. 

Fire Risk Assessment

The law requires that a fire risk assessment is carried out at every business premises, other locations and for special circumstances like hot works (eg welding) or events such as gatherings of large numbers of people. The person in charge of the business or “responsible person” must ensure the assessment is completed by a competent person.

In a low risk environment such as a small office on ground floor level a member of staff may be able to adequately assess the risks. However in more complex work places with many rooms possibly on different levels, machinery, flammable materials, greater numbers of employees, visitors etc you must employ the expertise of a competent fire risk assessor.

The findings of the fire risk assessment should help identify where sources of ignition and combustible materials are present and where controls are needed to prevent fire starting.

The fire risk assessment is a “live document” meaning that it must be updated as conditions and circumstances change. It is the duty of the “responsible person” to either manage fire safety issues themselves or to appoint and train employees to assist with these duties. 

Reducing the Likelihood or the Effects of Arson

On a daily basis a tour should be completed observing anything unusual or situations that could increase the risk of a fire occurring. The tour must include areas both inside and outside the building. Where workplaces are shared with other business users a degree of cooperation must be achieved and an agreement reached to take turns at checking common areas.

Things to look out for are as follows: 

  • Skips and waste containers – ensure these are kept well away from the building (preferably at least 8m away) and are emptied on a regular basis.
  • Pallets and waste – do not allow pallets and other combustible items to accumulate. Items such as pallets/packaging must be stored away from the building.
  • Vehicles should not be left parked next to the building.
  • Open windows/doors/security gates – ensure the building is secured when left unattended, do not give people an opportunity to enter the building,
  • Letterboxes – many fires are started through letter boxes. Clear the area around the door of combustible materials. Better still; fit a simple metal box to catch the post or anything else that comes through the letterbox.
  • Strange behaviour – People hanging around up to no good. Deal with this immediately or report them to the police. 
  • Greenery – keep grass, shrubs and other plants under control.

Other things to consider: 

  • Control who has access to the site and building. Manage keys carefully.
  • Consider appointing a security company to increase presence on site.
  • Consider reactive outside lighting.
  • Consider installing CCTV to monitor activity.

You must:

  • Ensure that staff are properly trained and know what to do if a fire occurs.
  • Ensure that adequate means of detection is installed and that this is checked regularly to confirm it works.
  • Ensure that a means for raising the alarm is available and is known to everyone (including visitors).
  • Identify fire escape routes, fire exits and the assembly point, possibly alternative assembly points also.
  • Where necessary nominate fire marshals to assist with clearance of the building.

Final Message

Arson is an incredibly damaging crime that can take lives, ruin lives and close businesses. Simple check completed on a regular basis together with vigilance and good communication can help stop arson happening.

Act now and don’t become a victim

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