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Fire! A Continuing Risk Of Injury And Fatality In The Workplace

Fire service at a burning building
17th December 2013

More than 40,000 fires in the workplace were reported in 2002, which caused 147 deaths and 3,200 injuries.

Ten years later ... fire, electricity, explosion, drowning and asphyxiation accidents, together, were still responsible for one in seven deaths and one in 100 non-fatal injuries in the workplace between 2011 and 2012, according to RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations).

It may be thought that in 2012, there would be greater awareness of the legal requirements to comply with fire safety in commercial premises. With 60 per cent of fires at business premises taking place during the working day, there is an extremely high probability of company employees being not only present but fatally at risk when a fire breaks out.

Notwithstanding, subsequent investigations and accident compensation claims, it is in the vital interest of business owners to prevent the risk of fire, which has the potential to destroy both lives and livelihood. It has been estimated that within three years of a fire, around three quarters of UK companies would have failed and are likely to be no longer in business.

Yet, far too many companies around the country are still prepared to take a risk with inadequate fire safety prevention and the horrific consequences of fatalities or burn injuries, at the very least. It is also well known that around a half of all fire-related deaths occur as a result of smoke inhalation, including noxious fumes such as from cyanide or other highly flammable chemicals or materials.

Apart from the deliberate causing of a fire, it is more often a case of carelessness or ignorance that leads to the outbreak and rapid spread of fire. Better to have a false alarm raised by a large piece of smouldering bread trapped in a toaster, which sets off a smoke alarm, than run the risk of a more serious fire breaking out undetected.

This does not only mean the correct installation of all necessary fire alarm and extinguishing systems, such as overhead water sprinklers and smoke detectors.

By law, an employer must protect the health, safety and welfare of the workforce including, the taking of precautions against fire and providing adequate means of escape* and means of fighting fire plus providing adequate first aid equipment and facilities. *This includes checking that fire escapes are kept free from obstruction and escape routes, such as outside staircases, are safe to use.

Staff training, regular fire drills and clear duties and responsibilities should also be put into place to ensure fire prevention and system checks are carried out rather than not at all.

Inevitably, it will be the one occasion when a routine check is missed that a fire breaks out...