Fire Safety and Why is it Important
20 January 2023
Research suggests that most fires are preventable and unsafe human behaviour is most often the cause of these fires. This is why employees should be encouraged to take responsibility and adopt practices which help prevent fire in the workplace. Fire safety is also enforced and employers are required to prepare plans and procedures to protect against the associated risks. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is proactive in monitoring how employers manage these risks and what they do to protect the health and safety of the public.
In this article, we provide some general information about fire safety and the practices which help protect against the potential damage caused by fire.
What is Fire Safety?
Fire safety is a set of measures which reduce the potential damage caused by fire. There are four common fire safety principles which are recognised around the world:
- Prevention: Avoid Risks and reduce potential fire hazards in the workplace.
- Protection: Identifying fire and notifying occupants/authorities.
- Containment: Limiting damage and spread of fire as much as possible.
- Extinguishment: Putting out the fire and protecting area.
However, there are three key actions which employees should know about that need to be taken in the event of a fire:
- Step 1 – Raise the alarm.
- Step 2 – Evacuate the building/area.
- Step 3 – Go to the assembly point.
Let’s take a look at the key elements which enable a fire to start and spread.
The 3 Key Elements which Enable Fires Start and Spread
Heat, fuel and oxygen complete the fire prevention triangle which explains how fires can start and spread. Fire needs all three of these elements to thrive and this is why removing one of these three can prevent a fire. This is also why a risk assessment needs to report on three different elements and consider how these elements might contribute to potential fire hazards in the workplace.
Heat is often generated through machines, systems and processes. Cooking is an obvious example in which heat is near constant and needs to be kept away from fuel. Let’s look at some examples of how employers can manage heat:
- No smoking signs in certain locations.
- Ensure kitchen and cookers etc. are never left unattended.
- Make sure work equipment is protected against catching fire.
- Service equipment on a regular basis.
- Clean ventilation points to ensure they are not blocked.
Oxygen is often used in manufacturing and creative processes. For example, oxygen gas is used for food packaging and food preservation. It is also used in flame cutting and welding and within decompression chambers as part of medical treatment. Pure oxygen can react fiercely with materials including rubber and textiles and then also the likes of grease and oil. In short, the presence of this oxygen makes it easier for a fire to start and grow and spread.
- Employees should always open oxygen valves slowly.
- No smoking signs where oxygen gas is being used.
- Oxygen equipment not to be used above pressure levels noted on equipment.
- Oxygen not to be used in confined spaces.
Some workplaces will have more flammable materials than others and these environments can present a much greater fire hazard. Fuel essentially contains flammable material which burns naturally in a standard atmosphere. These flammable materials need to be clearly labelled. In addition, great care should be taken when handling or moving these flammable materials.
- Conduct fire safety assessment in areas with flammable materials.
- Ensure no timber features or lining in walls, staircases, ceiling etc.
- Use Health & Safety Acts as a guide for explosive atmospheres.
- Avoid noticeboards with paper or flammable material in common areas.
Establishing Fire Safety Principles in the Workplace
The Health and Safety Authority in Ireland enforces an act which holds employers responsible for educating staff about these principles. Employees must therefore know these practices and be able to put them into practice in the event of a fire. There is also a requirement for employers to appoint a competent person to this role who properly understands the risks, practices and tasks that relate to fire safety.
“Competent” implies this person must be able to demonstrate their knowledge and ability but this appointment does not mean the responsibility of fire safety is out of the hands of the employer. Employers must do everything reasonably possible to ensure their staff are not exposed to the risks associated with fire safety. For instance, employers must also ensure there is safe access, emergency exits and no unsafe substances or articles in the environment.
In case you might be asking yourself, action is taken whenever deemed necessary and government statistics show the number of fire safety notices issued by the Health and Safety Authority in Ireland. Safety notices can be costly for employers but they also point to a moral concern which suggests the business is simply not doing enough to protect the safety of employees and members of the public.
Employers Responsibility for Fire Safety in the Workplace
According to the Health and Safety Authority in Ireland, employers must not only train and educate employees about fire safety but also carry out regular risk assessments to ensure these measures are understood. This involves checking that all staff have sufficient knowledge, training and supervision to protect against the dangers of fire and then record the findings from this assessment in a Safety Statement. Employers are therefore required to provide relevant fire safety courses for their employees and produce certificates of completion in the event of an inspection by the authorities.
Fire safety is extremely important and an area which employers cannot ignore for both moral and legal reasons. Fire poses a serious threat to the safety of employees and members of the public and the Health and Safety Authority will issue notices to any business that falls short of the requirements. Employers should make every effort to abide by the law and assess risks and provide access to training which informs on the importance of fire safety.
Please Note – The Fire Services Act 1981-2003 specifies that it shall be the duty of every persons having control of premises (i.e. owner or occupier) to ensure the safety of persons on the premises in the event of an outbreak of fire whether such an outbreak has occurred or not.
Myelearnsafety offers fully online Fire Safety Awareness courses. The eLearn fire safety awareness course is designed to help employers meet their legal requirement to provide information and training to staff regarding specific hazards. Fire safety is an essential part of any safety management system. The course, along with regular fire drills, will help ensure regulatory compliance.
To find out more, please check our Courses page.
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