Controlling Fire Hazards in Your Workplace

fire hazards

There are fire hazards in every workplace.

Fire hazards are more prevalent when flammable chemicals or combustible materials are being used, but even in offices and other lower-risk environments, there is the risk of fire.

You must be aware of the fire hazards in your workplace and take all reasonable steps to eliminate or reduce the risk of a fire or explosion.

In this article, we discuss six common workplace fire hazards and some steps you can take to control them. We look at your health and safety duty for fire safety and best practices, including developing emergency evacuation plans.

6 Fire Hazards in the Workplace

Let’s discuss common workplace fire hazards and the specific prevention methods for each.

1. Electrical Equipment and Wiring

A leading cause of workplace fires is faulty electrical equipment and wiring. For example, overloaded circuits, damaged cords, and outdated wiring. Electrical fires are common in server rooms or offices with multiple computers.

What you can do to prevent an electrical fire

To control the risk of an electrical fire you should:

  • Regularly inspect and maintain electrical equipment and wiring.
  • Replace damaged cords and outlets immediately.
  • Avoid overloading electrical outlets and power strips.
  • Always hire licensed electricians for any repairs or installations.

In the case of a small electrical fire, you must always use the correct fire extinguisher.

Not sure which fire extinguisher to use? See our 10-minute microlearning course on Fire Extinguishers which is available in multiple languages.

2. Flammable Liquids and Gasses

Workplaces that handle flammable liquids and gasses, such as laboratories, manufacturing plants, and warehouses, are at an increased risk of fire emergencies. Chemicals, cleaning supplies, gas cylinders, and oils are fire hazards because they are flammable when exposed to heat, corrosive, and incompatible when stored together or combined.

What you can do to prevent flammable substance fires

Flammable liquids and gasses are common in many workplaces and to control the risk of a fire you should:

  1. Store flammable materials in well-ventilated areas and away from heat sources.
  2. Refer to the safety data sheet to determine compatibility when using and storing chemicals.
  3. Use storage containers designed for volatile substances.
  4. Implement strict no-smoking policies in areas with combustible materials.
  5. Provide training on safely handling and storing these materials.

See our 10-minute course on Handling and Storage of Chemicals.

3. Tools and Equipment that Create Sparks

Tools such as grinders, welders, hot moving parts, machine buckets on excavators, tynes on forklifts, and using explosives, create fire hazards. Workplaces that are particularly at risk include, workshops, warehouses, construction sites, and mining operations.

What you can do to prevent fires from tools and equipment sparks:

  1. Ensure dedicated and demarcated areas for hot works.
  2. Store flammable materials away from heat sources.
  3. Allow the machinery to cool down before packing it away.
  4. Follow safe work procedures and permits to work for hot work and explosives use.

See our 10-minute microlearning courses for Hot Works and Permit to Work for Hot Works.

4. Material Storage and Housekeeping

Cluttered workspaces and improper storage of files, paper, cardboard, wood, cleaning rags, etc. create fire hazards. Also, accumulated dust, debris, and chemical and oil spills can fuel fires and spread them quickly.

What you can do to prevent fires from materials:

Workplaces are often busy environments and there is a tendency to pack materials away or clean up a spill later. To control the risk of a fire you should:

  • Keep your work areas clean and well-organised and pack away unused materials as you go.
  • Store flammable materials in designated storage areas.
  • Dispose of waste materials regularly and according to safety data sheet guidelines.
  • Clean up all chemical spills immediately, and if the spill is large contain it and contact emergency services.

See our 10-minute microlearning course Chemical Spills and Clean-Up.

5. Faulty Heating Equipment

A fifth common fire hazard in the workplace is faulty heating equipment, such as furnaces, space heaters, and boilers, which can malfunction and cause fires if improperly maintained.

What you can do to prevent fires from faulty heating equipment:

To control the risk of a heating equipment fire you should:

  • Schedule regular inspections and maintenance for heating systems.
  • Keep combustible materials away from heating equipment.
  • Use space heaters with automatic shut-off features.
  • Train about the safe use of heating appliances.

6. Cooking Facilities

Workplace kitchens and break rooms have numerous fire hazards, especially when microwaves, stoves, toasters, and ovens are used.

What you can do to prevent cooking fires:

Fires in kitchens can spread rapidly and you should:

  • Install and maintain proper ventilation systems in kitchen areas.
  • Keep flammable materials away from cooking appliances.
  • Train employees about safe cooking practices, including unattended cooking.
  • Regularly inspect and clean kitchen equipment to prevent grease buildup.
  • Ensure fire fighting equipment is readily available.

See our 5-minute toolbox sessions on how to use Fire Extinguishers and Fire Blankets.

Fire Safety Legislated Obligations

You have several health and safety obligations for fire safety including:

  • managing fire risks;
  • developing and maintaining efficient fire safety procedures;
  • providing and maintaining appropriate fire safety equipment; and
  • training your workers on how to respond to a fire or emergency.

Fire Hazards Assessment

A fire hazards assessment begins with looking for areas, tools, activities and materials that may create a fire. You must always consider your workplace’s layout, occupancy, and specific risks.

Fire Safety Equipment and Tools

Following your fire hazard assessment, you need to assess the condition of the fire safety equipment in your workplace. Make sure that:

  • All fire equipment is in good condition and inspections are up-to-date.
  • Fire exit signs are marked and illuminated.
  • Install and maintain fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, and sprinkler systems and ensure they are clearly signed.
  • The fire evacuation plan is posted and understood by all employees.

Blocked Fire Exits

Blocked fire exits can lead to tragic outcomes during fire emergencies. It is not uncommon to see materials placed in front of fire exits particularly in areas that receive and dispatch large amounts of freight.

Always keep fire exits and evacuation routes clear and ensure all workers understand the criticality of safe access in an emergency. Also, you should conduct regular fire drills to ensure employees are familiar with the evacuation procedures and understand their closest emergency exit point.

See our 5-minute toolbox session on Fire Safety.

Fire and Emergency Evacuation Plan

Your workplace must have a simple plan to respond to emergencies.

The Health and Safety personnel/OHS Committee should develop the plan in consultation with all employees. All employees should receive a copy of the plan, which should also be posted on notice boards, regularly reviewed and updated. All employees must be trained in the emergency procedures outlined in the plan.

The emergency plan should cover:

  • immediate action to stop or minimise the hazard (eg use of fire extinguishers if trained);
  • the need to stay calm;
  • who to call to raise the alarm;
  • how to notify emergency personnel (ambulance, fire brigade, SES, electricity, gas, police);
  • how, when and where to evacuate;
  • names of the key leaders responsible for making decisions during the emergency (and their duties eg, a fire warden); and
  • how to establish and use a fail-safe communications system.

Employee Fire Hazards Training

Unprepared employees will panic in a fire situation, slowing evacuation. Every workplace should have a fire safety team to ensure a safe emergency response. Each member of the fire safety team should know their roles and responsibilities, and all staff should have training on the evacuation plan and use of fire safety equipment.

In Australia, there is a requirement to have two dedicated Fire Wardens for every 20 employees and they should refresh their training every six months.

See our 10-minute microlearning course for Fire Warden training.

4 Steps to Control Fire Hazards in Your Workplace

To conclude this article, we offer some steps you can take to control fire hazards in your workplace.

  1. Identify fire hazards in your workplace, e.g. presence of ignition sources (heaters, lighting, electrical equipment, etc.) and fuel (packaging, plastics, rubber, petrol, chemicals, etc.).
  2. Assess the risks posed by the hazards that you’ve identified to determine which hazards need the most urgent attention.
  3. Put measures in place to control the risks referring to the hierarchy of control. For example, eliminate work processes that could generate an explosive atmosphere, service and clean all machinery as recommended by manufacturers, switch off electricity points when the area is unattended, remove waste material (e.g. fuel) that could act as fuel, and store and dispose of flammable substances correctly.
  4. Monitor the hazards and review the controls to ensure that the controls continue to minimise the risks effectively.

For all your training for fires and emergencies contact us today to learn more about what we offer on the Tap into Safety eLearning Platform.

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