Chapter 5: Reducing the Likelihood of Fire
122. An effective strategy should be in place to reduce the likelihood of a fire starting. At its simplest, this means separating flammable and combustible materials from ignition sources and ensuring that equipment and installations are maintained.
Housekeeping and Storage
123. Control of combustible materials should be achieved by attention to good housekeeping principles. By carefully considering the type of material, the quantities kept and the storage arrangements, risks can be significantly reduced. Appropriate practices are:
- Not storing combustible materials in plant rooms, boiler rooms, attics, service voids and shafts, electrical main or sub-switch rooms.
- Control and frequent disposal of packaging, waste and other combustible rubbish.
- Loose storage, bins and waste external to the building, sited well away from the building so that any fire cannot affect external walls or overhanging eaves.
- External bins and storage containers secured to prevent movement.
- Where fire-raising is a potential problem, bin and container lids fitted with locks.
- Regular building checks to ensure that storage arrangements are appropriate.
Storage and Use of Dangerous Substances
124. Certain substances and materials are by their nature, flammable, oxidising or potentially explosive. These substances are controlled by legislation, in particular the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002. The principles of safe handling and storage are:
- Avoid the use of flammable materials and liquids wherever possible or substitute flammable substances and materials with those that are preferably non-flammable or with those that are less flammable.
- Reduce the quantity of dangerous substances to the smallest reasonable amount necessary for use.
- Correctly store dangerous substances, for example in a fire-resisting metal enclosure
- all flammable liquids and gases should ideally be locked away, and segregated if necessary, to reduce the chance of them being involved in a fire or used in deliberate ignition.
- Ensure good ventilation is provided by way of high and low level vents to allow any flammable vapours to be dispersed.
- Ensure that all persons are aware of the fire risk of dangerous substances present and the precautions necessary.
125. Where gases are stored in cylinders these should ideally be stored and used in the open air outside the building and be located where they cannot be interfered with, and where they will not affect the means of escape. They should not be beside heat, a source of ignition or readily ignitable material and care should be taken to minimise the possibility of involvement in a fire.
126. The presence of flammable liquids increases the chance of a fire starting and its rate of development. For example, a leak from a container of flammable liquid may produce flammable vapours which can travel some distance away from the source of the leak, increasing the likelihood of reaching a source of ignition. Vapours could reach rooms containing heating plant or electrical equipment. The risk can be reduced by ensuring the
storage and use of flammable liquids is carefully managed and materials contaminated with flammable liquids are properly disposed of. Further guidance is available on the Fire and Explosion section of the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/fireandexplosion/.
127. Under normal circumstances, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) is flammable and is heavier than air. Where LPG cylinders or cartridges are used, these should be stored and used in the open air outside the building. Care should be taken to minimise the possibility of involvement in a fire.
128. Some premises use bulk LPG fixed installations for cooking or heating, comprising an external tank and supply piping. In these installations there is a need to ensure that there are no fires in the vicinity of the LPG tank, and to consider the maintenance of the installation and piping.
129. Guidance on the safe storage and use of LPG is available from the supplier, and the trade association for the LPG industry, Liquid Gas UK (www.liquidgasuk.org), and on the gas safety pages of the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk.
130. Flammable propellants are often used in aerosol cans. Aerosols are liable to explode if involved in a fire, intensifying and spreading the fire and possibly damaging doors so that they fail to restrict the spread of fire and smoke. These potential consequences, and the quantities involved, should be taken into account and appropriate use, storage and disposal arrangements put into place. Manufacturers' instructions should be followed. They should not be stored in escape routes, boiler houses or other areas containing fixed sources of ignition. They should not be kept in damp areas (such as under sinks) where the container might corrode. Aerosol cans can overheat and rupture in direct sunlight therefore avoid placing aerosol cans containing LPG/flammable liquid propellant on window ledges.
Furniture and Textiles
131. The choice of furniture, fittings and textiles can influence the ease of ignition and growth of a fire. Fabrics and textiles should be either inherently flame retardant or durably treated and appropriately labelled. Laundering should be undertaken in accordance with the manufacturers' specific instructions.
132. Upholstered furniture (and composites of cover material and infill) should meet the standards, further information on this can be found on the legislation.gov.uk website: Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988, and in addition, pass the flammability standard in BS 5852 with ignition source 5. Upholstered furniture should be maintained in good condition so that there are no tears which expose the filling material.
133. It is recognised that some premises may contain period items of significant monetary, sentimental or historic value which, due to their age, will not comply with modern British Standard requirements. Where such items are not replaced, this should be taken into account when carrying out the fire safety risk assessment.
Safe Use of Equipment
134. Lack of preventive maintenance increases the likelihood of fire starting in equipment. A competent person should regularly maintain (and where necessary clean) machinery, equipment and plant, including cooking, heating and office equipment. Appropriate signs and instructions on the safe use of equipment may be necessary.
135. Generally, equipment ventilation points should be kept clear to avoid becoming clogged or blocked.
136. There should be a procedure for reporting faults. Faulty equipment should be taken out of use when it is identified or suspected of being defective, and thereafter repaired or replaced.
137. Where premises have kitchens, a build-up of grease or fat deposits in equipment and grease extract ventilation systems and ducting linked to the catering facilities can be a source of fire and of fire spread. There should be a cleaning and maintenance programme in place where deposits are removed.
138. Electrical installations1 and electrical equipment can be a significant cause of fire. Possible causes include:
- Equipment faults.
- Overheating cables and equipment due to overloading or loose connections.
- incorrect installation, use or maintenance.
- Damaged or inadequate insulation.
- Combustible materials placed close to heat-producing electrical equipment.
- Arcing or sparking.
- Modifications to an installation by unskilled/incompetent persons.
139. Some precautions are:
- Maintenance of installations and equipment should be done only by persons competent to do so.
- Electrical equipment should only be used for its designed purpose.
- Correctly wired and fused extension leads and plugs should be used.
- Electric blankets should be maintained and serviced in accordance with the manufacturers' guidance.
- Sockets and extension leads should not be overloaded.
140. To reduce the potential for a fire occurring, there should be an effective programme of planned preventive maintenance for electrical installations and equipment.
141. Guidance on electrical safety, including FAQs on maintaining portable appliances, is available on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/electricity/index.
142. Careless use of cigarettes and other smoking materials is a common cause of fire. A cigarette can smoulder for some time, especially when surrounded by combustible material.
143. Smoking should only be permitted in those areas where the statutory prohibition on smoking does not apply. In each case, there should be a clearly defined smoking policy for residents, staff, guests and visitors. Where designated smoking bedrooms are provided in hotels or hostels, these should be enclosed spaces with ventilation systems that do not ventilate into any other part of the building that is required to be smoke-free and should be marked as a room in which smoking is permitted.
1 An 'electrical installation' is the electrical system from the premise's supply meter point to the socket outlets etc.
144. Where smoking is permitted in designated rooms, sufficient quantities of ashtrays should be provided. Ashtrays should be emptied regularly each day into a metal container which is then taken outside. Ashtrays should not be emptied into plastic waste bags. Inspections of smoking areas should be made at regular intervals with staff being vigilant for any sign of scorch marks or burning. Staff should ensure that discarded smokers' materials are removed and that they are fully extinguished. Evidence of scorch marks or burning on furniture or carpets indicates that some residents may need additional supervision.
145. Supervision and precautions need to be considered if there are residents that have a known history involving careless use of smoking materials.
Managing Building Works and Alterations
146. Fires often occur when buildings are undergoing refurbishment or alteration. Before any major building work or decoration, the fire safety risk assessment should be reviewed and additional risks considered and evaluated. There are three aspects of building work that should be considered:
- The introduction of new ignition sources and combustibles and the associated risk of fire occurring during the work.
- The potential interference with the existing fire safety measures while the building work is underway.
- Whether the building work will result in adverse changes to existing fire safety measures.
147. To ensure that fire safety measures are not compromised and that adequate controls are in place, it is important to ensure co-operation between the building contractor and management. It may be appropriate to specify site-specific fire precautions in contract conditions.
148. Examples of issues that may arise with building work that need to be considered and controlled are:
- The potential for fires to be caused by hot work such as soldering, welding, flame- cutting, roof repair, paint stripping.
- Increased quantities of combustible materials and accumulated waste.
- Obstruction of internal and external escape routes.
- Loss of normal storage facilities.
- Fire safety equipment, such as automatic fire detectors, out of use.
- Fire-resisting construction being breached or fire-resisting doors being wedged open.
149. Hot work should only be undertaken when suitable precautions and equipment are in place. This may be the use of an industrial quality fire blanket to mask areas adjacent to the work being carried on, an appropriate fire extinguisher provided immediately to hand, or where the activity presents a high fire risk, an observer standing-by with responsibility to identify any fire propagation from sparks or other source. Areas where hot work is undertaken should be frequently inspected during the first 30 minutes after the work is completed, and then 30 minutes later to ensure that no materials are smouldering. A 'permit to work' system is a useful procedure and management tool which allows a degree of control over contractors or staff who may be carrying out hot work.
150. Modern buildings of timber frame construction contain combustible material in the structure. Care needs to be taken with tools or heat sources where any construction work or alteration involves drilling or cutting openings in the outer cladding or the inner plasterboard skin.
151. The content of skips, waste containers or combustible material may be subject to deliberate ignition. Storage, preferably in lockfast non-combustible containers, should be away from the building so that any fire cannot affect external walls or overhanging eaves.
152. Only the minimum materials necessary for the work in hand should be allowed within the building or close to the exterior of the building.
Keeping Escape Routes Clear
153. There needs to be control over the provision of combustible materials in escape routes. If a fire was to occur in an escape route or spread to material in the escape route, this could be a particularly difficult and threatening situation, preventing occupants from escaping.
154. Stairways that form part of escape routes should be kept clear of combustible items and items that could be a source of ignition. Items kept in corridors should be controlled, particularly bedroom corridors, consistent with the need for the normal functioning of the premises.
155. The maintenance of adequate escape route width and prevention of obstruction is also relevant. Escape route width is covered in Chapter 7.
156. Examples of some items which are normally unacceptable in stair and corridor escape routes are:
- Gas cylinders, gas pipes, meters and similar fittings.
- Cooking appliances.
- Upholstered furniture.
- Coat racks.
- Electrical equipment such as photocopiers and battery chargers.
- Storage of combustibles.
157. The possibility of deliberate fire-raising should be considered. This may be particularly relevant in areas with a history of vandalism or fire-setting.
158. Appropriate precautions should be taken. This may involve ensuring the premises is secure against unauthorised access to non-residents, there is no unauthorised access to plant areas or other unoccupied spaces, and that waste stored external to the building, is kept in lockfast bins or stores. Security measures should not compromise the means of escape and the ability to evacuate.
159. In institutional premises, where there may be residents with a known predisposition to starting fires, increased supervisory measures may need to be implemented.
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