Fire Safety Information
August 1, 2019
The fire safety advice in this document is based upon property surveys from the Zurich Risk Engineering team and includes a review of more than 3500 Risk Improvement Actions (RIAs). It has been created to help businesses understand the most common fire risks and address the underlying causes of loss.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 introduced a requirement for most commercial premises to complete fire risk assessments, with the objective of:
- Identifying fire hazards.
- Reducing the risk of harm from those hazards.
- Establishing and implementing fire precautions and management practices to ensure the safety of people in the premises.
In the event of a fire, if organisations are fully compliant, an insurance property survey should identify very few RIAs.
Arson remains the most common cause of fire in the UK. Deliberately set fires can develop quickly including in areas that would normally be considered a relatively low fire risk, such as escape route corridors and stairwells.
The following measures can reduce the risk of arson:
- Make it harder for intruders to access the site.
- Ensure the site is well-lit, particularly in areas that can be seen by passers-by or neighbours.
- Consider installing CCTV in higher risk locations.
- Review and upgrade building security, including windows, doors and the building fabric.
- Clear external rubbish regularly and do not store combustible items, such as timber pallets or plastic furniture close to buildings.
- Where possible, secure waste bins and skips at least eight metres away from buildings. This reduces the risk of fire spreading to those buildings, but also removes a potential access point onto low roofs. Avoid installing litter bins on walls.
- Where practical, relocate combustible external structures, such as sheds or temporary buildings, at least eight metres away from buildings.
- Store flammable liquids and gases securely and away from buildings.
- Avoid parking vehicles close to buildings, particularly outside normal operating hours.
Housekeeping includes the elimination or management of the accumulation of combustible materials in high-risk locations and escape routes, as well as the cleaning of filters and extraction ductwork above deep fat fryers in kitchens.
Good housekeeping will help to reduce the risk of a fire starting and developing, particularly in higher-risk locations, such as plant rooms, electrical switch rooms and boiler rooms. The accumulation of combustible storage should be constantly monitored as part of routine maintenance to ensure high-risk locations and escape routes are kept clear at all times.
Recommendations for good housekeeping:
- Conduct routine inspections of high-risk locations and escape routes and remove any combustible
- Clear waste bins every day. If a large amount of waste is created, ensure appropriate and regular waste collection processes are in place to reduce the accumulation of waste on site.
- Lock higher-risk locations, such as boiler rooms and electrical switch rooms, when not in use.
- Implement a formal close-down procedure to ensure premises are secured and cleared at the end of each working day.
- Eradicate illicit smoking on the premises.
- Implement a maintenance and cleaning regime for filters and extraction ductwork above cooking ranges, particularly if deep fat frying is regularly undertaken.
Hot work can involve electric, oxyacetylene or other welding or cutting equipment or angle grinders, blow lamps, blow torches, hot air guns or hot air strippers.
Hot work presents a high fire risk to property, with the potential to cause extensive damage. The hazards associated with the use of hot work in building contracts are often exacerbated by poor practices and processes, including a failure to:
- Understand the nature of the works and the specific risks they pose.
- Select an experienced and competent contractor to carry out the work.
- Remove or protect combustible materials in the vicinity of the work.
- Have effective procedures in place to deal with an emergency situation.
Managing hot work
A hot work permit system is the best way to minimise the potential risks. The hot work permit must be used in all circumstances where the application of heat is used, however small or minor the works may be, including work on plumbing or heating systems.
Zurich has produced a hot work permit template. – click here to download a copy.
For safety, the following conditions must apply:
- Clear all loose combustible material in the area in the immediate vicinity of the work (including the opposite side of a wall, ceiling or partition, where there is potential for heat to spread).
- Other combustible material or gaps must be covered by sand or overlapping sheets or screens of non-combustible material.
- For blow lamps, blow torches, hot air guns or hot air strippers, ‘immediate vicinity’ usually means within two metres of the work. For oxyacetylene, welding or angle grinders, the work area should be increased to ten metres.
- At least two portable fire extinguishers, maintained in proper working order, must be kept in the immediate work area and used immediately if smoke, smouldering or flames are detected.
- A fire safety check of the working area must be made immediately afterwards and then approximately 30 minutes and 60 minutes after the completion of each period of work, however minor, and immediate steps taken to extinguish any smouldering or flames discovered.
- Blow lamps and blow torches must be filled in the open, and all equipment with a naked flame must not be lit until immediately before use and must be extinguished immediately after use. Lit equipment should not be left unattended.
- An observer must be appointed by the insured to watch for signs of smoke, smouldering or flames. Most conditions do not require this to be a second person, but an additional person may be required where a large area of the building is being worked on.
- Gas cylinders not in use should be stored at least 15 metres away from the work and should not be changed while equipment is hot.
Where the contract requires the use of asphalt, bitumen, tar, pitch or lead heaters, the following must be adhered to:
The heating must be carried out in the open in a vessel designed for the purpose and, if carried out on a roof, the vessel must be placed on a non-combustible heat insulating base. For all hot work involving torch-on, reinforced bitumen membranes, and for the general use of gas torches in the workplace, we recommend compliance with the guidance outlined in the Safe2Torch document, issued by the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC).
Selecting a contractor
Before employing a contractor:
- Select up to three contractors to look at the job. If possible, obtain recommendations from other organisations who may have had similar work completed or look to competent contractors’ schemes, such as the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC), Competent Roofer or the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors.
- Invite quotes from each contractor, but do not automatically take the cheapest option. Base your choice on the quality of the advice given and your confidence in the contractor. If in doubt, consult your local NFRC regional manager.
- Ask for a guarantee on new or refurbishment work. NFRC offers guarantee schemes which back up, but are independent of, the contractor’s own guarantee. Remember that even the best contractors can go out of business, whereupon their own guarantees become worthless, so make sure you will be covered.
- Remember that a property owner is responsible for obtaining any planning permission that may be required on that property.
- Be aware that when carrying out refurbishment work to 50% or more of a roof’s area, you must either employ a Competent Roofer or NFRC contractor, or contact your local authority building control prior to work starting. This is in order to confirm that the roof should be upgraded to meet thermal requirements of Part L of the current Building Regulations.
The risk of fire is reduced if electrics are properly designed and installed. However, installations may subsequently be modified or extended. These alterations, if not anticipated in the original design, may increase fire hazards. Installations can also deteriorate due to age, misuse or adverse environmental conditions. It is therefore essential that all installations are properly maintained, inspected and tested to minimise the risk of fire. Electrical equipment should meet the relevant standards regarding electrical installations and maintaining safety, e.g. BS 7671. Anybody carrying out work on electrical systems should be confirmed as competent to do so.
Fixed electrical installations
There is a legal duty to safely design, construct and maintain all electrical installations in workplaces. The following measures should be implemented:
- Appoint a competent person with sufficient technical knowledge and experience to carry out all work involving installation, modification, testing and inspection.
- If using outside contractors, it is recommended they should be approved by the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC) and the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA).
- Fixed wiring should be tested and inspected at recommended maximum intervals not exceeding five years.
- Older installations and/or particular site conditions may necessitate more frequent testing.
- Any faults or defects identified in wiring or fittings must be remedied as soon as possible.
- Records should be kept of inspections, tests and routine checks, including descriptions of the extent of the work, the parts of the installation inspected, and details of what the inspection and testing covered.
- A review process should be initiated to determine the suitability of existing electrical installations, given the increase of both personal and household electrical equipment. The findings should be incorporated into planned and preventative maintenance programmes.
Portable electrical equipment
Within communal parts of accommodation, there is a duty to maintain such equipment. Portable equipment refers to any equipment that is not part of a fixed electrical installation and is fed by cable and plug systems. The following considerations should be taken into account when maintaining portable electrical appliances:
- They must be used and maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
- They must be inspected and tested periodically – it is an employer’s responsibility to conduct a risk assessment determining the frequency of inspection and testing required for different items of equipment.
- Testing should be carried out by a suitably trained person.
- We strongly recommend that you maintain formal records of tests. This will help to identify when the re-inspection and testing of equipment is necessary. It will also, if required, demonstrate to the relevant authorities the existence of an inspection regime, particularly in the event of an incident and subsequent claim.
- The use of multi-point electrical adapters should be avoided, as it may result in overloading and subsequent ignition.
- Lightning damage should also be considered. Guidance on this is provided in BS EN 62305 and the In Fires Guide RC 35 Recommendations for the protection of buildings against lightning strikes.
For further information on fire safety or any other aspect of risk management speak to your Flint Account Handler on 0203 862 4077.