The majority of fires that take place in the workplace are preventable. Those responsible for fire safety in the workplace should have procedures in place to decrease the risk of fire. Current legislation, which we will take a closer look at later on in this blog post, outlines that employers are required to have a responsible person in charge of fire safety in the workplace. This responsibility is given to fire wardens, specialised members of staff within a company who have undergone fire warden training. These individuals are responsible for implementing fire safety measures, as well as being reactive should a fire occur.
Fires pose a serious risk to businesses
It goes without saying that fires pose a serious risk to businesses, both in terms of fatalities, injuries and damaging property, equipment and stock. On average, each year in the workplace there are 22,200 fires and 17 fatalities occur as a result of these fires. Statistics show that around 5,000 of these fires are set deliberately, the rest are classified as ‘accidental’. Therefore, it is clear to see how important fire wardens are within a company, as their day-to-day activities lessen the risk of accidental fires occurring, which make up a significant number of all fires.
Fire wardens have specific duties
The role of a fire warden will vary slightly depending on the workplace environment. For example, a university laboratory poses different risks to a shopping centre. Therefore, the roles of fire wardens are specialised to their specific environment. However, their overall responsibilities remain unchanged.
Standard fire warden duties include:
- Checking fire alarms are in working order and clearly visible. This should be carried out once per week at least.
- Checking emergency exits are clear of obstructions and can be opened easily in an emergency.
- Ensuring that fire extinguishers are visible and are regularly serviced.
- Checking fire doors are in working order and are kept closed.
- Ensuring emergency lighting is functional. This should be checked once per month.
- Is there adequate fire safety signage? Signage should be visible and securely fastened to the wall.
- General housekeeping practices. For example, are sources of heat kept apart from sources of fuel?
- Ensure all electrical equipment is PAT tested.
- Staff induction. All staff should undergo fire training, both new recruits and existing members of staff. This should be refreshed on a yearly basis.
- Carry out annual fire drills. This can help to cement training and check that all employees know what to do in an emergency fire situation.
- Maintain records. All fire safety activities should be recorded and monitored. Any hazards should be noted and rectified, which should also be logged.
In the event of a fire
Their first and foremost priority is to get everybody out of the building safely, including themselves. In addition to this a fire warden should also:
- Raise the alarm.
- Close all fire doors to stop the fire from spreading.
- Ensure that any vulnerable persons are evacuated according to their Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP).
- Ensure every person has left the building, including bathroom facilities and storage areas.
- Use fire fighting equipment, such as extinguishers, if it is safe to do so. If it isn’t safe, then the most important thing is to stay safe, leave the fire for the emergency services.
- Support with roll calls. Is every person accounted for?
- Liaise with emergency services.
The number of fire wardens depends upon a number of factors
How many fire wardens a workplace has is dependent upon a range of factors. However, generally the common understanding is that a fire warden should be able to carry out a ‘sweep’ and reach a place of safety within 2 ½ minutes of a fire alarm sounding. Other factors include the size of the premises, number of staff and type of business operating. It is important to also consider if there are at risk people in the building, such as the elderly or disabled. This should signify that more fire wardens are required. If your company operates on shifts, then it is essential to ensure that an adequate number of fire wardens are present on each shift.
Staff absences, when a fire warden is sick or on annual leave, means that you have to ensure that another fire warden replaces them during their time off. If your company has flammable materials present, or sources of ignition, this again signifies a requirement for more fire wardens. Remember, that fire wardens should receive training regarding their duties and fire safety in order to ensure that they can carry out their responsibilities. Proper training is a key factor in preventing fires in the workplace.
Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 replaces all previous fire safety legislation with one comprehensive order. For a guide to make your premises fire safe, check out this document, Make Your Premises Safe. This legislation outlines that those who are responsible for premises may be classed as a ‘responsible person’ and are therefore responsible for putting fire safety measures in place. Within a business, managers will often appoint fire wardens to act as responsible persons. This order states that fire safety measures should be put into place for planning, organisation, management, control, monitoring and review. Fire safety is a cyclic process and fire safety policies should be reviewed regularly.
The responsible person, or fire wardens, are responsible for taking steps to prevent and reduce the impact of fire on the workplace. A fire risk assessment and emergency plan should be put into place. These plans should include information, instruction and training.
Under this legislation a business owner/responsible person can be prosecuted if fire safety standards are not met. A recent example of this is a York restaurant being fined £7000 due to failure to comply with fire safety legislation. Failings included blocking the internal staircase, the external staircase had flammable objects and obstacles preventing it from being used in an emergency, fire alarms/detectors were not functional and the fire extinguisher also didn’t work (it hadn’t been serviced for 5 years). From this example, we can learn that the role of fire wardens would have ensured that the factors above did not occur. As a result of the daily activities of fire wardens, who had received proper training, all of the above risks would have been outlined and rectified in accordance with UK legislation.
Fire extinguishers and their uses
Before we finish the blog, let’s take a quick reminder of the different types of fire extinguishers and their uses. Firstly, there are 6 types of fires.
- Class A – fires involving solid materials such as wood, paper or textiles.
- Class B – fires involving flammable liquids such as petrol, diesel or oils.
- Class C – fires involving gases.
- Class D – fires involving metals.
- Class E – fires involving live electrical apparatus.
- Class F – fires involving cooking oils such as in deep-fat fryers.
Different fire extinguishers are used on the above fires. It is important that fire wardens have this knowledge in order to fight the fire where possible.
Water – Category A
Water fire extinguishers are suitable for fires involving solid combustibles (category A), these include wood, textiles and paper. When using this type of fire extinguisher it is important to avoid electrical equipment, as this is another potential fire risk.
Another category of water based fire extinguishers is the Water Mist Extinguisher. These extinguishers contain de-ionised water and are capable of fighting class A, B, C and F fires (solid materials, flammable liquids, gases and cooking oils/fats).
AFFF Foam – Categories A and B
AFFF fire extinguishers are used for fires that are burning solids or liquids. They are not suitable for use on fires stemming from oil/fat.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – Categories B and E
Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are best used for electrical fires, as CO2 is not a conductor of electricity. It is important to remember that these extinguishers are not to be used on category F (fat/oil) fires as it can carry the oil out of the container, therefore spreading the fire. Areas should be ventilated as soon as the fire is under control in order to avoid asphyxiation.
ABC Powder – Categories A, B, C, D and E
ABC Powder extinguishers are very versatile and can be used on many different categories of fires, including organic materials, liquids, gases and electrical fires. They are not to be used on oil/fat fires.
Wet Chemical – Categories A and F
Wet chemical fire extinguishers are ideal for use on cooking fires including oils and fats. They can also be used on category A fires.
Fire wardens are an integral part of the health and safety of a business. Their duties are not simply limited to reacting in the case of an emergency. Instead, their daily activities help to prevent the eventuality of a fire taking place. It is extremely important to ensure that fire wardens are knowledgeable about fire safety in order to ensure their effectiveness. Communicating fire safety information to all staff and refreshing this knowledge regularly further reduces the risk of fire and is not to be underestimated.