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The Most Common Cause of Fire in the Workplace

Health & Safety Knowledge Base | Fire Safety

Posted by: Charlotte O'Farrell Published: Tue, 02 Oct 2018 Last Reviewed: Tue, 02 Oct 2018
The Most Common Cause of Fire in the Workplace

Each year in the UK, there are over 22,000 workplace fires. The results can be catastrophic for businesses and the individuals involved: damage to equipment and buildings, loss of business and consequently earnings and, in the most serious cases, injuries or even deaths.

The good news is that there are steps employers and employees alike can take to ensure the risks of a fire breaking out in their workplace are minimised. By familiarising themselves with the principles of fire safety, workers can learn what causes fire risks, as well as how to safely evacuate the premises should the worst happen. Three quarters of fires in the workplace are accidental and of these, the majority are avoidable with proper fire safety awareness.

Faulty Electrical Appliances and Wiring

The most common cause of workplace fires is electrical equipment. Electrical faults cause a large proportion of non-residential fires, often with serious consequences. Fires that start in this way can often begin suddenly and unexpectedly and can spread to their surroundings with alarming speed. In March 2018, a suspected electrical fault caused a devastating blaze in a Brixham foundry, causing substantial damage to the building. Unfortunately, this is far from an isolated case.

A range of electrical appliances and machinery is needed for most jobs and it's vital that all equipment is safe, checked regularly and in good working order. Both poorly maintained electrics and wrongly used appliances can potentially cause a problem. Overloaded plug sockets, for example, can overheat and become a hazard. By unplugging all appliances not currently in use and using an adapter, employees can lessen this risk. Specialist machinery can also be at a particularly high risk of malfunctioning if it is not regularly inspected and repaired when necessary.

Often, faulty wiring is clearly visible during a routine inspection of equipment. Simple measures such as visually inspecting all wires before each use can help significantly and take very little time. Problems with the flex, plug or socket can be picked up before they cause an issue and the equipment can then be safely disposed of and replaced.

The Most Common Cause of Fire in the Workplace

Other Causes

Almost all businesses will need to use and store flammable materials. This includes everyday items such as cleaning materials along with the more obviously hazardous chemicals. The incorrect storage of combustible substances is among the leading causes of workplace fires. It is vital that any products likely to catch fire are locked away safely, as far from electrical equipment as possible, and that all employees who use them as part of their jobs are properly trained to spot the hazards and neutralise them.

Smoking poses a significant fire risk to all workplaces. By introducing a "safe area" for smokers removed from the main buildings and waste storage sites, businesses can help to ensure that discarded smoking materials can be safely disposed of. Smoking can be particularly dangerous when combined with another common workplace fire risk: storage of waste. Even everyday office waste such as cardboard and paper can provide fuel for a blaze, especially in large quantities. Safe and timely disposal of such waste is very important, as well as maintaining a decluttered environment in offices, factories and warehouses alike.

Unfortunately, a significant amount of workplace fires (around a quarter by some estimates) are started on purpose. At the derelict Corah knitwear factory in Leicester, arson was blamed for a February 2017 fire that damaged thirty-five cars and spread to surrounding buildings. According to the fire service, it marked the seventh time in just two years that the site had been targeted. Abandoned buildings, often former businesses, are common targets for arsonists. However, any workplace can fall victim to arson, with the risk increased for buildings that are often left unstaffed (or minimally staffed) or that don't have adequate, visible security such as CCTV, overnight lighting and well-maintained fencing.

As with all forms of work-related accidents, human error accounts for a large proportion of fires starting, whether through negligence, improper handling of sensitive material or inadequate training in fire safety procedures. Fire safety training is therefore a very important part of minimising fire risks to all businesses, their employees and the general public.

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