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Top causes of workplace fires and how to avoid them

At a glance

  • Fire presents a significant risk to businesses and can be a cause of major loss
  • There are a wide range of factors contributing to fire risk, some of which aren’t commonly appreciated and many of which are avoidable
  • Our interactive infographic highlights some of the most common causes and how these can be managed

There are more than 22,000 non-residential fires reported in the UK every year, with a large number of these occurring in workplaces.

The reasons why these fires start is varied. However, many incidents could be avoided by understanding and managing the most common causes of fire. While there has been a general downward trend in the number of UK fires over the last ten years, there were still 57,000 fire-related property claims in 2015, totalling roughly £1.1bn.

Workplace fires also tend to be “larger and more complex” than has previously been seen, explains Paul Redington of Zurich’s Major Loss – Property team.

“The main commonality between major incidents is a ready source of ‘fuel’ – mostly combustible material that allows a blaze to develop. Preventing workplace fire loss requires knowledge of both the underlying ignition risks and the possible reasons for the rapid spread of fire.”

One important way to protect against fire risk is to understand the most common causes and implement counter measures.

Our interactive infographic highlights the most common causes of non-residential fire and you should be thinking about when trying to minimise the risks.

Timber frame use, modular construction and polystyrene cladding are common in modern construction. These can increase fire risk if managed poorly, necessitating quality construction and advanced fire-stopping technology.

Overloading extension leads and faulty electrical equipment both have the potential to cause fires. Purchasing from quality manufacturers and conducting regular portable appliance testing can help mitigate the risk (PAT).

Cable deterioration, faults or substandard workmanship accounts for a significant number of fires in the UK. Owners of older properties should be particularly vigilant and ensure wiring has been professionally safety checked.

The majority of fires in unoccupied buildings are started deliberately. Regularly inspect empty property for signs of vandalism and consider CCTV, perimeter lighting, alarm systems and sprinklers (where appropriate).

Serious kitchen fires can take hold in seconds, particularly when oil is involved or cooking is left unattended. Clean surfaces, extractors and their ducting regularly and install fire blankets in kitchens.

Almost all organisations will store flammable materials, including everyday items like liquid fuels, solvents and cleaning products. It is essential to store flammable materials safely and well away from potential sources of ignition.

Paper, cardboard and other combustible waste materials can provide fuel for fires if not stored correctly. Dispose quickly and store away from buildings and ignition sources, reducing the chances of both accidental fire and arson.

Sparks and molten material generated by hot works, typically over 1000°F, can be widely scattered. Comprehensive training, appropriate workspaces, risk assessments and contractor vetting are all essential.

Dust and powder from metal, wood and plastic work can serve as an accelerant or cause explosions in enclosed spaces. Extraction fans should be installed and everyday air conditioning units regularly inspected and cleaned.

To find out more about fire risk and how to combat it, visit our new fire hub or speak to your usual Zurich contact.

Image © Getty

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