Fires can result in devastating consequences like property damage, injuries, or even death. According to the World Fire Statistics Bulletin, fire causes an estimated 100 fatalities and over 3,000 injuries per year in Australia.
In the workplace, workers and business owners must take adequate preventative measures to avoid fire accidents. Here we’ve listed 10 ways fires start in the workplace to aid you in putting safety measures in place for you and your colleagues.
1. Bad housekeeping
Clutter may seem like a harmless mess but it could cause a lot of harm as a fire hazard. Clutter contributes to fires by acting as fuel and by blocking access. Avoid this by keeping flammable materials and liquids away from heat sources. Never block access to sprinklers, firefighting equipment or emergency exits. Observe clearances when stacking materials. Make sure you keep free access to all electrical control panels. Material or equipment blocking access to the panels would delay power shut down in an emergency situation. Therefore, it’s important to practice good housekeeping in the workplace.
2. Waste kept on site
Workplaces have many hazards that could contribute to a fire, waste being one of them. Waste and combustible materials like paper and cardboard could act as fire accelerants and increase the amount of fire damage. They could fuel a rapid fire if they came into contact with sources of ignition like cigarettes or hot surfaces. Other sources of ignition include heaters, boilers, smoking materials, or overheated machinery. Waste should be disposed of regularly and is best stored in a designated area offsite for the workers’ safety. This will decrease the chances of it coming into contact with a source of ignition.
3. Improper use and storage of flammable chemicals
These chemicals are particularly a threat in areas where there may be large amounts of flammable liquids and vapours stored, such as industrial warehouses and factories; even garages and kitchens. They can ignite immediately upon contact with a source of ignition, so use all precautions when near these chemicals. Use non-sparking tools, and control static electricity as required. Place materials soaked in flammable liquids such as oil in a covered metal container, and properly dispose of them on a regular basis. Vapours pose a bigger threat as they disperse easily, running the risk of an explosion. Be sure flammable liquid and solvent containers are sealed properly when not in use, and ensure any spills are cleaned immediately. Provide sufficient ventilation when using and storing these chemicals. Clean ducts and fume hood filters regularly.
4. Dust collected in enclosed spaces
Don’t underestimate the dangers of dust and debris in the workplace. Dust collected from wood, plastic and metal operations can cause explosions in enclosed spaces without proper ventilation. Clean ducts regularly. Install extraction fans in places that collect dust such as factories and mines to avoid this from happening. Equipment and machinery should be kept in good condition, free of grease and dust to avoid burning and starting a fire.
5. Heat-generating objects
Heat is one of the main sources of ignition. Some electrical equipment and machinery produce heat, and may start a fire if placed near flammable or combustible materials such as waste or paper. To avoid this from happening, be sure you turn off and unplug unused electrical equipment or machinery. Avoid leaving it unattended or running overnight if possible. Keep it clean, clear and in good condition to prevent overheating and friction sparks, which could start fires.
6. Malfunctioning electrical equipment
Electrical fires are one of the most common types of fires in the workplace. Watch out for unsettling signs of damage in cables and plugs, frayed or loose cords, burnt terminals, exposed copper or faulty equipment in general. However, never attempt to perform repairs unless you’re qualified and authorised. Report electrical hazards and contact a professional test and tag service provider for an electrical risk assessment to ensure your electricals are in good condition. All electrical equipment should be professionally tested and tagged using a Portable Appliance Tester (PAT) regularly to avoid disasters.
7. Electrical outlets on overcapacity
Many of us tend to overload a socket by plugging in many appliances on an extension lead. This may seem convenient but it’s highly risky and may lead to overheating and a fire. Be sure you use only one plug in an outlet, and no more than 10 amps across the whole socket.
8. Faulty power points
It’s important to have your electrical installations and power points tested to avoid electric shock and friction sparks which could start a fire. Earth fault loop impedance test services are designed to test the electrical earth of all power points and electrical installations and discover any faults within your electric circuit. Because of the severity of coming into contact with an electric fault, having your electrical installations and power points tested for earth fault loop impedance is mandatory to be compliant with Australian wiring standards AS/NZS 3000:2007.
9. Smoking in the workplace
Discarded cigarettes that are not extinguished properly can be a source of ignition and start a fire. A designated smoking area and bins should be allocated in the workplace to avoid contact with flammable and combustible materials around the main buildings. Never smoke in storerooms or chemical storage areas. Staff should be reminded to extinguish the cigarettes properly when discarding them.
10. Human error and negligence
Human error and negligence are some of the most common causes of fires in the workplace. Fires can start due to human error such as improper use of equipment, accidents and spilt drinks over electrical equipment. Though the human error factor may be difficult to remove completely, it can be reduced through effective training, proper equipment and safety measures. Firefighting equipment should be tested regularly by a professional to ensure it’s always ready for emergency use.