Arson is one of those things you never think will affect your business but unfortunately virtually any premises has the potential to become a target. Just last month, a couple of days before Christmas, a former police station in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire went up in flames. It took more than six fire crews to put it out and was also attended by police officers, incident response units and paramedics. The fire was later confirmed as being caused by arson.  While derelict buildings are certainly a target for arsonists – the fire at this former hotel in Teesside last year was also attributed to arson - active businesses are vulnerable too. Again in December, this time in Bolton, there was an arson attack on a dental laboratory. Not only was the dental laboratory severely damaged but the fire spread into the neighbouring business and caused extensive disruption in the surrounding area.

Arson can cause a great deal of upset in the communities where it happens and can be damaging both physically and economically to businesses. And in some instances, it can lead to damage or even destruction of heritage buildings or buildings of historical interest: for example, the landmark Littlewoods Building in Liverpool was damaged in an arson attack in 2018. Arson accounts for a significant proportion of the call outs to fire and rescue services and as such is a significant drain on resources. According to the National Fire Chiefs Council, 50.5% of all fires attended across the UK in 2017/18 were due to arson and there’s been an upward trend since 2014/15.

New sentencing guidelines

It’s not easy to understand the mindset of people who feel the urge to engage in this kind of destructive and dangerous activity but as part of efforts to tighten up how they are dealt with, new sentencing guidelines have recently been introduced. They came into effect at the start of last October and provide clearer guidance on how sentencing decisions should be reached in magistrates' and crown courts, along with a more clearly set out range of punishments.

The new guidelines aim to ensure courts are able to consider all the consequences of arson including the extent of the damage and the economic and social impact and allows for a range of sentences including life. But the fact remains that for some, the potential risks of being handed a tough sentence will not be enough to make them see sense. So businesses need to do everything they can to make sure they don’t become a target.

4 ways you can reduce the risk of arson

  • Improve visibility and surveillance

Criminals in general, including arsonists, do not want to be spotted. The higher the chances that they could be seen, the less appealing your premises will be as a target. There are various things you can do from adding security lighting to having a CCTV system installed. Make sure external areas are kept tidy so there are no places available where criminals can easily hide.

  • Ensure your housekeeping and waste management is effective

Waste and rubbish offer a fuel source for fire. Make sure they are kept in a secure location, ideally away from the perimeter (to prevent people getting access from outside) as well as clear of buildings; if a fire did start it could otherwise potentially spread more easily. If space is an issue, an alternative is to store rubbish in non-combustible lockable containers that should be regularly emptied.

  • Reduce physical access to your site

If you have perimeter fencing, make sure it’s as secure as possible by keeping it well maintained. Even if your building isn’t fenced off, always remember the basics for preventing access: it seems obvious but sometimes it’s the simple things like shutting windows and locking doors that can be overlooked and offer an arsonist, or other criminals, an opportunity. You could also consider installing anti-arson letterboxes to prevent an arsonist pushing burning materials into your workplace.

  • Talk to your staff about the risk from arson

Make sure your employees are aware of the risks too and know the steps they can take to help minimise them. Encourage them to be vigilant and explain what they can do to play their part. If they see any suspicious behaviour from people in the area, or if there are any instances of vandalism, make sure there are ways to report this quickly so action can be taken before it escalates.

If you’d like further advice about making your premises more secure against a range of risks including arson, then please get in touch with us.