fire risks

Over the past twelve months there have been several warehouse fires that have caused a great deal of damage. At the start of April this year two significant industrial estate fire incidents took place in the Teesside area within 24 hours of each other: a large blaze broke out at an industrial estate in Stockton-on-Tees and less than a day later the South Bank/Cargo Fleet industrial estate was up in flames. And the list goes on. An industrial estate fire in Chester, also in April. A massive blaze in an industrial estate in Dunstable in Bedfordshire, resulting in extensive damage. An explosion and large fire in Kent last September, causing power outages in the area.

The costs associated with these types of fires can be considerable. In this fire at an industrial unit in Cardiff last November, it was estimated that two million pounds worth of stock was lost when a fire spread to a neighbouring warehouse. Sometimes it’s not only businesses that suffer losses either. Fires at self-storage facilities can be devastating for the people who store personal belongings there. This fire at a self-storage unit in Croydon in 2019 destroyed everything in the unit – including all the possessions of a lady who, having been made redundant, had moved in with her daughter. She had put all of her personal belongings into the facility and lost everything.

Managing the major fire risks in warehouses

Warehouse fires can spread quickly, causing destruction and potentially posing a danger to neighbouring businesses, risking the safety of anyone working in the vicinity. They can also cause extensive disruption to people living in the surrounding area.

There are a range of fire risks in these types of environments – the presence of large quantities of potentially closely-stacked combustible materials being an obvious one. Inevitably the combustion risk will vary depending on the nature of what is being stored due to different materials having different flammability risks if exposed to a heat source. Electrical issues can also present problems; given the scale of the building, detecting a small-scale fault that could go on to become the cause of a large blaze is challenging. Keeping these types of facilities warm enough for people to work in can be problematic too. Clearly they need to be heated during the colder months but the combination of heat sources and large quantities of flammable materials must be carefully managed from a fire safety perspective.

The fire risks associated with smoking cigarettes in warehouse environments speak for themselves – as unfortunately does the fact that these types of facilities can often be targeted by arsonists.

How can these risks be reduced?

First and foremost, as is the legal requirement, fire risk assessments must be carried out. But it’s fundamentally important that they are also reviewed regularly, especially if the types of items and materials being stored in the building change over time.

Fire detection systems and fire protection equipment must be correct for the fire risks present in the warehouse and appropriately located: particular attention must be paid to high-risk areas but consideration must also be given to protecting fire equipment from damage in locations where storage items are frequently in transit. As is always the case, detection and protection systems and equipment must be checked regularly and serviced in line with specified guidance. Fire extinguishers that are appropriate for the risks present must be easily accessible with staff trained in their safe use.

While sprinkler systems haven’t always been viewed with enthusiasm because of concerns about them accidentally being set off and damaging stock, this must be weighed up very carefully against the potential losses in the event of fire and most importantly, the level of risk to people in the area. Check that signage is still correct, and regularly test emergency lighting to make sure it can be relied on to fully function if a warehouse evacuation suddenly needs to take place and main systems fail.

It’s essential to stay on top of all aspects of fire safety training too for those people who work in the premises. Ensure they are aware of their role in carrying out routine visual checks and reporting any concerns they have. Make sure that people are refreshed on what they need to know and given appropriate retraining if they move roles. Always record any training that’s been completed.

To tackle the arson risk, take steps to protect the perimeter as far as possible. That could include installing and then maintaining perimeter fencing and CCTV systems and ensuring that the whole area is well lit to deter any criminals. Secure any external waste bin facilities too; ideally have them locked away in a separate area.

Could you benefit from expert help in managing fire and security risks?

As fire and security specialists we can help you with all aspects of fire safety, including conducting fire risk assessments and advising on, installing and maintaining fire detection and protection systems and equipment. We also offer a range of security solutions including perimeter fencing, CCTV systems and access control. If you’d like to learn more about what we can do to help you manage fire and security risks in your company, please contact us today.