fire risks
Some fire risks are obvious. Some are less so but still visible if you’re aware of what kinds of warning signs to look out for: scorch marks around a socket perhaps or an excessively warm appliance.  But what about the ones that are a lot less obvious - could you be overlooking them? Take roof spaces for example. They’re unlikely to be the first place you’d consider when completing a fire risk assessment. And yet roof voids have played a role in facilitating the spread of several fires recently. This fire in a warehouse in Widnes in Cheshire spread through the roof space and ended up damaging neighbouring units on the industrial estate. A retirement complex, also in Cheshire, was more or less destroyed by a fire which rapidly travelled up the walls and into the roof. The role of compartmentalisation Minimising the risk of fire can be partly addressed by the way the building’s designed. Effectively it’s built in as a form of passive fire protection known as compartmentalisation. Passive fire protection’s role is to contain a blaze and prevent it from spreading quickly.  Compartmentalisation plays a role by turning sections of buildings into sealed units by use of, for example, fire resistant walls, ceilings, floors and doors that can all contain fire for a period. Clearly such protection will be visible in many areas but it’s also present in concealed spaces including ceiling voids. Even where it is visible, its unobtrusive nature can still result in it being out of mind. Either way, if it’s overlooked and therefore not as well maintained as it needs to be, it cannot carry out its protective role. Even the most carefully designed system can be breached if it’s not well maintained. Holes in walls and ceilings might be viewed as just cosmetic annoyances but they could actually be compromising the seal. Fire doors that no longer fit properly thanks to something as simple as a damaged hinge will not offer the fire resistance needed. If cavity barriers or roof fire breaks have deteriorated (or been fitted inadequately in the first place - there’s been concern expressed recently about the quality of fire protection within some new build properties) their ability to slow down the spread of fire will be reduced. But it’s very easy to overlook these types of issues and not check them as regularly as needed. Building reconfiguration Compartmentalisation can also be compromised when buildings are reconfigured or repurposed for different uses. It may no longer be appropriate for the changed layout. Building reconfiguration can also create voids that facilitate fires spreading. This was one of the issues identified during investigations into the fire that gutted the Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter back in October 2016. Expansion of the hotel had created many voids which were hidden by internal walls and decorations. The fire had been able to spread undetected through these, allowing it to take hold with great ferocity. There were question marks over the thoroughness of the initial investigation but a follow up report also confirmed the role played by these voids. The hotel could not be saved and the site has now been put up for sale. Most premises contain unseen fire risks Specific settings like commercial kitchens are high risk environments; one of the biggest risks can be posed by the ducting system. Over time these systems can easily become full of greasy deposits. If ignited, that can create a significant flare up that can then travel through the walls within seconds. Depending on the ducting layout, it could facilitate the spread of fire throughout a building very quickly indeed. Another invisible risk can be wiring safety too. This is as much of a risk to homeowners and landlords as it is to businesses. The advice is that a periodic inspection of electrics should be made every 10 years for an owner-occupied home (or 5 years for rented accommodation and also just before a property is let) to make sure all electrical installations remain safe. Could your premises have any fire risks that might not be immediately apparent? If you could benefit from some professional help to make sure your fire risk assessment process is as comprehensive as possible, please contact us for more information about how we can help you.