If you ever needed confirmation of the damage a fire can do to a company then take a look at recent events at online supermarket Ocado. A massive fire broke out at one of its distribution centres in February and the company has now found itself in the situation of having to confirm that 400 jobs are at risk as a result of it. The £45 million state of the art warehouse facility in Andover, Hampshire used robots for the movement of groceries. Investigations suggest the fire broke out due to an electrical fault in a battery charging unit which ignited the plastic lid on top of one of the robots. Around 100 residents in the area had to be evacuated due to concerns about the health effects of the dense smoke plus the potential risk of explosion from a pressurised gas cylinder in the facility. Neighbouring businesses were also temporarily disrupted. The fire burned for 48 hours with further damping down needed over the following few days. Fortunately no one was injured although some firefighters were treated for fire inhalation. The warehouse provided about 10% of Ocado’s delivery capacity and many customers were affected in the short term with the company unable to fulfil their orders. As well as having to deal with the financial impact and logistics of the loss of premises, stock and equipment, the company’s share value took a hit too. While workers have been retained on full pay since the fire, Ocado’s now been forced to launch a formal consultation process to make 400 jobs redundant. It’s planning to rebuild the facility but it looks set to take a minimum of two years to complete. Operations were meant to be expanding at the facility but the fire has now put growth plans on hold with the company struggling to fulfil an arrangement it had negotiated with M&S to offer its products to Ocado shoppers.

Fire can have devastating consequences for any size of company

Not every company stands to lose a £45 million cutting edge facility but the reality is that when a fire breaks out, the outcome can be just as devastating for any business no matter how large or small it may be. Even if the company has extensive insurance, it offers limited protection against all the disruption. And while a fire might not have completely wiped out the physical premises, it’s still very likely to mean a significant reduction in the work being done. For businesses that completely depend on having their premises operational in order to trade, it could spell the end. The impact of the loss of vital equipment, data and documentation can be considerable and is a reminder of how essential it is to ensure all critical information is backed up and stored safely in a separate location. And it goes without saying that it can be a very traumatic experience for employees and that’s assuming no-one has been injured in the fire. As seen with Ocado it can lead to job losses. Even where people are able to continue working it can be a very difficult experience that can leave employees feeling unsettled. If it transpires the company cannot prove it had taken adequate measures to protect itself from fire, there’s a risk that insurance cover could be affected or even invalidated. If the business is discovered to have neglected its fire prevention duties, it could even result in severe fines and the people responsible could face imprisonment.

Are you paying enough attention to the risk of fire in your company?

When you’re juggling numerous work priorities, fire safety can drop down the list. But as the Ocado incident shows, a fire can suddenly and dramatically throw those priorities into complete chaos. Make sure you are doing everything you can to identify all the fire risks present and to find ways to address those risks. If you think you could benefit from getting professional assistance with doing that, then please contact us for a chat to discuss how we can help you.