Good practice: a five-step checklist to fire risk assessments –
In October 2009, Connect published
a general guide to fire risk assessments. In the first of a
five-part series, we look at each of the steps in more detail.
Here, we look at step one – identifying the hazards.
First things first
The first thing you need to think about before starting your
fire risk assessment is what your workplace premises are used for.
This has a large bearing on the type of assessment needed.
site offers a number of free guides for specific premises
- offices and shops
- factories and warehouses
- hospitals (including medical centres)
- transport depots
- schools, colleges and universities (including outdoor education
- residential care homes.
There’s also a supplementary guide on accessibility and means of
escape for disabled people.
Step one: identify the hazards
Three things are needed in order for a fire to start:
- source of ignition.
If any of these three elements are missing, then a fire cannot
start. Taking simple measures to stop these three elements from
coming together will significantly reduce the likelihood of a fire.
This article will look at how to identify potential ignition
sources, the materials that might fuel a fire and the oxygen
sources that will help it burn.
Identify sources of ignition
Look around your premises for any possible sources of heat which
could get hot enough to ignite materials. These sources could
- cigarettes, matches and lighters
- naked flames, eg candles or gas and liquid-fuelled, open-flame
- electrical, gas or oil heaters – whether portable or fixed
- hot processes, such as welding or shrink wrapping
- cooking equipment
- faulty or misused electrical equipment
- lighting equipment, such as lamps or display lighting that are
too close to stored products
- obstruction of vents on office computers and other electrical
- arson (we’ll be doing a feature on preventing arson later in
Make a note of ‘near misses’ such as scorch marks on furniture or
discoloured or charred electrical plugs and sockets. Logging ‘near
misses’ can help you identify hazards which you may not otherwise
Identify sources of fuel
Anything that burns is fuel for a fire. Look out for the things
that will burn easily and are in enough quantity to provide fuel
for a fire or cause it to spread to another fuel source. Some of
the most common fuels found are:
- flammable liquid-based products like paints, varnishes and
- flammable solvents eg methylated spirit, cooking oils and
disposable cigarette lighters
- flammable chemicals like cleaning products and photocopier
- plastics and rubber
- textiles and soft furnishings such as curtains
- items such as shredded paper and wood shavings
- flammable gases such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
Also consider the materials used to line walls, floors and
ceilings, such as polystyrene or carpet tiles and how they might
contribute to the spread of fire. You should also bear in mind the
explosive potential of dust. Dust can be produced from many
everyday materials such as coal, grain, wool, sugar, certain metals
and synthetic organic chemicals. A cloud of combustible dust in the
air can explode violently if ignited.
Identify sources of oxygen
Air is the main source of oxygen for a fire. In the case of a
building, this is provided by ventilation systems – whether that’s
natural airflow through doors and windows, or by air conditioning
systems. Many buildings operate a combination of both air
conditioning and air handling systems, capable of introducing and
extracting air to and from a building. Other sources of oxygen can
sometimes be found in materials such as:
- chemicals that contain oxidising agents, which can provide a
fire with additional oxygen. These chemicals should be identified
on their container or by the manufacturer or supplier who can
advise on their safe use and storage
- oxygen supplies from cylinder storage and piped systems: for
example, oxygen used in welding processes.
Step one checklist
- identified all potential ignition sources?
- identified all potential fuel sources?
- identified all potential sources of oxygen?
- made a note of your findings?
There’s more information on fire risk assessments on the
Communities and Local Government website.
In the next fire risk assessment article, we’ll look at step two:
identifying the people at risk.
Connect issue 33: Good practice: a five-step checklist to
fire risk assessments
safety law and guidance documents for business