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A Guide to Fire Safety in Offices

28th October 2021

Office environments are very common workplaces for many people across different industries, and with the majority of office workers working a 9 to 5 day, offices are a place where lots of people spend most of their days. It’s very important to consider fire safety in the workplace, especially in an office environment due to what general office buildings are like and the work equipment and electric supplies within. Electrical distribution is the top cause of fires in offices, which causes 31% of all office fires. 

If you work in an office, as either the owner, manager or employee, this blog will give you all the information you need to make sure the building is fire safe.

Common Hazards

As mentioned above, electrical fires are the most common cause of fires in offices due to the mass of computer equipment needed. The top hazard regarding electrical equipment is it not being properly maintained and PAT tested which leads to electrical faults sparking a fire. An office is usually full of flammable materials, like paper and wooden desks, which are conveniently stored next to the electrical equipment. Sometimes accidents involving unattended kitchen appliances, like a toaster, can cause fires, and taller buildings come with more hazards as they have fewer escape routes.

Legal Requirements

There are important legal requirements to take into account when it comes to fire safety in an office. Even if you’re not the assigned ‘responsible person’, you need to be aware of these requirements to support the understanding of fire safety and the safeguarding of your fellow team members.

The main document to be aware of is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which begins by explaining that a responsible person should ensure the risks are reduced and evacuation plans are safe and known by employees. This person is responsible for allocating fire wardens within the team and keeping all risk assessments up to date.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) is enforced by fire authorities and the failure to comply can end up in costly fines and even imprisonment for the responsible persons.

Risk Assessments

All workplaces need to carry out a Fire Safety Assessment (FSA). They are pretty self-explanatory as they assess all the fire risks within a building or space. It’s recommended that an experienced and knowledgeable person, like us at Firestoppers, completes the risk assessment. It’s important to keep your risk assessments up to date and they should be revisited regularly; over 22,000 fires happen every year in non-dwelling buildings.

A risk assessment needs to follow these five steps:

  • Identify fire hazards, the sources of ignition and fuel, and sources of oxygen ie. windows and doors
  • Identify the people who will be at risk in and around the building, and identify the people who are vulnerable ie. with disabilities 
  • Evaluate, reduce or remove the risk and plan escape routes with sufficient lighting and signs
  • Record and plan for any worst-case scenarios, and train your team on the emergency procedures and basic fire safety
  • Review your plan and assessments regularly

Measures and Equipment

To prevent any fires from occurring, many fire safety measures can be implemented in an office setting, and fire safety equipment you should have on hand to use if needed. As mentioned above a fire risk assessment must be completed of the building and an emergency plan should be in place, and all electrical equipment should be PAT tested at least once a year. In your team, you should have a designated responsible person for fire safety and all staff should know who this is too. Staff should also be aware of who the fire wardens are, where fire extinguishers can be found, and know how to use them.

The fire safety equipment you should have should include:

  • Fire alarms to alert when there’s a fire.
  • Smoke detectors should be in various locations around the building.
  • Fire blankets are essential and made from fire retardant material to put out small fires.
  • Fire extinguishers should be throughout the building and you should have both water and CO2 fire extinguishers to cover all scenarios. It’s important for your team to learn the types of fire extinguishers and which fires they should be used on too.
  • Emergency lighting should light all emergency exit routes.
  • Sprinkler systems should be installed throughout the office to decrease the flames and smoke produced during a fire.
  • Fire doors should always be kept shut and they should be installed in a way to prevent a fire from spreading but also to maintain fire exit routes.

Responsible Person

By law, all offices are required to have a responsible person allocated within the team who must make sure all staff and visitors are aware of the fire procedures and are safe in the building. The responsible person is usually the employer or the building owner.

This person is responsible for making sure that risk assessments are carried out and kept up to date, and they must also make sure that all equipment is checked and in full working order, and all electrical equipment is PAT tested annually. This reduces the risk of loss of life or injuries to employees. They must also make sure that all fire equipment is available if needed, and fire doors and exits are clear of any blockages. The responsible person needs to provide their team with full fire safety training and allocate fire wardens within the team to help manage the safety procedures in place.

Fire wardens help to share the responsibility, as in a large office building there are likely to be many floors of employees that will need guidance and fire safety advice. The fire warden must raise the alarm and contact emergency services before directing people out of the building and assisting anyone that needs further assistance. They will need to tackle any small fires with the correct fire extinguisher and double-check that everyone is safe with fire doors closed behind to prevent the fire from spreading.

Dealing with fires in the workplace can be different to make sure it’s done correctly and safely, but practising and preparing for an emergency can help if it ever comes to the real thing. This is done through regular and accurate risk assessments and sufficient fire safety training of your team.

If you want us to complete a fire risk assessment for you or want to enquire about fire safety training for your workforce, then contact us today on 0800 799 9514, or click here to fill out our online enquiry form.