When simple fire safety failings lead to catastrophe
Guest Post by Kevin Burke in The UK
Fire safety must be a key priority on all premises. Fire is one of the biggest risks a building faces, and dealing with the consequences of a fire can cost tens of thousands of pounds and take several years. Residents of the property will also have to spend a fortune looking for alternative accommodation, while businesses that operate within it may not be able to remain open.
But although a fire can cause untold financial problems, the biggest danger is that of death. The latest annual statistics reveal that from April 2012 to March 2013, 271 people lost their lives in fires in England alone, with 62% of these victims (168 people) dying in accidental house fires. Overall, fire brigades were called out to 154,000 fires in the country over the year, with this figure actually 44% lower than in the 12 previous months, partially due to the wet summer we experienced, but also somewhat down to substantial and significant improvements in fire safety. Nonetheless, every fire death is a huge personal tragedy, and even one preventable death is one too many.
Counting the cost of commercial fires
Recent data from NFU Mutual revealed that it paid out £43 million in 2012 following commercial fires, with the average claim settlement reaching £26,472. The main factors seen in these fires were arson, unsafe electrics and vehicle fires, the insurer added.
But the cost of these fires cannot be calculated through insurance claims alone. NFU Mutual said that 80% of all businesses that experience a fire or another major incident fail within just 18 months. Although the loss of physical space and workplace equipment, as well as an inability to remain open, will impact a company’s bottom line, the most significant issue in this day and age can be the loss of data, which can be devastating.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 all put obligations on businesses to take steps to eliminate the risk of fire and to protect their employees should a fire break out.
Some of the ways businesses can reduce the risk of fire include:
- Buying fire detection equipment and ensuring it works properly
- Training staff in what to do should the fire alarms sound
- Setting up emergency exit plans and reviewing these regularly
- Reviewing risk assessments regularly
- Performing fire drills to ensure staff and visitors can escape in the event of a fire
- Appointing and training fire wardens
- Investing in fire doors and keeping these shut
- Turning off any electrical appliances when they are not in use
- Purchasing fire-fighting equipment
- Ensuring staff know how to use fire-fighting equipment safely and when they should use it
- Keeping buildings secure
- Disposing of rubbish properly to minimise the risk of arson
Residential fires and home emergencies
Although the number of fire fatalities in England has seen significant declines for years, a frighteningly high number of people still lose their lives in house fires. A failure to use smoke detectors or to check that they work properly, using chip pans rather than deep-fat fryers, using u8nqualified electricians for emergency electrical repairs, and failing to stub out and dispose of cigarettes safely, are some of the key factors in domestic house fires.
Homeowners do not have any fire safety obligations in law, but it is foolhardy to not deal with the risk of fire; neglecting fire safety will not just put the homeowner in danger, but also their family, neighbours and the emergency services. Alternatively, landlords have some legal requirements for fire safety, particularly through the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and the Housing Act 2004.
Residents can use the following tips to keep their home fire-safe:
- Fit at least one smoke alarm to every level of the home
- Regularly test smoke alarms – it is recommended that this is done once a month
- Do not leave cooking unattended
- Stub cigarettes out properly and dispose of them safely
- Do not overload electrical sockets
- Do not use any electrics that seem dangerous, such as those with exposed cables or those that are prone to overheating
- Plan what to do in the event of a fire
- Have gas boilers and other gas appliances serviced annually and repaired properly
A detailed analysis of UK fire fatalities from 2010 to 2011 reinforced the importance of these safety messages. Overall, 37% of the house fire fatalities in the year were in houses without smoke alarms, with 25% occurring in homes with broken smoke alarms. Furthermore, a total of 36% of all accidental house fires that led to death started with a cigarette, while just 21% of the adult population smoked. Electrical appliances and electrical distribution accounted for 22% of all accidental fires.
The fact that these house fires could have been so easily prevented seems to only make them seem even more tragic. Fire safety is everyone’s responsibility – keep fire safe, and don’t allow your business, your employees or your family to become yet another sad statistic.