When simple fire safety failings lead to catastrophe

by Dave Collins on March 13, 2014

in Fire Safety

When simple fire safety failings lead to catastrophe

Guest Post by Kevin Burke in The UK

clip_image004Description: "What can businesses and households do to keep fire safe? This article looks at important statistics and offers some helpful advice."

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.


Source: Department for Communities and Local Government, Fire & Rescue Statistical Release

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.


Kevin Burke

Kevin Burke writes about health and safety issues on behalf of home emergency cover specialists 247 Home Rescue. Connect with them on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

  • That is tragic Sheree. My heart goes out to you and to the loved ones of your former employee.

  • Thanks for the article, sad story about the gasoline. The real issue in all this is not really the knowledge of safety steps but rather the psychology of risk behind the safety compliance message.

  • Sheree

    I always do my fire safety meeting in December; I remind all my folks about the dangers of lights and candles unattended, fireplaces with too much decoration, children in nightclothes standing too close to an open flame, AND the use of propellents to light fires. I am graphic, I am passionate, I plead for safety. 3 years ago, one of my employees sat in my safety meeting, went home for the holiday, started a fire in a pit in the yard with gasoline – like he had always done; like his father, brothers, uncles had always done. When he attempted to raise the flames, the plastic cup of gas he threw at the fire, melted through – the fire followed the fumes and set him on fire – burned his arm straight off. His 13 year old son had to put him out – (he had been taught to smother, stop, drop & roll in school). The EMT’s transported him by air ambulance to the burn unit of the hospital, but he died 3 days later. I am STILL haunted that I didn’t do enough to change his attitude about fire safety, that tradition carried on, a tradition that ultimately took his life.

    • That is a terrible story Sheree and sadly many of us have those, I am still haunted by witnessing the death of a young Electrician who was doing work that I recommended to eliminate a risk. What we have to realize is that humans think for themselves and make their own decisions based on countless reasons and past experiences. Telling someone to be safe is very different from saving their life. Doesn’t matter how many rules we put in place or how much we try and tell them we cannot ultimately control what they will do. I think, the harder we try, the more we may close their minds and attitudes and perceptions. You will never have enough time or resources to change their attitudes and behaviors toward everything that could harm them so your goal should be to help them to think and to discern risk, to ask them what they think rather than tell them. This may mean allowing them to take more risks as that is the best way for people to learn how to take care of themselves. It is great to hear from someone so passionate about people and their well being 🙂

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