Health & Safety

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25 July 2009

Every year hundreds of people die and thousands are burned in fire related incidents that could be easily prevented with just a little thought and action. Fire and explosion at work account for some 2% of major injuries reported annually to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).


The Fire Precautions Act 1971 (1) requires the Fire Authority to enforce the act in their area and for that purpose to appoint inspectors, usually known as Fire Prevention Officers. The Act gives them sweeping powers of entry and inspection to premises plus the ability to require any person to give them assistance in their inspections.

There are fixed penalties for breaches of fire safety standards or law in a magistrates court, and if convicted in a higher court the potential for an unlimited fine and up to two years imprisonment or both exists.

Know Your Enemy

A fire needs three basic ingredients to propagate, these are known as the "fire elements"

These three basic elements in the right quantities will cause a fire, starve the fire of any of those ingredients and the fire will be extinguished. The ratio of fuel to oxygen is crucial; too much or too little of either will not permit a fire to start.

Classification of Fires

There are four main categories of fire based upon the fuel and the means of extinction.


Fires that involve solid materials, predominantly of an organic kind, forming glowing embers. Examples are wood, paper and coal. The extinguishing mode is by cooling, and is achieved by the use of water.


Fires that involve liquids or liquefiable solids; they are further subdivided into:


These involve liquids soluble in water, for example methanol. They can be extinguished by carbon dioxide, dry powder, water spray, light water and vaporising liquids.


These involve liquids not soluble in water, such as petrol and oil. They can be extinguished by foam, carbon dioxide, dry powder, light water and vaporising liquids.


Fires that involve gases or liquefied gases resulting from leaks or spillage, e.g. methane or butane. Extinguishment can be achieved by using foam or dry powder in conjunction with water to cool any leaking container involved.


Fires that involve metals such as aluminium or magnesium. Special dry powder extinguishers are required to fight these, which may contain powdered graphite or talc. No other extinguisher type should be used.

Types of Fire Extinguisher & Labels


For Liquid and electrical fires.
DO NOT USE on metal fires.


A multipurpose extinguisher to be used on Class B type fires.


For use on liquid fires.
DO NOT USE on electrical or metal fires.


For wood, paper, textile and solid material fires.
DO NOT USE on liquid, electrical or metal fires


Halon fire extinguishers contain a Ozone depleting gas and are only used in special circumstances.


For liquid and electrical fires.
DO NOT USE on metal fires.


How you can prevent fires starting and ensure that people can escape if there is a fire.

  • Keep escape routes clear of obstructions and combustible materials.
  • If you make holes in floors and walls make sure they are filled with fire stopping material to prevent the spread of smoke and heat.
  • Store flammable liquids properly.
  • Make sure that electrical equipment is inspected regularly and that any faulty items are taken out of use immediately. Also switch of electrical equipment when not in use.
  • Take part in Fire drills.
    Do Not:
  • Don't use fire extinguishers as door stops.
  • Wedge or hold open fire doors.
  • Lock or secure doors on a fire escape route in a way that means that they can not be immediately opened by someone escaping.
  • Obscure signs showing the escape routes, the fire alarm call points or fire extinguishers.
  • Block the ventilation slots of electrical equipment

Maintenance & Test of Fire Fighting Equipment

All equipment provided to assist escape from the premises, such as fire detection and warning systems and emergency lighting, and all equipment provided to assist with fighting fire, should be regularly checked and maintained by a suitably competent person in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations.

Smoke Detectors

Every year the Fire Brigade is called out to over 600,00 fires which result in over 800 deaths. Many of these fatalities may have been prevented by the use of a fire / smoke detector, this would give people the extra few minutes to evacuate the premises.

Types of Smoke Detector

There are currently two types of smoke detector available on the market - ionisation and optical (also known as photoelectric or photo electronic).

  • Ionisation - the least expensive variety, available for less than £5. These work by sensing small particles of smoke produced by flaming fires such as chip pan fires.
  • Optical - more expensive, are better suited to detecting large smoke particles, such as those given by smouldering foam filled furniture and overheated PVC wiring.

What you must do if you discover fire, smoke or abnormal heat

Shout "Fire" and operate the building's fire alarm if it has one. Breaking the glass on any fire alarm call point will set off the alarm.

  • Call the fire brigade from a safe position.
  • Do not spend time worrying if someone else has already done this, the fire brigade will not mind receiving more than one call.
  • If you know how to, and feel confident enough, use an extinguisher.
  • However, remember it is your job to fight fires. The most important thing in any fire is to ensure that people can get to a place of safety, not to save property. If you do fight the fire never enter a smoke filled room and never let fire or smoke get between you and the door. If you cannot put a fire out with one extinguisher (waste bin size fire) get out and leave it to the fire brigade.
  • Evacuate the building. Leave the building by the nearest available escape route.

Safety Signs

The Health and Safety Regulations implement a European Council Directive on minimum requirements for the provision of safety signs at work. The objective is to provide signs readily understandable even though they do not contain words. The majority of the general safety signs will be known in the UK as they have been in use under the Safety Signs Regulations 1980.

In British Standard BS 5499 options include these signs. The British Standard "prefers" the "green man" sign to be used for face illuminated or non illuminated signs and the "white" man sign for self luminous or internally illuminated signs. The man can be reversed for an exit to the left.

The Regulations show an alternative style. They show a white door with an arrow pointing towards it and may include a man running towards the door as shown below.

There is no requirement within the British Standard or Regulations to operate to one or the other exclusively.

Directional arrows are used to indicate the direction of travel where it is not obvious e.g. there is an alternative to the way you wish people to go. They are regarded as supplementary signs and should always be used in conjunction with the appropriate pictogram.

Means of Escape in Case of Fire

The purpose of a means of escape is to enable people confronted by fire to proceed in the opposite direction to an exit away from the fire, to ground level in open air away from the building. Any means of escape must not rely on rescue facilities from the fire service.

Means of escape in buildings other than those with only a ground floor generally consist of three distinct areas. These are:

  • any point on a floor to a staircase.
  • the route down a staircase.
  • the route from the foot of the staircase to the open air, clear of the building.

Essentially, there are two areas associated with means of escape:

  • the area in which people escaping from a fire are at some risk (the unprotected zone).
  • areas where risk is reduced to an acceptable minimum (protected zones). Protected zones at an exit must be fully protected, using walls or partitions which have a fire-resisting capability.

Special Considerations

Special consideration must be given to the needs of disabled staff in fire situations. Some aspects for consideration are:

  • Identification of everyone who may need special help to get out;
  • Allocation of responsibility to specific staff to help disabled staff in emergency situations;
  • Consideration of the best escape routes;
  • Developing procedures to enable lifts to be used where possible; and
  • Procedures for disabled staff to summon assistance in emergencies.

Note: Normally lifts should not be used as a means of escape in the event of a fire. If the power fails due to the effects of the fire, the lift could stop between floors trapping the occupants in what may become a chimney for fire and smoke.

Those staff with impaired vision must be encouraged to familiarise themselves with the escape routes, particularly those not in regular use. A ‘buddy' system can be introduced, whereby a person who works nearby will help the person with impaired vision. Several people should practice assisted evacuation with the person with impaired vision to take account of possible absences.

Staff who have impaired hearing may not hear alarms in the same way as those with normal hearing, but may still be able to recognise the sound, this may be tested at the weekly alarm test.

Wheelchair users or others with impaired mobility can often provide advice themselves on the best kind of assistance to help them to negotiate stairs, etc. Any person who is intended to provide such help should be trained in the correct methods. Advice on the lifting and carrying of people can be obtained from the Fire Service, Ambulance Service, British Red Cross Society, St John Ambulance Brigade or a number of disability organisations.

One further type of employee that may require special provision is the mentally handicapped. Management should ensure that any employee with a mental handicap is reassured and led to safety.

In all the above cases, the person(s) should not be abandoned once outside in a place of safety.

What to do if you hear the fire alarm

  • Leave the building immediately by the nearest available escape route without using lifts.
  • Escape routes are clearly marked by green signs with either white symbols or white symbols with writing. Do not stop to collect personal belongings.
  • Obey instructions from floor wardens or the fire brigade.
  • Shut doors and windows to slow down the spread of smoke but only if it will not significantly delay your escape.
  • Go to the designated assembly point.
  • You should never go back into a building unless told you can by the building incident controller or the senior officer of the fire brigade present.


  1. In October 2006 the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Act 2005 or Fire Safety Order (FSO) became law. It replaced most fire safety legislation with one simple order. In short, it means that any person who has some level of control in premises must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk from fire and make sure people can safely escape if there is a fire.