Implementing Routine Fire-Risk Assessments in the Workplace

Fires are one of the most frightening and potentially devastating events that can happen in the workplace. According to statistics gathered by U.S. Fire Administration, roughly 100,000 fires occur in non-residential buildings a year.

In 2016, about 30% of these fires happened while cooking, while the remainder of the cases were due to equipment malfunctions, electrical malfunctions, heating and fires unintentionally started due to carelessness.

Workplace fires are not only dangerous to staff and building occupants, but they also can cause significant damage to the building itself and the surrounding property. In order to protect your staff as well as your building, it's vital to carry out regular fire safety inspections and outfit your building with the right equipment.

Why Routine Fire-Risk Assessments Are Important

All non-residential buildings should be built to code, meaning they are designed in a way that ensures the very basics of fire safety. For example, codes stipulate that there must be a certain number of doors per floor for emergency exits.

New buildings, or newly acquired existing buildings, should also be professionally inspected by a fire safety authority to ensure you have the proper number and placement of fire extinguishers, a working sprinkler system, safe containment of potentially flammable chemicals and other details regulated by code.

Building codes and an initial fire safety inspection should be considered the minimum in terms of effort in protecting your building and its occupants.

Practicing routine fire-risk assessments are key to finding potential fire hazards in your building, ensuring that fire-safety equipment is in good working order and confirming that safe evacuation will be possible in the event a fire does occur.

5 Must-Haves of a Workplace Fire-Risk Assessment

The purpose of a fire-risk assessment is to determine whether the workplace has fire prevention, fire control and safe evacuation practices in effect. In order to meet these principles, there are five major elements that the assessment should check.

1. Identification of Fire Hazards and High-Risk Zones

To prevent fires from occurring, you must identify where potential hazards are in the workplace. Fire hazards include improperly maintained kitchen appliances, old and worn electrical cables and messy work environments.

And don't forget about high-risk zones within your workplace. For example, if you store cleaning chemicals and flammable liquids in one room, special attention will need to be taken to ensure safety.

2. Installation and Working Use of Emergency Equipment

When conducting an annual fire-risk assessment, you should test all emergency equipment to ensure it's all working properly. This would include fire alarms, sprinkler systems, smoke detectors and fire curtains. Some types of equipment you can test yourself, while others may require a contractor or professional to help.

When assessing your equipment, you should also consider whether it's time to upgrade to a more technologically-advanced system or if devices showing signs of wear need to be replaced. An outdated fire alarm or smoke detector is a simple issue to fix, yet one that can be detrimental if ignored.

3. Ability to Control Fire and Smoke


Many workplaces focus on detecting a fire and extinguishing it but forget about the importance of fire and smoke control. Between a fire being detected and extinguished, there is the opportunity to control the fire in order to reduce risk to occupants and damage to the building.

Fire and smoke control equipment won't extinguish a fire on their own, but they can greatly impact how quickly the fire can be put out, as well as how safely staff can evacuate.

An excellent example of fire and smoke control are the use of fire and smoke curtains. Fire and smoke curtains deploy automatically after a fire has been detected. They help to compartmentalize the building, slow air flow and block smoke from unaffected areas in the workplace.  

4. Clearly-Outlined Fire-Prevention Guidelines for Staff

Education is perhaps one of the most important aspects of fire safety. Staff should be trained in the basics of fire prevention and how to spot hazards throughout the working day. Staff should be urged to keep their working space clean and any cords off the ground.

Papers and other flammable materials shouldn't stack up around desks. Clearly posted guidelines on fire safety rules can also pose as helpful reminders, particularly in areas like a kitchen breakroom or storage spaces where chemicals are kept.

Fire alarms and extinguishers should be visible, and all new staff should be shown where they are located.

5. Easy and Efficient Evacuation Plan for Staff

A printed evacuation plan should be present in main areas of the workplace, as well as included in the employee handbook. Evacuation plans should also be reviewed on an annual basis and coupled with practice evacuations.

When conducting your fire-risk assessment, be sure to check any emergency exit points to ensure they aren't blocked from the inside or outside. Check windows as well, even if they aren't officially listed as an emergency exit.

Planning Your Own Fire-Risk Assessment

How detailed and complex a fire-risk assessment needs to be depends on the size of the building and the operations that are taking place.

Standard workplace environments, like an office, are usually straightforward and can follow a generic fire-risk assessment plan. More complex work environments, such as manufacturing warehouses or buildings housing flammable chemicals, should get professional assistance and hire an assessor to administer an annual fire-risk assessment.

Annual fire-risk assessments are an integral part of workplace safety and management. Contacting a local fire authority and looking online for generic fire-risk assessment guides will help you design a plan that works for your business. To include a smoke or fire containment curtain in your plans, contact Smoke Guard to talk with an expert.