The first step of any fire risk assessment is to identify fire hazards. Fire hazards in your workplace are anything that may create a fire. If you know the fire triangle, then it will be no surprise that fire hazards come into three categories:
These are the 3 things needed for a fire. Ignition, fuel and oxygen.
Why is identifying fire hazards so important that it is the first step in fire risk assessment? Because once you know the hazards, you can calculate the risk. And then you can work on ways to reduce the risk and prevent fires happening.
You might not be able to remove all of the fire hazards in your workplace. Fire hazards are everywhere, and when you go through the list, you will probably find that many exist in your work environment. But remember fire needs all three elements, of fuel, heat and oxygen to survive. Control these hazards. Keeping them apart. Reduce the risk.
Let's go through the list of some common examples that might tell you there is a potential fire waiting to happen at work.
The majority of fires need an ignition source to start. Identifying ignition sources in your workplace is important so that you can remove them, or control them. Not all ignition sources can be removed. But, where they can't be removed, they can be separated from combustible materials and other fuel sources.
It's important to consider the use and location of ignition sources. Electrical equipment might be perfectly safe for everyday use. But, take it into a flammable atmosphere, and the risk increases dramatically.
Fuel is needed to burn for a fire to start, and to maintain the fire. When we talk about fuel as a fire hazard, we don't just mean petrol and diesel, the fuel you fill up your car with. Fire is not fussy and accepts a wide variety of fuel sources. Fuel for fire can come in the form of combustible materials, oils, flammable liquids and gases. Removing the fuel, reducing fuel, and separating the fuel from ignition sources are all ways to minimise fire risk.
So what types of fuel are present in your workplace? Here are some examples:
Most furniture, fixtures, fittings are flame-resistant, but not all. It's best to check to make sure. Finishes can deteriorate over time so look for signs of wear and tear.
Structural materials are not easily combustible, but some are covered with layers of cardboard or wallpaper which may spread the fire. There have been cases recently regarding cladding (e.g. Grenfell) acting as a fuel source and quickly spreading the fire. So never assume that building materials are non-combustible.
Flammable chemicals, liquids and solvents need to be stored correctly and used safely to reduce fire risks. Flammable liquids give off vapours that can travel, so careful consideration of the distance from ignition sources is needed.
Oxygen is everywhere. We need it to survive, and luckily for us, it's in the air we breathe. Fires also need oxygen to survive. Knowing where oxygen is readily available, and how it can be stopped, can help prevent fire spread.
Not all ventilation is bad. Sometimes, you might need good ventilation to reduce the risk of fire. For example, when storing or using flammable liquids, good ventilation can prevent the build-up of vapour and the creation of a flammable atmosphere.
This list is just an example, and your workplace may have different hazards present. Identify fire hazards through a simple walk around or inspection, use this list to help you look for fire dangers. Identify items from each source - ignition, fuel and oxygen. How do they interact with each other? Give particular attention when ignition sources are close to fuel sources. Could they create a fire risk?
And don't forget to think about the type of work that is carried out. It's easy to just look at an empty work area and forget what happens in it. Especially when an activity might just be carried out once a month, or once a year. Maintenance or cleaning work. Work carried out by contractors. Before a new task is carried out, assess if it introduces any new sources of ignition, fuel or oxygen. Does it create a fire risk? Does it make the atmosphere flammable or unsafe? Could it spark a fire?