Tag Archives: fire risk assessment

Welding of drums or other vessels – the potential for explosion

Lots of businesses which we visit have an oil drum or two lying around the workplace.  It may seems like a good idea to make use of one of these unwanted items and we’ve seen them made into bins and even barbecues.

However, depending on what used to be inside them cutting them open or welding something onto them can result in a powerful explosion.  If you want some more information of what we mean by this take a look at the video from WorkSafeBC; Drum Explodes During Welding, Killing Worker

The problem in this instance was that the original substance, acetone, a solvent used in the manufacture of fiberglass items and many other productions, remained in the vessel. Even a trace amount after the drum was washed through could still be present in sufficient quantity to create an explosive atmosphere. in the case of the video above this was less than a tea spoonful of the original acetone.

Looking at the safety aspects here you can see how likely it is that vapours will remain, even after washing out a drum.  Add into that the heat generated by cutting, grinding or welding the drum allowing the remaining substance to ‘gas off’ and you have a potential bomb on your hands.

The best route to reducing risk is to avoid this situation altogether but sometimes people do need to work in situations where welding will need to take place.  If you can’t avoid it then make yourself familiar with the best practices to reduce risk.

For more information please have a read through the free HSE guidance on the subject here;  Hot work on small tanks and drums INDG314(rev1)

Most importantly, consider if you really need to do this.  Replacing rather than repairing may be your better option.  If you do need to make repairs don’t forget that cold cutting or cold repair techniques may also be an option and will avoid the key risk of hot works and potential explosions.

As always, if you need advice then please call us quoting your Safety~net membership number or company name and we’ll be pleased to offer some more specific advice.

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Highly flammable liquids fire burns spray booth operator

We have to be truthful and admit that we sometimes carry out tasks which in hindsight we could have done with far less risk.  It could be driving to work or what we do at home at the weekend away from the eyes of our colleagues and managers.

The case below highlights how susceptible we are to complacency.  We work with items everyday which carry with them great risks but we rarely suffer consequences for taking shortcuts. That in turn leads to greater and greater risk taking until an accident finally occurs.  Read the case below to find out what happened in this instance.

A paint manufacturing company in Manchester has been fined for health and safety failings after a worker suffered burns while trying to clean the floor of a spray booth.

Manchester Crown Court heard how an employee of HMG Paints Ltd was using a highly flammable solvent to clean the floor of a spray booth on site, a job he had done several times since the spray booth was installed.

After complaints about how difficult it was to remove the dried paint he was allowed to purchase an industrial floor scrubber to carry out the task. On 18 November 2014 electric motor on the floor scrubber ignited the cloud of flammable vapour that had built up in the spray booth.

The employee was seriously injured, receiving 26% burns, and was treated at the specialist burns unit at Wythenshawe Hospital.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the planning for cleaning floors using solvent failed to recognise the hazards and level of risk associated with the use of highly flammable solvents to clean floors. The employee who was injured had not been trained to clean floors and was not adequately supervised when carrying out the cleaning activity.

HMG Paints Limited, of Collyhurst Road, Manchester, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £39,669.40.

Speaking after the case HSE inspector David Myrtle said:

“This is a company that handles large quantities of flammable solvent, the hazards are well known and the company has a duty to control the risks arising from the hazards.

“It was custom and practice to clean floors using highly flammable solvents applied using a mop and bucket. In this instance the company failed to adequately control the risks and an employee was seriously injured.” [source HSE]

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Takeaway owner sentenced for Fire Safety Offences

The owner of a Gloucester takeaway (Best Takeaway, 136 Eastgate Street, Gloucester) has this week been prosecuted for serious breaches of fire safety legislation.best_takeaway_interior

Ilhami Ince, originally of London,  appeared at Cheltenham Magistrates Court on the 15th August 2016 for failing to comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

This hearing followed an earlier failure to appear resulting in a warrant being issued for his arrest. Throughout the investigation the lack of co-operation from Mr Ince repeatedly frustrated the process of making the premises safe in the event of fire thereby failing to protect the persons who had been placed at risk.

In July 2014, a multi-agency inspection of the premises was carried out supported by Gloucester City Council and Gloucestershire Constabulary. Fire Safety Enforcement Officers found that unauthorised sleeping accommodation for staff had been provided on the first and second floors and that a fire alarm system had not been provided and the structural fire precautions were insufficient to allow safe escape in the event of fire.

The Fire Safety breaches identified in the premises were so serious that death or serious injury would be imminent in the event of fire. This resulted in the first and second floors being prohibited from use.

Further investigations found that the ‘prohibition notice’ was being breached and staff were sleeping on the first and second floors.

The defendant pleaded guilty to the following matters:

  1. Failure to comply with the prohibition notice on 3 occasions 24th September 2014, 8th October 2014, 7th July 2015.
  2. Ground floor door between the takeaway and escape route was not fire-resisting.
  3. Employees were not provided with fire safety training.
  4. Two bedroom doors on the first floor were not fire-resisting.
  5. Two bedroom doors on the second floor were not fire-resisting.
  6. One bedroom door was so small a person had to crawl through it to exit and enter.
  7. A kitchen was situated within the first floor escape route.
  8. Emergency lighting was not provided.
  9. No fire alarm and smoke detectors were provided.
  10. A Fire Risk Assessment had not been completed.
  11. No fire safety information provided to employees

Ince was sentenced to 4 months imprisonment suspended for 24 months and was also ordered to pay full costs of £11,228.04 plus victim surcharge.

Cllr Nigel Moor, cabinet member responsible for fire, said:

“Fire safety law is there to ensure that occupants of premises are safe.

“Although we would prefer to work alongside business owners to make sure they comply with law, sometimes prosecution is the only reasonable outcome. Our priority is to ensure that Gloucestershire a safe place to live, work and visit.

“This prosecution sends a strong message to the business community to ensure that fire regulations are taken seriously.”

Chief fire officer Stewart Edgar said: “The targeted inspections highlighted some serious fire safety concerns in a number of premises that provided staff accommodation, so immediate action has been taken.

“The fire service is now working with these businesses to make sure their fire safety is brought up to standard. A fire in a commercial premises would have a devastating impact on both the employer and employee and the outcome could be a large fine or imprisonment in serious cases.”

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Fire Safety – Assessing the means of escape

Fire risk assessment – assessing the means of escape

The range of workplaces covered by these regulations is huge and so the following information is intended as a guide to get you started on an assessment.  Our advice is to get expert help from one of our experienced safety consultants conducting a fire risk assessment at your premises, please call us on 01453 800100 or contact us for more information on our safety consultancy and fire risk assessment / fire risk audit services.

Please note that in some cases, it may be necessary to provide additional means of escape or to improve the fire protection of existing escape routes. At this point you should consult the fire authority and, where necessary, your local building control officer before carrying out any alterations.  The distances given below should ensure that people are able to escape within the appropriate period of time. You can of course use actual calculated escape times but should do so only after consulting a fire safety consultant with appropriate training and expertise in this field.

Fire risk categories for assessing the means of escape

In general, most workplaces can be categorised as high, normal or low risk. Examples of the type of workplace or areas within workplaces likely to fall within these categories are:

High

  • Where highly flammable or explosive materials are stored or used (other than in small quantities).
  • Where unsatisfactory structural features are present such as:
  • lack of fire-resisting separation;
  • vertical or horizontal openings through which fire, heat and smoke can spread;
  • long and complex escape routes created by extensive subdivision of large floor areas by partitions, or the distribution of display units in shops or machinery in factories; and
  • large areas of flammable or smoke-producing surfaces on either walls or ceilings.
  • Where permanent or temporary work activities are carried out which have the potential for fires to start and spread such as:
  • workshops in which highly flammable materials are used, e.g. paint spraying;
  • areas where the processes involve the use of naked flame, or produce excessive heat;
  • large kitchens in works canteens and restaurants;
  • refuse and waste disposal areas; and
  • areas where foamed plastics or upholstered furniture are stored.

or, where there is a significant risk to life in case of fire, such as where:

  • sleeping accommodation is provided for staff, the public or other visitors in significant numbers;
  • treatment or care is provided where the occupants have to rely upon the actions of limited numbers of staff for their safe evacuation;
  • there is a high proportion of elderly or infirm people, or people with temporary or permanent physical or mental disabilities, who need assistance to escape;
  • groups of people are working in isolated parts of the premises such as basements, roof spaces, cable ducts and service tunnels etc; and
  • large numbers of people are present relative to the size of the premises (e.g. sales at department stores) or in other circumstances where only a low level of assistance may be available in an emergency (e.g. places of entertainment and sports events).

Normal

  • Where any outbreak of fire is likely to remain confined or only spread slowly, allowing people to escape to a place of safety.
  • Where the number of people present is small and the layout of the workplace means they are likely to be able to escape to a place of safety without assistance.
  • Where the workplace has an effective automatic warning system, or an effective automatic fire-extinguishing, -suppression or -containment system, which may reduce the risk classification from high risk.

Low

  • Where there is minimal risk to people’s lives and where the risk of fire occurring is low, or the potential for fire, heat and smoke spreading is negligible.
  • The work you have done on assessing the risks and reducing the risk of fire occurring, together with the knowledge you have gained about the location of people at risk, should generally provide you with the information you need to establish the risk category or categories of your workplace.

General principles for escape routes

Other than in small workplaces, or from some rooms of low or normal fire risk, there should normally be alternative means of escape from all parts of the workplace. Routes which provide means of escape in one direction only (dead-end) should be avoided wherever possible as this could mean that people have to move towards a fire in order to make their escape. Escape routes should be independent of one another and arranged so that people can move away from a fire in order to make their escape and should always lead to a place of safety. Remember that they should also be wide enough for the number of occupants and should not normally reduce in width and be kept clear of obstruction at all times.

Evacuation times and length of escape routes

The aim is, from the time the fire alarm is raised, for everyone to be able to reach a place of relative safety, i.e. a storey exit (see ‘Technical terms relating to means of escape’), within the time available for escape.The time for people to reach a place of relative safety should include the time it takes them to react to a fire warning.

This will depend on a number of factors including:

  • what they are likely to be doing when the alarm is raised, e.g. sleeping, having a meal etc;
  • what they may have had to do before starting to escape, e.g. turn off machinery, help other people etc; and
  • their knowledge of the building and the training they have received about the routine to be followed in the event of fire.
  • Where necessary, you can check these by carrying out a practice drill.

To ensure that the time available for escape is reasonable, the length of the escape route from any occupied part of the workplace to the storey exit should not exceed:

Where more than one route is provided

  • 25 metres – high-fire-risk area;
  • 45 metres – normal-fire-risk area;
  • 60 metres – low-fire-risk area.

Where only a single escape route is provided

  • 12 metres – high-fire-risk area;
  • 18 metres – normal-fire-risk area (except production areas in factories);
  • 25 metres -low-fire-risk area.

Where the route leading to a storey exit starts in a corridor with a dead-end, then continues via a route which has an alternative, the total distance should not exceed that given above for ‘Where more than one route is provided’. However, the distances within the ‘dead-end portion’ should not exceed those given for ‘Where only a single escape route is provided’.

People with disabilities

You may need to make special arrangements for staff with disabilities, which should be developed in consultation with the staff themselves. British Standard 5588: Part 8 gives guidance and provides full information.

Premises providing residential care and/or treatment

The distances shown in the paragraphs above may not be suitable for workplaces providing residential care – you should seek specialist advice from your fire safety consultant in this situation.

Number and width of exits

There should be enough available exits, of adequate width, from every room, storey or building. The adequacy of the escape routes and doors can be assessed on the basis that:

  • a doorway of no less than 750 millimetres in width is suitable for up to 40 people per minute (where doors are likely to be used by wheelchair users the doorway should be at least 800 millimetres wide); and
  • a doorway of no less than 1 metre in width is suitable for up to 80 people per minute.
  • Where more than 80 people per minute are expected to use a door, the minimum doorway width should be increased by 75 millimetres for each additional group of 15 people.

For the purposes of calculating whether the existing exit doorways are suitable for the numbers using them, you should assume that the largest exit door from any part of the workplace may be unavailable for use. This means that the remaining doorways should be capable of providing a satisfactory means of escape for everyone present.

Inner rooms

You should avoid situations where the only escape route for people in an inner room is through one other room (the access room). The exception to this is where the people in the inner room can be quickly made aware of a fire in the outer one and this is not an area of high fire risk. Where there is no automatic fire detection system, it may be reasonable to provide a self-contained smoke alarm which is solely within the access room, as long as it is clearly audible within the inner room.

Corridors

Corridors should generally be a minimum of 1 metre wide (although wheelchair users will need a width of 1.2 metres and a width of 1.5 metres is preferable). The doors should be aligned with the walls of the rooms so that the floor area is effectively divided into two or more parts. To avoid having to travel long distances in corridors affected by smoke, those corridors which are more than 30 metres long (45 metres in offices and factories) should be subdivided into approximately equal parts by providing, close-fitting, self-closing fire doors.

Where a corridor only leads in one direction, or serves sleeping accommodation, it should be constructed of fire-resisting partitions and self-closing fire doors (this does not apply to toilets).

If you would like assistance with any aspect of fire risk assessment please call one of our expert fire safety consultants on 01453 800100.  We can complete a comprehensive fire risk assessment / fire risk audit for your workplace, just contact us to find out more.