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Example of Poor housekeeping that increases fire hazards

It helps to have a fire safety policy for your workplace which promotes good housekeeping and reduces the possibility of a fire occurring. Carelessness and neglect not only make the outbreak of a fire more likely but will inevitably create conditions which may allow a fire to spread more rapidly.

Step 3 in Part 2 of this guide listed various sources of ignition and flammable materials commonly found in workplaces. You were also introduced to measures and precautions which you could consider when evaluating the fire risk and considering improvements.

This section gives further guidance on these measures which you may wish to consider implementing in order to reduce the risk of and from fire in your workplace.

Maintenance Of Plant And Equipment

Plant and equipment which is not properly maintained can cause fires. The following circumstances often contribute to fires:

  • poor housekeeping, such as allowing ventilation points on machinery to become clogged with dust or other materials - causing overheating;
  • frictional heat (caused by loose drive belts, bearings which are not properly lubricated or other moving parts);
  • electrical malfunction;
  • flammable materials used in contact with hot surfaces;
  • leaking valves or flanges which allow seepage of flammable liquids or gases; and
  • static sparks (perhaps due to inadequate electrical earthing).

You may need to put a planned maintenance programme in place to make sure plant and other equipment is properly maintained (or review your programme if you already have one).

Storage and use of Flammable Materials

Workplaces in which large amounts of flammable materials are displayed, stored or used can present a greater hazard than those where the amount kept is small.

Wherever possible:

  • quantities of flammable materials should be reduced to the smallest amount necessary for running the business and kept away from escape routes;

  • highly flammable materials should be replaced by less flammable ones;
  • remaining stocks of highly flammable materials should be properly stored outside, in a separate building, or separated from the main workplace by fire-resisting construction;
  • employees who use flammable materials should be properly trained in their safe storage, handling and use; and
  • stocks of office stationery and supplies and flammable cleaners' materials should be kept in separate cupboards or stores - if they open onto a corridor or stairway escape route, they should be fire-resisting with a lockable or self-closing fire door.

Flammable liquids

Flammable liquids can present a significant risk of fire. Vapours evolved are usually heavier than air and can travel long distances, so are more likely to reach a source of ignition. Liquid leaks and evolution of vapours can be caused by faulty storage (bulk and containers), plant and process - design, installation, maintenance or use. Ignition of the vapours from flammable liquids remains a possibility until the concentration of the vapour in the air has reduced to a level which will not support combustion.

Detailed advice on the storage of flammable liquids is given in the HSE guidance documents listed in the References section. However, the following principles should be considered: The quantity of flammable liquids in workrooms should be kept to a minimum, normally no more than a half-day's or half a shift's supply.

The quantity of flammable liquids in workrooms should be kept to a minimum, normally no more than a half-day's or half a shift's supplyFlammable liquids, including empty or part-used containers, should be stored safely

Flammable liquids, including empty or part-used containers, should be stored safely. Up to 50 litres of highly flammable liquids can be stored in the workroom if in closed containers in a fire-resisting (e.g. metal), bin or cabinet fitted with means to contain any leaks. Quantities greater than 50 litres should be stored in a properly designated store, either in the open air (on well ventilated, impervious ground, away from ignition sources) or in a suitably constructed storeroom.

Example of a well laid out external storage area

Example of a well laid out external storage area

Where large quantities of flammable liquids are used they should, where possible, be conveyed by piping them through a closed system. Where a connection in such a system is frequently uncoupled and remade, a sealed-end coupling device should be used. Flammable liquids should not be dispensed within the store. Dispensing should take place in a well ventilated area set aside for this purpose, with appropriate facilities to contain and clear up any spillage. Container lids should always be replaced after use, and no container should ever be opened in such a way that it cannot be safely resealed. Flammable liquids should be stored and handled in well ventilated conditions. Where necessary, additional properly designed exhaust ventilation should be provided to reduce the level of vapour concentration in the air.

Storage containers should be kept covered and proprietary safety containers with self-closing lids should be used for dispensing and applying small quantities of flammable liquids. Rags and cloths which have been used to mop up or apply flammable liquids should be disposed of in metal containers with well fitting lids and removed from the workplace at the end of each shift or working day.

Example of metal container for cloths contaminated with  flammable solvent

Examples of special-purpose containers for flammable liquids

Example of metal container for cloths contaminated with flammable solvents

There should be no potential ignition sources in areas where flammable liquids are used or stored and flammable concentrations of vapour may be present at any time. Any electrical equipment used in these areas, including fire alarm and emergency lighting systems, needs to be suitable for use in flammable atmospheres.

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