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Fire - The External Risk
When we consider fire safety, our focus is normally from within, what can we do to prevent the occurrence of fire and how we can limit its damage. Whilst this is the correct stance to take, we must also identify and consider the risks from external sources.
In terms of 'external issues' for the purpose of this bulletin, we will group those as being considerations that are not in our direct control.
As part of the Fire Risk Assessments we undertake, we should consider our neighbours. It may be, that the nearest building is 50m and there is good separation, however, in the majority of instances this luxury is unlikely. Where we have neighbouring properties, we need to consider the potential of fire spread from their building to ours as well as vice versa. This is a complex issue, but a number of simple factors can be initially considered, with additional details reviewed as necessary.
The construction materials forming the external façade will be a key consideration. If both buildings are formed of traditional masonry construction with no openings (windows / doors) the likelihood of fire spread is low. The reverse is also true, if the façade is constructed of lightweight materials with numerous unprotected openings, likelihood of fire spread between the two is increased. It may be the case that there is little you can do to change the risk posed from a neighbour, however alterations could be made to your own property in the name of risk reduction.
Staff could be considered an external factor, particularly if agency or unknown staff are used for specific duties, security personnel for example. Appropriate background checks should be made on all staff including those employed by third parties. In a fairly recent case, a security guard was prosecuted for arson (on a construction site) which demolished the structure causing £5.5 million of damage. Whilst this scenario is rare, the potential consequences of such actions can be catastrophic.
Staff from within must also be considered, particularly where an event such as a disciplinary situation has arisen. Firesetting by disgruntled employees is not unheard of.
Unfortunately, 'petty' or minor arson is not uncommon. Persons setting fire to skips, refuse bins etc is often reported and in the majority of instances fire spread does not occur. However, where waste is inappropriately stored, for example, directly adjacent to a building, an opportunistic arsonist may set fire to such material with no real intent of further damage, however, due to the lack of separation between an external risk and the building, fire spread can occur resulting in significant losses.
Temporary / New Risks
In some instances a new risk will be presented, for example a construction site. The final design may encompass fire resisting walls where the new building is directly adjacent to existing construction, however, during the interim period, when the building is actually being constructed, there will be no protection. This should be dealt with by the construction site, however, there may be measures we can take to reduce the residual risk. Similarly, co-operation with such temporary risks may greatly assist in risk reduction.
Identification of risks
As part of our risk assessments, it is necessary to 'stand back' and consider fire spread from and to our building. In some instances, a break is created between buildings, however, due to poor consideration we have filled that break with combustible material, therefore allowing the transfer of fire from one building to another and in this instance, remedial measures are simple.
Following our initial considerations of external risks, we then monitor the situation (as with all risks). Should significant changes occur, for example an adjacent construction site, we must then review our risk assessment and implement any necessary alterations.
If you would like to know more – or would like to arrange an appointment with one of our senior fire safety advisers – simply call