The LWF Blog

Fire Safety for Facilities Management Personnel – Fire Prevention & Smoking – Part 103

June 21, 2021 10:45 am

Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF) is a specialist fire engineering and fire risk management consultancy whose aim is to give information on best practice in fire safety for facilities management personnel through this blog series. In part 102, LWF looks at how fire can be avoided when using electrical appliances. In part 103, LWF considers how smokers’ materials affect fire safety and fire prevention planning in facilities management.

In the early 1990s, it was still common to see smoking in places of work, although it was around this time that employers began to ban smoking on their premises for health reasons. The potential for liability in relation to exposing non-smoking employees to secondary smoke was a big driver in companies banning smoking on their premises in the 1990s.

Formally, smoking in public enclosed spaces wasn’t banned in the UK until 2007. There are a few small exceptions to the rule, mainly relating to smokers living in residential care homes, who may be allowed to smoke in their rooms or in the day rooms of the facility.

The ban on smoking in the workplace resulted in some big changes to fire statistics relating to fires caused by smokers’ materials. Between 1988 and 2005, the number of fires caused by smokers’ materials dropped significantly in both domestic and non-domestic premises. However, the decrease in non-domestic fires caused by smokers’ materials was much more dramatic.

It should be noted that fires caused by, for instance, children finding and playing with matches, is included in the ‘fires caused by smokers’ materials’ category, but since 1994, instances of malicious fire setting using matches or lighters are not.

All categories of smokers’ materials have the potential to start a fire – carelessly discarded cigarettes, pipe tobacco and matches can all be responsible, but cigarettes are a greater risk than cigars or pipes.

Cigarette lighters are safer than matches, because nothing is discarded when using a lighter. When a match is dropped, it may not provide spontaneous ignition of solid combustible materials, but can lead to smouldering which may transition into flame after some time has passed. A cigarette, in contrast, can immediately ignite highly flammable vapours or gases.

The tendency of a smoker to need to smoke regularly, despite restrictions, can actually lead to more dangerous situations. If smoking is banned in a building or campus, it’s more likely that a smoker will seek a quiet and unseen place to smoke, which means that if a fire were to start as a result, the fire would also be in a quiet and unseen place, allowing it time to grow. Designated smoking areas should be provided in the open air wherever possible, to help avoid these situations.

In part 104 of this series, LWF will look at the potential for fire danger from heating sources. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact LWF on freephone 0800 410 1130.

Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 25 years’ experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings.

While care has been taken to ensure that information contained in LWF’s publications is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information.

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