Warehouses are vital to the preservation of your business. They store most, if not all, of a business’ goods ready for sale or distribution.
Because they have such an important function - safeguarding the biggest source of a business’ income - any warehouse disaster, such as a fire, can have disastrous consequences. You may be forced to shut down the warehouse, bringing your operations and entire business to a halt.
If you own, manage or operate a warehouse, here are some simple measures you can adopt to significantly reduce the chance of a fire:
Fire Safety Legislation
The starting point for any successful workplace fire safety program is undertaking a risk assessment according to the fire safety legislation in your area. Most risk assessments follow these five steps:
- Identify the fire hazards.
- Determine the people at risk.
- Evaluate, remove or reduce the risks.
- Record your findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training.
- Review and update the fire risk assessment regularly.
Fire Safety Procedures
Using the information derived from your risk assessment, establish fire safety procedures that are tailored to your business’ fire risks. Train all employees in these procedures to ensure a unified response in the event of a fire. Implement an employee self-inspection program to maintain housekeeping standards and fire protection measures.
Fire Protection Tools
Assemble all the tools at your disposal to help fight warehouse fires. These include fire extinguishers, sprinklers and automatic fire detection systems. The number and type of fire extinguishers you require depends on the nature of your business. For fires involving solid materials such as wood, paper or textiles, one water-based extinguisher for approximately every 200 square metres of floor space, with a minimum of two extinguishers per floor, will usually suffice.
But the tools you need for your warehouse depend on your business’ specific fire risks. Adopting a one-size-fits-all fire prevention program is inefficient and downright dangerous. Be sure to tailor your fire protection tools to the distinct fire risks you face.
Failing to arrange clearly defined, adequate storage can intensify your fire risks for several reasons. Crowded aisles may block fire exits and make it harder for people to escape, cramped warehouses spread fire more easily, and storing hazardous materials such as flammable liquids with other warehouse stock greatly boosts the chances of a fire.
Arranging clearly defined, adequate storage is mostly common sense—keep electrical switchgear and heating equipment clear of storage, never let goods get within 0.5 metres of lighting, allow enough clearance between sprinkler heads and stored goods to make sure your sprinkler system can effectively douse the area, and segregate the hazardous and non-hazardous materials. Smart storage can greatly lower your fire risk.
Faulty electrics are hidden dangers. Make sure your warehouse’s electrics are correctly installed and maintained according to the relevant standards. Schedule a competent electrical contractor to inspect and test your electrics periodically so any defects can be fixed promptly. The longer you wait with faulty electrics, the bigger your fire risk grows.
Arson is one of the main causes of warehouse fires. Shield your business against this pervasive risk by installing internal and external security measures, such as security cameras and alarms, to deter trespassers and fortify your warehouse.
To comply with smoke-free legislation, you must prohibit smoking throughout your premises. You could provide an external smoking shelter, neither completely enclosed nor substantially enclosed. Construct smoking shelters using only non-flammable materials. No flammable materials should be allowed within 6 metres of the shelter.
Warehouses, with their wide, open spaces, can be very cold and difficult to heat—and heating such spaces can be extremely expensive. For this reason the temptation to rely on portable heating can be strong. Resist the urge, as portable heating carries a much higher fire risk than fixed heating systems. Your energy bills from a fixed heating system will pale in comparison to the amount you spend recovering from a warehouse fire caused by portable heating.
Accumulating waste in your warehouse is a major fire risk. Employees should remove all waste materials at the end of every working day and transfer them to external receptacles located at least 10 metres from any buildings and at least 2 metres from your site’s boundary.
If your site does not permit this type of storage, secure your waste in lockable metal containers located at a practical distance from your building.
At the end of each working day, a responsible and trained employee should inspect every area of the warehouse and log the results. The inspector should be checking that accumulated waste materials were removed, that fire prevention and security systems are functioning and that any hazardous material or equipment has been isolated as required.
Contact a CapriCMW Risk Advisor for additional information and resources on insurance and risk management for your business.