Build The Threat Of Arson Into Your Fire Risk Planning

There’s two statistics that make for shocking reading if you’re a business owner or retailer; arson is the most common cause of fires occurring in business premises and 44% of fires in shops are deliberately set.

The motives for carrying out an arson attack have been drilled down to six major reasons: vandalism; excitement; revenge; crime concealment; profit and extremism.  This means many arson attacks are not specifically targeted at your business per se, but you could well become a victim of arson, if you do not wake up to its threat, when carrying out your fire safety checks.


Additionally, it pays to keep your eyes and ears open as a retailer or member of a business community, because an arson attack on a neighbouring shop or office could well see your business suffer too.  A fire attack on a shop in Maidstone, in June 2015, led to 11 shops being affected, of which four were damaged.  The victim of the attack had to try to source temporary business accommodation, to keep trading.


In the same month, an arson attack in Richmond, North Yorkshire, led to four shops being damaged, with the total cost being estimated to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.


In September 2015, a serial arson attack in Glasgow was carried out on three tanning salons owned by the same company, this being an example of a targeted fire attack on one specific business. 


Meanwhile, the PDSA charity shop in Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire, suffered a loss of sales, following a fire set by a burglar, that cost the charity shop over £50,000.


Fires like these could not only cause loss of life, but also severe business interruption and possible business liquidation, depending on the circumstances. So what can you do and how does this fit into your fire risk assessment?


One simple measure you can consider is buying an anti-arson mailbox at an outlet such as  Arson attacks often occur when the arsonist posts a lit rag, paper or even a firework, through a business letterbox, but an anti-arson box will contain the fire.   Noting this action on your fire safety check would be a good, positive step to take.


The next thing to consider during your fire risk assessment is how and where an arsonist could strike, if motivated by vandalism and opportunism.  Look around the outside of your premises and assess if you are making yourself vulnerable to an attack.  Do you have rubbish piled up alongside your premises, providing arsonists with something easy to set alight?  Is there a lot of graffiti making the rear to your premises seem worthless in the eyes of an arsonist.  If so, clean it off. 


Then, you can consider security.  How safe are your premises at night?  Do you leave lights on inside the building to deter burglars or those bent on setting a fire?  Are you on a compound with a perimeter fence?  If the answer is ‘yes’, how much of a deterrent to entry is there?


Consider the inside of your business through an arsonist’s eyes. What combustible material do you leave lying around?  Do your alarms and security systems work?  Do you lock all doors and windows at night?  Do you ensure visitors never wander around your premises unsupervised or enter ‘staff only’ areas?  Who holds keys to your premises, or who has held keys previously?  Have you changed the locks since moving in?


All of these questions should help you lower your risk, but there are some simple measures to take too.  Make sure your external doors fit to the floor and don’t have a gap underneath that allows lit materials to be shoved under. Sorting this out will also help reduce the possibility of mice, and other vermin, entering your premises.


You can also buy locks for your wheelie bins or, even better, situate them in a secure compound at least 6 metres away from your building.  Try to buy metal bins with closed lids, to prevent waste becoming too attractive a combustion source for arsonists to resist and ensure no flammable liquids are left outside, or in an insecure environment inside your property.


These measures will help protect you from the vandalism and excitement motives for arson, but pay careful consideration to revenge and crime as motives.  Do you have a disgruntled former employee, or current employee, or have you noticed anything strange happening in the business, such as theft, or things that just don’t add up? Those with a grudge, or crime to cover up, could be the enemy within.  Also, ensure that alarm bells start to ring if you have a small fire.  Those planning arson may test their plans out on a smaller scale, before starting their bigger blaze.


A Tesco Manager, back in Jun 2013, set fire to his store in Nottingham, having become fed up at work.  He started one smaller blaze, before lighting a fire that cost his employer £50,000 a day, just ten days later.


Finally, ensure all employees watch out for strangers and unexpected visits by disgruntled ex-colleagues.  Build this into your fire training and explain to all employees how a fire could end their employment, if the business cannot trade.


There are around 500,000 cases of criminal damage and arson in England and Wales each year. Avoid your business becoming one of them, by building anti-arson measures into your fire risk assessment planning, or ask Gauntlet Fire to help, by calling 0113 244 8686.