Whilst most businesses recognise the need to control the risk of fire in their retail units, offices, or warehouses all year round, the arrival of festive spirit – and a whole load of retail stock destined for Christmas shoppers – can see good practice going out of the window. Inspired by a desire to make things look seasonal, or the need to find space to store far too many boxes for the available storage area to cope with, employees can start to get things horribly wrong where fire risk practice is concerned.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of how Christmas can create new fire risks occurred in Bournemouth, on Christmas Day 2014, when a snow globe caught fire in the front window of a charity shop. This was caused by sunlight reflecting through the snow globe, which ignited fake reindeer food and snow that was part of the festive display. Heat damage to the window, smoke damage to the shop and the evacuation of neighbouring properties were the outcomes of this rather unfortunate and unforeseen festive fire.
Whilst that fire risk would have been hard to predict, many more can be easily foreseen and all should be added to the regular risk assessment that operates in your place of work.
Over the seasonal period, a shopping mall, or smaller shop, will probably start to be filled with a whole host of additional items that require a power supply. This can lead to overloaded plug sockets and electrical systems, which are a serious fire risk.
Inviting ‘other’ retailers into your own retail environment can also increase your fire risk, if their systems and products are not as fireproof as your own. Each should be asked to complete a fire risk assessment and show any certification required.
Christmas lights are another possible source of fire in commercial premises. You should check that you are using fairy lights that conform to British standards and always use them in conjunction with a residual current device that will instantly switch off the power, if a problem arises. You should also make someone in the office responsible for ensuring the lights are switched off at the end of the day.
Decorations should never be attached to lights or heaters, as they can easily ignite, particularly when you haven’t checked if they are fire-resistant and asked to see certification that proves this. Your decorative displays should not incorporate any electrical lighting that could become a potential source of ignition and you should also be careful that the placement of decorations does not interfere with smoke alarms. Never be tempted to remove the batteries from smoke alarms, just because they may go off due to something such as a lit candle.
As the office party season starts to kick in, it can be tempting to cancel the routine of weekly fire alarm tests, or regular fire drill practices. This is just the time of year when you could need to check these the most, so do not neglect best practice.
If you are opting for a live tree, be very careful not to place it so that it obstructs a fire exit or route that could alter the travel distances to the nearest fire exits, which should be outlined in your regular fire risk assessment. It should also never be placed near to a heat source, as a real tree will dry out and can then be very easily ignited by heat, flames or sparks. A burning real pine tree can rapidly fill a room with fire and deadly gases, so take a lot of care where you position it, no matter how aesthetically appealing it might look in just the wrong position from a fire risk point of view.
Where there is additional stock, there is also extra wrapping material to deal with and tissue paper, cardboard and polystyrene all burn easily. Don’t be tempted to fill voids with additional stock and do not load skips or bins close to your building with lots of combustible packaging that could prove tempting for thrill-seeking arsonists to set alight.
When storing new stock, take care not to place it where it could stop sprinklers from working effectively and do not stack it next to heaters or electrical equipment. Also ensure that it does not end up in a zone in which smoking is permitted and where a naked flame, such as lit cigarette butt, could set it alight.
Whilst colder weather over the festive period – and particularly when the office or shop has been shut for a few days – could tempt employees to start using portable electric heaters, just to stay toasty, make sure these are not used close to flammable materials and keep them clear of all fire exit routes.
Gauntlet’s health and safety and fire risk assessment team are always on hand to help steer you through the additional actions that you may need to add to your fire risk assessment, at least temporarily, as Christmas and New Year loom. Their advice is for you to conduct a fire risk assessment as soon as any of the circumstances in your shop, warehouse or office change, which means the moment you take delivery of new stock and have to store it, as soon as the Christmas displays are set up and the minute the office decorations are strung up around the desks and whiteboard.
If you have any queries about your seasonal and festive fire risk assessment, simply pick up the phone and call 0113 244 8686. If not, please stay safe and fire-free this festive season.