Indeed, retail environments need to be more stringent than most when it comes to identifying fire hazards, as there are often many more members of the public on the premises than with other businesses. Shops and other retail premises often feature noticeably in fire loss statistics, with more serious blazes responsible for a huge amount of lost business for small to medium businesses across the UK each year.

Common Hazards

A fire hazard could manifest itself in a number of different ways. Anything that represents a source of ignition, fuel or oxygen that is left exposed could be a threat, as can any item that obstructs evacuation in any manner.

Shops that stock highly flammable goods – off-licences, sports equipment, those supporting industries that deal with fuels and other combustible materials – should be extra cautious.

Any kind of waste packaging or other refuse that builds up inside or outside a building could be considered a combustible hazard, while simultaneously providing a potential obstruction to either escape from the building or for emergency vehicles attending the blaze.

 

Any portable electrical equipment used within the retail environment requires regular PAT testing by a qualified professional to ensure that no fire can be caused through electrical malfunctioning. Similarly, making sure that all fixed wiring is carried out correctly during installation or repair work will eradicate a number of potential issues further down the line.

Kitchen areas within shops, while not as big a focus as in the catering/hospitality industries, can still present an obvious fire hazard. Negligence while using an open flame or hot cooking oil is a serious danger, while blocked filters and ventilation areas can see a buildup of combustible materials in close proximity to a source of ignition.

Avoiding Hazards

As well as being a requirement by law, carrying out a fire risk assessment is also the best way to safeguard a retail environment from the common hazards that lead to a fire. Being able to identify these hazards and taking steps to remove them is largely what the assessment is all about, as stipulated in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order.

The designated ‘responsible person’ should carry out inspections of all evacuation routes, fire safety equipment (extinguishers, alarm tests etc.) and keep a vigilant eye out for any workplace hazards. In the retail environment, this could include overloaded plug sockets, poorly maintained kitchen equipment, smoking areas that are not a sufficient distance from the building and more.

Arson is still the number one cause of fires in retail environments, so extra attention should be paid to security. This means the inclusion of not only deterrents such as CCTV cameras and visible security guards, but also making sure that all external waste is stored in a secure place that cannot easily be accessed, such as a locked and gated wheelie bin area. Don’t allow waste to build up outside the retail premises – have a system in place whereby refuse is regularly collected.

A combination of common sense and compliance with the laws and regulations governing fire safety is the best way to avoid a potentially fatal blaze within a shop or retail environment. Clearly indicated emergency exits and properly maintained fire safety equipment are vital when there is likely to be a high concentration of public footfall.

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