Nearly six years after Grenfell, the Building Safety Act is set to bring a significant shake-up to health and safety in facilities. Despite the delay in implementing the second staircase rule for buildings above 18 metres, various parts of the Act have already come into force. The Building Safety Regulator (BSR) has become the authority for all high-rise buildings, and a Mandatory Occurrence Reporting System is now required for each higher-risk building so the BSR can capture relevant risks. 

The BSR has released its enforcement policy statement detailing how it will deal with breaches, including through verbal warnings and even recommending prosecutions when there has been a severe breach. Over the next three years, the BSR will have assessed up to half of higher-risk buildings. For any building or facilities manager, particularly those in higher-risk buildings, constructing a good relationship with the Building Safety Regulator is strategically essential. 

Fire safety remains a fundamental part of building safety regulations. With over 20,000 commercial fires a year in the UK alone, with most of these preventable, fire safety must always remain one of the highest health and safety priorities,

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UK law specifies what is expected of employers regarding the prevention of fires in the workplace.

Before 2005, there were 80 pieces of legislation dealing with fire safety in the UK. This was simplified and set out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, covering England and Wales. Similar legislation followed in Scotland (Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005; Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006) and Northern Ireland (Part 3 of the Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 and the Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010).

What Does the Law Say on Fire Safety?

Ensuring compliance with all fire safety legislation is ultimately the job of the “responsible person” in a business. This can mean the owner or landlord, or possibly the person with overall responsibility for the site in question. They are responsible for the safety of all employees, any visitors to the premises and anyone else who may lawfully be on the site. In shared premises, there might be more than one responsible person, and those people should cooperate to make sure their fire safety plans complement one another.

The responsible person must:

– Carry out (or commission a competent person to carry out) a fire risk assessment

– Plan for an emergency

– Inform staff of the fire risks and appropriate measures being taken to minimise them

– Make sure there are suitable fire safety precautions in place such as alarm systems, fire extinguishers and escape routes

– Review the risk assessment regularly to ensure it’s still relevant

For businesses of over five employees, the fire risk assessment must be written down. Although not legally required for smaller companies below this threshold, it’s still a useful document to have so it is recommended anyway.

Companies can hire professional risk assessors if they have any doubts about their competency to properly write their fire risk assessment. In some cases, the local fire service may be able to provide guidance, though they are not able to carry out the risk assessment themselves.

Penalties for flouting fire safety legislation can include unlimited fines and up to two years in prison. After a serious fire in their Oxford Street shop in 2007, New Look were fined £400,000 (and £136,000 in additional costs); although luckily no-one was hurt in the blaze, their fire safety preparations were found to be inadequate, with poor staff training.

In England and Wales, there is a legal requirement for the fire authorities to publicly list the responsible person’s name and the building’s address for any ongoing breach of the fire code.

Fire Safety Training

Existing employees and all new starters should receive good training to ensure they know what to do in the event of a fire, and this needs to be refreshed regularly – preferably annually.

It’s vital that all workers know how to evacuate the building safely in case of an emergency. Regular fire drills are very important for this reason.

Although not a mandatory requirement, many businesses find that specially trained fire wardens (or fire marshals) can help with many of the day to day tasks of making sure fire safety is up to scratch. By checking equipment, organising fire drills and other important jobs, fire wardens can be a very valuable asset to a company.

Emergency Evacuation Plans

Most of the fire safety laws are focused on preventing fires in the workplace. The responsible person, however, must also make sure they have an emergency evacuation plan in place and communicate it to all employees.

The evacuation plan needs to show that there are enough escape routes for everyone, they are clearly marked and fast to get to, emergency lighting and doors are in good working order and there are safe meeting points. It needs to take into account that lifts cannot be used during a fire.

For people with limited mobility (either permanently due to disability or temporarily due to pregnancy or injuries), special care must be taken to make sure they are able to get to safety quickly. This includes drawing up a PEEP (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan) with their line manager.

Since the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 became law, employers have had clear and easy to follow guidelines to make sure their businesses are meeting all their fire safety responsibilities. By regularly checking their risk assessment to ensure it is still fit for purpose, companies can make sure they’re covered – and most importantly, that all staff are aware of how to prevent fires and how to evacuate if one breaks out.

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Making sure a workplace is fire safe is one of the most important responsibilities an employer has to their employees and the general public.
As fire safety awareness has increased and health and safety legislation has improved in this area, the amount of fire-related deaths in the workplace has steadily gone down over a thirty year period. There is still a long way to go, however, with around 22,000 workplace fires happening annually and several fatalities every year. Fire safety training plays a crucial role in continuing the positive trend towards fewer deaths and injuries, and one day possibly eliminating workplace fires altogether.
Safety First
The most crucial aspect of fire safety is how it protects people. In 2016-17, there were 17 recorded deaths from workplace fires in the UK; 11 died from fires started accidentally, six from fires that occurred on purpose. These shocking numbers illustrate how important fire safety is for employers and the terrible consequences when things go wrong.
In early August 2018, an explosion and fire at the Chemring Countermeasures military equipment facility in Salisbury killed one person and seriously injured another. As well as the tragic human cost of the incident, the firm suffered extensive financial losses. They were unable to resume production for some time due to the damage and their annual profits were expected to drop by up to £20 million.
The Chemring Countermeasures incident is an extreme example, leading to the worst possible outcome of a fire: loss of life. There are unfortunately many examples of workplace fires that have caused injuries, damage to buildings, loss of earnings and even a hazard to the people living in the surrounding areas, with nearby residents often being advised to close their windows and doors to prevent inhalation of potentially toxic fumes.

An Employer’s Responsibility
Fire safety is important to all employees and visitors to a work site and it’s reasonable to expect that everyone does their share to minimise the dangers. This includes following all fire safety procedures and recalling all fire safety training they have been given.
Legally, the responsibility for complying with fire legislation falls to the “responsible person” in an organisation. That can be the owner, employer, occupier, landlord or building manager of a site.
Failure to comply with fire safety legislation – especially after being warned that your facilities are in violation of the law – can carry stiff penalties. When the Radnor Hotel in Bayswater, London was inspected in 2015, inspectors raised several serious concerns including the lack of a working alarm system, a missing fire risk assessment, missing fire doors and emergency lighting in bad conditions. The owner, Salim Patel, did not address these concerns to the satisfaction of the authorities and was eventually taken to court by the London Fire Brigade. He was handed a fine of £200,000 and a four month suspended prison sentence for risking the lives of guests and staff with inadequate fire safety measures.
Steps to Take
Becoming fire safe doesn’t have to be particularly expensive or time-consuming for a business but making a small investment in quality fire training for staff, adequate equipment and a solid understanding of the relevant legislation can be the most important decision a company makes.
All companies must ensure they have completed a fire risk assessment, which should be revisited often. This needs to identify fire hazards, any people at higher risk, evaluations of all relevant factors and an emergency evacuation plan. This highlights any potential issues before they become a problem and can help with minimising fire risk in that particular setting. It is also a handy way of keeping track of fire safety measures already in place, such as fire extinguishers and emergency lighting, and of checking that these are still fit for purpose.
Staff must be trained in fire safety, be aware of the risk assessment and its findings and know how to safely get out of the building if a fire breaks out.
Fire safety is one of the most important aspects of health and safety in the workplace. Most workplaces, be they offices, shops, building sites, factories or laboratories, contain multiple potential fire hazards. By identifying these promptly and taking the proper steps to minimise them, you can make sure your site is safe from the devastating consequences of a workplace fire.

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Fire safety is one of the most vital aspects of health and safety within the workplace. Legally, the overall responsibility for it falls to the “responsible person”. This can be the owner, employer, landlord, occupier or anyone with overall control of the building in question, such as a facilities manager.

In practice, a lot of the day to day work of ensuring the workplace is fire safe often falls to the fire warden, or fire marshal (both terms are in common use and interchangeable). Businesses are increasingly recognising the benefits of having a designated, appropriately trained employee to carry out the necessary tasks relating to fire safety.

What Does a Fire Warden Do?

Although the responsibility for producing a risk assessment and putting appropriate fire safety measures into place remains with the “responsible person”, fire wardens fulfil an important role in making sure they are carried out.

Their main duties fall into two categories: reactive and proactive. Reactive actions relate to preventing fires, including:

– testing fire alarms

– organising fire drills

– making sure flammable materials are properly stored

– managing all paperwork relating to fire safety

– checking fire extinguishers and fire doors.

Proactive measures take place when there has been a fire-related incident and include:

– directing people to the appropriate exits

– checking everyone has left after an evacuation

– fighting small fires with extinguishers, where possible and safe

– contacting the fire service if they are not automatically alerted

– assisting people with limited mobility.

It’s important to note that at no point should a fire marshal put themselves in any physical danger when carrying out their duties.

Though fire drills may be the times when the fire warden is the most visible to their colleagues, the majority of their day to day work is taking care of their primary duty – making sure a fire doesn’t start in the first place. Fire wardens should be aware of all relevant health and safety legislation and trained in fire safety.

Who Can Be a Fire Warden?

There are no specific guidelines for who can and cannot be fire wardens, aside from them being employees. However, when selecting a fire warden from a pool of volunteers, it’s useful to consider whether that person is on-site regularly (as opposed to often working remotely or at other locations) and whether their workload will allow them enough time to fulfil all of their duties on a regular basis.

Employers need to consider how many fire marshals are appropriate for their organisation. For smaller, single site workplaces, one person may be fine. For larger companies that are spread out over a bigger physical space, it might be a better option to train a team – which also makes sure the company has fire warden coverage regardless of annual leave or absence.

Why Have a Fire Warden?

Fire wardens can be a calming presence during an emergency, directing people to the exits and assisting with roll call when the evacuated workers have gathered outside. It can be very reassuring to the workplace as a whole to see that their employer takes fire safety very seriously and to know that fire wardens have been trained to deal with these specific situations.

Industries at high risk of fire hazards can benefit greatly from properly trained fire wardens – though of course, no industry is free from risk or can afford to neglect fire safety. During the hot weather of summer 2018, wildfires in areas like Saddleworth Moor highlighted the issue of fire safety in farming, which heatwaves can aggravate. With moorland catching fire and decreased rainfall, the risk of farmland doing the same was heightened. Among other suggestions, leaders in the industry recommended more fire wardens.

Being a fire warden can also benefit the person’s career. The extra training and experience may be very useful to future employers and voluntarily taking on the job shows the worker is responsible and can undertake long-term projects.

As with First Aid, it’s beneficial to any organisation to have someone well-versed in fire safety on the team. With most of the fire marshal’s duties geared towards preventing a fire breaking out in the first place, the savings to a business can be huge. In extreme cases, the fire wardens can even be life-saving.

If a fire breaks out in your workplace, it’s very important to stay calm. Following the safety procedures in a prompt but composed manner is the best way to ensure everyone gets away from danger as quickly as possible.

– Raise the Alarm
If you are the one to find the fire – no matter how small – it’s vital to raise the alarm quickly. Fires can spread extremely fast, so time is of the essence. Activate the firm alarm as soon as possible and let everyone in the vicinity know there’s a fire nearby so they can get to safety.
Some systems immediately notify the fire service once activated. If this isn’t the case, make sure they are called quickly.

– Evacuate the Premises
Everyone in the workplace should immediately begin the evacuation procedure, without stopping to collect any belongings. If there is any potentially hazardous equipment running, it should be switched off by someone trained in its use. Lifts shouldn’t be used in the event of a fire. If safe and possible, the last person through each door should close it behind them to slow the fire’s progress, and windows should be closed as well.
Follow your assigned escape route if possible. If it’s blocked, make your way to another fire exit. Only attempt to put out the fire yourself if it’s small, blocking your exit, and you have been trained to do so, as should be the case with fire wardens. Mistakes such as using the wrong fire extinguisher can make matters worse so don’t attempt this if you haven’t got the appropriate training.

– Get to an Assembly Point
Once away from the affected building, conduct a head count. It’s best if a fire marshal is available to do this, but if not it can be done by one person from each room or department, then once again to account for everyone throughout the building to make sure nobody is missed. Remember to include any visitors who may have been attending meetings at that time.
Don’t re-enter the building until the fire service have confirmed it’s safe to do so.

If You’re Trapped

If your evacuation routes are blocked and there’s no alternative way to exit the building, make your way to a room with a window.
If you’re on the ground floor, it may be possible to safely escape through the window. Close the door and try to prevent any smoke from entering the room by blocking off the gaps with materials such as clothing. Call 999 immediately.
Should your clothing catch fire, use the “stop, drop and roll” technique: drop to the ground and roll around. This is the most effective way of smothering the flames.

Be Prepared: Before a Fire

If a fire breaks out, it can be a very shocking experience that comes out of the blue on a normal workday. Familiarising yourself with all of the relevant procedures beforehand and learning about fire safety can lessen panic, because you’ll be more familiar with what you need to do in these circumstances. Regular fire drills are an important way to make sure the evacuation procedure is always at the forefront of people’s memories.

– Know Your Exits

Make sure you know your ideal route to your Assembly Point in advance, so in an emergency situation you know exactly where to go.

– Know Your Evacuation Procedures

Pay attention during fire drills and remember the procedure.

– Know Your Fire Wardens

If your workplace has a fire warden or a team of them, be aware of which colleagues hold this position. Often, in an emergency, they will be wearing high visibility clothing, but this is not always the case.

– Be Aware of Mobility Issues

People whose mobility restrictions make it harder for them to reach safety in case of a fire should develop a PEEP (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan). This also applies to people with sight and hearing impediments. For employees with temporary issues, such as those in late term pregnancy or with broken limbs, a temporary PEEP should be devised.

The PEEP should be developed with the help of your line manager and reviewed regularly.

Workplace fires are not situations anyone wants to face in their working life. To get the best outcome, make sure you’re aware of your workplace’s fire policy and trained in fire safety; stay calm under all circumstances and follow your company’s evacuation procedure in an orderly manner. Make sure all colleagues and visitors with limited mobility can get to safety as soon as possible.

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In June 2018, a fire broke out at the London-based food manufacturer UK Snacks Ltd. Most of their warehouse was destroyed. 120 firefighters and 20 engines responded to the blaze and took several hours to extinguish it. Unfortunately, with around 22,000 fires at non-residential properties breaking out annually, UK Snacks Ltd are not alone.
When fires break out in workplaces, the losses can be huge. Property damage is the most common consequence, leading to loss of earnings, stock and equipment. Once a building has fire damage, it can be a significant amount of time before it’s safe to work in it again. The worst cases can cause severe injuries and even deaths; in the 2013-2014 period, 17 fatalities were recorded as a result of fires that started in non-residential buildings.
Thankfully, there’s plenty that can be done to minimise the risk of a fire breaking out in your workplace.
Good Housekeeping
Where possible, clutter should be kept to a minimum. This is particularly true of materials that can become fuel for a fire such as paper, card or flammable substances. Where these need to be stored for an extended period of time, they need to be kept away from anything that could cause a spark and ignite them.
Kitchen areas require particular attention. Just as in the main working areas, kitchens need to be kept clean and clear from obstructions that might prevent workers leaving promptly in case of an emergency. Appliances such as microwaves should be cleaned regularly and kept to a good standard of maintenance, just as computer equipment and factory machinery should be.
Routes to fire exits should always be kept clear.
Knowing Fire Safety Rules
It’s every worker’s responsibility to do all they can to prevent fires. Good fire safety training helps you to identify fire risks and what to do if the worst case scenario happens and a fire breaks out.
Every employee should make sure they’re aware of their company’s plan for the evacuation of the premises in the event of a fire.

Electrical Safety
Most workplace fires are down to electrical faults or unsafe wiring. If you notice an electrical fault or wiring that appears to be damaged, it’s important to report it immediately so it can be repaired or replaced before it causes a problem. All electrical equipment needs to be inspected regularly to make sure it’s still safe and in good working order.
Employers should also ensure that their workers are fully trained to use all equipment they need to perform their jobs. Misuse of equipment – ranging from wrongly operating heavy machinery to overloading sockets – is the cause of many fires each year.
Create a Smokers’ Area
Smoking is a potentially dangerous hazard in the workplace. In 2013-2014, over a third of deaths in workplace fires were linked to smokers’ paraphernalia, including cigarettes that were not properly put out.
The risk can be reduced by the introduction of designated smokers’ areas. It’s important these are away from flammable materials and contain equipment for safely disposing of finished cigarettes.
Unfortunately, it’s not only mistakes that businesses need to protect themselves from when it comes to fire safety. Arson is one of the most deadly fire threats facing businesses, causing up to 45% of fire deaths in workplaces. It is also one of the hardest to control, but there are steps employers can take to lessen the risk.
Employing security personnel or installing a CCTV system may be appropriate in some cases. Lighting and fencing are solutions that can help by securing the premises.
For employees, one of the most effective ways to protect against arson is by following your company’s security protocol. Be on the alert for anyone acting suspiciously around the building, always make sure you don’t accidentally allow an unfamiliar person access to your workplace and make sure everything is properly secure if you’re the last to leave at the end of the work day.
Fire safety doesn’t need to be complicated. Many of these suggestions are common sense, but it is easy to forget some of them when there are other priorities competing for your attention. However, by training appropriately and keeping fire safety in mind, the risk of your workplace becoming a fire statistic can be greatly reduced.

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The fire triangle consists of the three elements needed to create a fire: Heat, Fuel and Oxygen.
All three of these ingredients must be present for a fire to ignite. Removing one or more of them can prevent one altogether. The fire triangle is therefore an important tool for recognising where in your workplace a fire might break out and for working out how to minimise these risks.
High temperatures are a natural consequence of many working activities such as cooking or welding. Where this is unavoidable, it’s vital that all safety procedures are followed accurately and staff are properly trained in fire safety. Work activities generating heat should be kept far away from any sources of fuel that could help a fire spread.
The most common cause of workplace fire is electrical equipment. Fire risk assessments should take account of the problem of overheating relating to all electrics, from computers to heavy machinery. This can be minimised by making sure equipment is regularly inspected, sockets are not overloaded and all wiring is in excellent condition. Staff trained in fire safety can make sure they’re not plugging in too many devices at once, and conduct visual inspections of any equipment before each use. Damaged equipment can then be removed before it causes a hazard.
Smoking is another source of heat that could cause dangerous situations. Smoking areas should be away from the main working spaces and away from any storage points that contain potential sources of fuel.
Any type of flammable material can act as fuel for a fire’s spread. This ranges from everyday waste associated with work such as paper, cardboard and fabric through to more specialist materials requiring expert handling.
The simplest way to break the fire triangle is to keep these materials away from sources of heat. With flammable liquids and gases, make sure they’re stored in well-maintained containers and only keep them on-site in the quantities immediately required by the work. Good housekeeping goes a long way towards minimising the outbreak and spread of fires: combustible waste should be cleared away regularly (preferably daily) and exit routes must always be kept clear from clutter or blockages.
It’s important to consider any areas where a fire could start unnoticed. Cellars and infrequently used store rooms fall under this category. These need to be kept free from flammable materials where possible. It can also help to limit access to these areas; roughly a quarter of workplace fires begin due to arson, and unstaffed areas with minimal supervision are common targets.

The air we breathe is around 21% oxygen and most fires require only 16% oxygen content to ignite, so this is perhaps the most difficult of the three elements of the fire triangle to control under normal circumstances. For work which requires higher concentrations of oxygen – for example, chemical processes that need pure, high pressure oxygen from a cylinder – it is extremely important that this is done in a controlled environment by properly trained professionals who are aware of the increased fire risk.
When evacuating a building during a fire, it helps if the last person to leave each area closes any windows or doors (though only if it’s safe to do so and there is sufficient time). This starves the fire of extra oxygen and hopefully slows down its growth.
Fire extinguishers work on the basis of cutting off the fire from the oxygen in the air. It’s very important to know which types of fire extinguishers tackle which types of fire, as electrical fires and oil fires, for instance, require very different treatment. Getting it wrong can make matters worse, so people should only attempt to use fire extinguishers when they have been properly trained in their use.
Using the Fire Triangle
All workplaces need a fire risk assessment by law. Identifying fire hazards is a major part of the risk assessment, so knowledge of how a fire starts can be helpful. Thinking about materials in terms of “potential fuel” or “potential sources of heat” can aid the risk assessor with deciding where changes need to be made to the working environment or building layout to make sure their workplace is as safe as possible from the damage that fire brings.

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Conducting a fire risk assessment is one of the most important aspects of a company fire safety policy. It’s a legal requirement to complete one for any workplace and to review it regularly.

In June 2014, care home owners Morven Healthcare Ltd were fined £45,000 for violating fire safety laws. Among other issues, inspectors found their fire risk assessment was out of date, and no emergency plan was in place. This illustrates that the consequences of ignoring these regulations can be severe, leading to financial loss or – in the worst case scenario of a fire breaking out – damage to property and even loss of life.

Carrying out a risk assessment doesn’t need to be particularly complicated and can even be done in-house, if the appropriate person has the relevant training and expertise.

What is a Fire Risk Assessment?

A fire risk assessment identifies potential fire hazards and the steps that need to be taken to minimise or eliminate those risks. For businesses of five people or above, it must be in written form. Smaller businesses don’t have to write their fire risk assessments, but they might find it helpful to do so.

It must cover several key areas:

– Identifying Fire Hazards

Consider possible sources of a fire, and what might provide the fuel for it to burn. Electrical appliances are the main cause of workplace fires so these should be a particular focus in most cases.

When deciding what might count as a fire risk, it helps to think about the fire triangle. The three ingredients needed for a fire to start are heat, fuel and oxygen. If one of these can be removed from any situation, it becomes significantly less of a fire risk.

– Identifying People at Risk

Everyone is at risk of workplace fires to some degree, but some roles and locations carry more of a risk than others.

People working alone or irregular hours may fall into this category. The risk assessment applies to any visitors, customers or service users who may reasonably be on the site as well as employees, so it is important to check if any of these groups are particularly at risk. Children and the elderly, for example, might need special attention in the risk assessment.

For those with limited mobility, they should complete an individual PEEP (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan) with their line manager to ensure they’re able to leave the building safely.

– Evaluating and Acting on the Risks

Once all of the risks have been identified, they need to be evaluated and acted upon. How much of a risk is each one, and who would be at risk from each hazard? Is there a way of reducing each risk, or even eliminating it?

– Recording, Planning Ahead and Training

The findings of the risk assessment need to be recorded and a coherent plan put together of what to do in case of a fire.

All staff must be trained in fire safety. It’s very important that all employees should be aware of what causes fires, what they can do to minimise the risks and what to do in case of emergency.

Once written, the risk assessment should be reviewed regularly. This makes sure any new fire risks or changes in circumstances are accounted for, and that the risk assessment itself is still relevant and in-keeping with any changes in legislation.

Who Can Carry Out a Fire Risk Assessment?

The employer, owner, landlord or otherwise liable “responsible person” is legally required to provide a risk assessment for the premises they have authority over. They can either carry out this task themselves or delegate it to a “competent person”, for example a professional risk assessor, to make sure the work is carried out correctly by someone with appropriate expertise. Local fire services may be willing to provide assistance or advice but cannot write the risk assessment themselves.

It’s increasingly commonplace for lots of the day to day work of fire safety to fall to a fire warden, or fire marshal – an employee who has usually received extra fire training to spot fire hazards and can identify the relevant safety procedures and equipment. Often fire wardens do important work in making sure the fire safety rules are adhered to. Even in businesses where this is the case, however, the legal responsibility for fire safety remains with the “responsible person”.

Training Your Staff in Fire Safety

It’s a requirement that all staff, both existing and new starters, must be trained in fire safety.

Full fire drills need to be carried out at least annually, with the results recorded and kept with the emergency evacuation plan paperwork. If the fire drill isn’t as smooth as expected or there is any confusion or delay in staff getting to the meeting point, people might benefit from some refresher training.

Fire risk assessments are a legal requirement and a key factor in making sure people are safe at work. By looking for the most likely sources of fire and considering the fire triangle (oxygen, fuel and heat), it’s straightforward to create a fire risk assessment that keeps the likelihood of a workplace fire breaking out to a minimum.