The most common cause of fire in shops and retail premises is arson. It is estimated that up to 80% of businesses are seriously affected following a major fire. You can help prevent your business becoming one of these statistics by taking some simple precautions.
Understanding the issue
The owner or employer in every workplace has a legal responsibility for carrying out a fire risk assessment. This includes identifying the risk of arson and acting to reduce it. By doing this you can protect your business, the jobs and safety of your employees, your stock, your premises and the service you provide to the community.
The first step is to carry out a very simple risk assessment – consider where your premises is particularly vulnerable. If there is a secured fire door at the back and open access on the shop front, concentrate on the shop front. A sensible ranking of your particular risks will enable you to make the best use of the time you can devote to reducing the risk of arson.
Once you’ve identified where you may be particularly vulnerable (rubbish piled up, flat roofs next to your premises and so on), work out an action plan to help ensure your business will be safe from arson.
Reducing the risks
- Take responsibility
- In any business, the owner or manager is responsible for fire safety
- As the responsible person, you need to think of all the ways in which someone could start a fire deliberately – inside or outside the premises
- Have there been small fires in your premises previously? Have you heard about other fires occurring locally? If so, tell the police and be on the look-out
- Small fires are all too often a warning of worse to come
- Be on the look-out for other forms of vandalism. If graffiti or damage is not cleared up immediately, it can make the area a target for minor arson – which can quickly become more serious
- As part of staff training, remind all employees of the arson threat and ask them to report any suspicious behaviour – by anyone!
Check and check again!
- First thing each business day ensure that fire extinguishers and hose reels are ready for use, fire escape doors are unlocked and fire doors are not wedged open
- Carry out periodic inspections to ensure that all parts of the premises are safe, there are no “hidden” fires, and that the drill for dealing with unattended items can be put into immediate effect
- If your business welcomes numerous customers or suppliers onto the premises, ensure that they do not have access to staff-only areas. More secure sites need to maintain their security
- Before locking up at close of business, make sure that there are no obvious dangers left behind and that no combustible material is lying around, no unauthorised people are left on the premises, all doors and windows are securely fastened, alarms and security lighting are switched on
- Each week, check that the security system, smoke alarm and sprinkler system, where applicable, are fully operational.
Are you a target? Most arson fires affecting business start outside the premises. The culprits are often young vandals whose motive is to cause trouble. They are opportunists who light their fires with anything readily to hand – rubbish, packaging, waste in open skips, etc.
How easily could a fire be started or an incendiary device be concealed? Arsonists also strike inside the premises – a member of staff with a grudge, or others trying to make a point or cover up another crime.
How safe are you?
This checklist will help you to reduce the chances of an arson attack:
- Limit the number of entrances in use – but do not lock fire exits!
- Keep a watch on what’s going on. Larger businesses may consider having a security guard at main entrances. In smaller shops and businesses, you and your staff should be vigilant
- If you are based in a mall or on an industrial or retail park, talk to the security manager of the whole site. Make sure the site is secured at night and report any signs that it is not
- Ensure that doors and windows are in good repair and that locks are working
- Gaps under doors to the street should be as narrow as possible to stop lighted paper or fuel being pushed under them
- Letterboxes should have a metal container fitted on the inside to contain any fires from lighted rags, paper or fireworks
- Keep a list of people holding keys and chase up any that are missing
- Identify entry routes for intruders – via yards, drain pipes, flat roofs. What can you do to prevent such access?
- Special danger areas include storage and warehousing. Make it a rule that access is only available to authorised members of staff
- All perimeter security must be maintained and secure. Good security prevents arson as well as theft
- Is there a system – or should there be – for leaving lights on at night?
- Don’t let rubbish become a threat – packaging, waste or rubbish must not be left to accumulate anywhere on the premises. It should be moved regularly to a safe storage place
- Safe storage means metal bins with closed lids – preferably locked away in their own compartment
- Arrange regular collections of refuse and waste by the Local Authority or a contractor.
Where can you get help?
If you live in Warwickshire, you can contact the Fire and Rescue Service Arson Reduction Manager on 02476 483205, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your concerns and don’t forget local intelligence helps too – local businesses sharing information and experience of crime prevention can benefit everyone.