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 to prevent your business from becoming one of these statistics by taking some simple precautions.

Understand 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.

The first steps are:

  • To carry out a very simple risk assessment. Consider where your premises are particularly vulnerable, for example where rubbish is piled up, there are flat roofs next to your premises and so on.
  • 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.

By doing this, you can protect your business; the jobs and safety of your employees; your stock; your premises and the services you provide to the community.

Reducing the risks

  • Take responsibility. 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 lookout.
  • Small fires are all too often a warning of worse to come
  • Be on the lookout 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.

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 practice.
  • 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 the close of business: make sure that there are no obvious dangers including combustible material is left behind; no unauthorised people are left on the premises, all doors and windows are securely fastened and alarms and security lighting are switched on.
  • Each week, check that the security system, smoke alarm and sprinkler system, where applicable, are fully operational.

Be vigilant

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 fires with anything readily to hand including rubbish, packaging and waste in open skips. But arsonists can also strike inside. Consider how easily a fire could be started or an incendiary device concealed.

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 site security manager. Report any signs that the site is not secured at night.
  • 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 such as yards, drain pipes, flat roofs and consider 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.
  • consider a system 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 you can get help

If you live in Warwickshire, you can contact the Fire and Rescue Service Arson Reduction Manager on 024 7648 3205, or by email at [email protected] to discuss your concerns. Don’t forget local intelligence helps too. Local businesses sharing information and experience of crime prevention can benefit everyone.