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IronmongeryDirect study unearths lack of fire safety knowledge among tradespeople

17 April 2023

THE LATEST research study conducted by IronmongeryDirect, which encouraged responses from circa 500 tradespeople, has uncovered a worrying lack of knowledge in relation to fire safety-related issues.

Indeed, the headline finding is that more than nine in every ten individuals (ie 92%) questioned wouldn’t know if a building or workplace complied with current fire safety-related regulations.

Further, it emerges that more than one-in-eight (ie 13%) of tradespeople admit they’ve propped open fire doors while working. In parallel, fewer than one-in-eight (ie 12%) of those individuals questioned always carry a fire extinguisher with them while they’re working.

Although the appropriate response to a fire depends on its type, the clear majority (86%, in fact) of tradespeople say they wouldn’t know the difference in terms of an electrical fire, a gas fire or a chemical fire.

In light of these somewhat disturbing results, IronmongeryDirect has now partnered with Edgaras Zilinskas, director of Bristol-based passive fire protection concern Fire Immunity, in a bid to provide expert fire safety advice for tradespeople, including information on how the latter should respond to different types of fire-centric emergencies.

“A safe working environment is essential for every business in order to protect employees and ensure legal compliance,” urged Zilinskas. “The first step is having the building in which you operate undergo a fire risk assessment, as this will highlight any areas for improvement or potential risks.”

Edgaras has also emphasised the importance of fire safety equipment. As stated, the IronmongeryDirect study found that fewer than 12% of tradespeople always carry a fire extinguisher with them while working.

“Installing fire alarms and smoke detectors in every area is vital, alongside training staff on a detailed and thorough fire safety plan,” observed Zilinskas. “It’s also important to install an adequate number of fire extinguishers on every floor and in easily accessible locations.”

Dealing with different fire types

In terms of dealing with different types of fires, Zilinskas commented: “Electrical fires should be dealt with by cutting the power and then spraying the area with a dry powder or water mist fire extinguisher. Electrical fires must be tackled with water mist extinguishers and not standard water/water spray-type extinguishers. The type of extinguisher will be clearly stated on the label of the body of the extinguisher and should be checked carefully before use.”

For gas fires, Zilinskas advises that it’s best to turn off the gas supply, cover the flames using a fire blanket and use an appropriate fire extinguisher. Chemical fires can be dangerous to tackle. It’s best to try to remove any sources of fuel, heat and oxygen by using carbon dioxide, foam or dry powder-type fire extinguishers.

“First and foremost, tradespeople should always prioritise the safety of themselves and others,” asserted Zilinskas. “If a fire quickly grows out of hand, they should evacuate the building immediately to lessen the risk of anyone inhaling hazardous fumes and, in all cases, contact the Emergency Services as soon as possible such that they can attend the site and tackle the blaze.”

Making equipment fire-safe

The most important safety measure regarding tools and equipment is to always follow the latest regulations and advice. Thorough and up-to-date training is essential in relation to all tools or pieces of equipment, and particularly so for any new and/or unfamiliar units.

“All tools and equipment should be regularly maintained and checked for any signs of damage to ensure that everything’s in good working order,” stressed Zilinskas. “Failure to do so, particularly so for electronic items, could lead to an electrical fire. Closely check wiring in particular as this can deteriorate with age, while any exposed wires are, of course, highly dangerous.”

Further, it’s vitally important to always store all tools and equipment in a suitable area. For example, a room with a fire safety door that’s closely situated to fire extinguishers and other tools or otherwise a dedicated space with sufficient shelving. “Tools should never be placed on the floor,” warned Zilinskas, “as they may pose a tripping hazard or become dirty or damaged, which may lead to additional problems including an outbreak of fire.”

Identifying fire doors

Fire doors are an incredibly important element of a building’s fire safety regime, but four-in-five (ie 80%) tradespeople questioned as part of the survey said they wouldn’t know how to identify one.

Zilinskas observed: “A fire door is a purpose-built door installed to help slow down the spread of fire and smoke. Fire doors come in a range of colours, but it’s possible to recognise one immediately due to the inclusion of a window (known as a Vision Panel), the thickness of the door and the hinge at the top.”

All fire doors are required to have identification tags fitted. Their location varies, but these tags are usually found on the internal side of the door. Sometimes they’re painted over, but the certification number should still be visible underneath. This label informs on how long the door will remain fire-resistant, the year of manufacture and who constructed the door.

As previously mentioned, more than 13% of tradespeople admit to having propped open fire doors while working. “Leaving a fire door open means that the door is no longer effective,” stated Zilinskas. “If a fire breaks out and the door is ajar, smoke could quickly spread around the building, damaging the interior and, more importantly, causing harm to individuals.”

Zilinskas concluded: “A fire door that’s blocked from the other side could become a hazard in the event of a fire. Someone could trip and injure themselves while, in rarer cases, the obstruction may catch and cause another fire. In addition, anything blocking a door could prevent someone from escaping. Keeping fire doors free from obstruction and closed is vital.”

*Further information is available online at www.ironmongerydirect.co.uk