Detecting the early signs of fire in warehousing and distribution centres can be difficult. High ceilings and wide-open spaces mean that by the time a fire has been detected it may have reached the point where risk to people, property and the stock being stored is catastrophic. Detecting the early signs of fire is therefore vital.
Over recent years, the growth in online shopping has increased the number and size of UK based warehousing and distribution centres which means they have become busy and pressurised environments. Fire safety may not, therefore, be front of mind and may get overlooked as people get more and more focused on meeting delivery schedules and deadlines and begin to disregard fire safety.
When inspecting premises for the first time, some of the areas that have caused us most concern recently include:
For these reasons company owners, directors, operations managers and facilities managers with responsibility for health and safety will be taking fire and security risk much more very seriously and reviewing their systems and processes to offer greater reassurance and protection.
In this article we are going to explain how to ensure these early signs can be detected and provide tips on managing fire risk in the following areas:
Choosing the right fire alarm system for warehousing and distribution centres
In most instances, apart from the brand of fire alarm, you will be given little choice as the type of fire alarm system that should be installed will be recommended as part of a fire risk assessment.
Current UK fire alarm regulations state that all business premises must have ‘an appropriate fire detection system’. This basically means that an outbreak of fire can easily be detected, and occupants can easily be warned and, in theory, safely evacuated.
The key challenge from a fire risk perspective is to ensure the right class of fire alarm is specified and installed according to the activities carried out and the goods stored in the warehouse or distribution centre. Another important aspect is deciding which fire detection devices to install to ensure they are appropriate for the environment and positioned such that they will accurately signal real indicators of a fire.
In a warehousing and distribution operation, each part of the building may present a variety of fire risks. Areas will include offices, warehousing, canteens and kitchens as well as external loading bays and parking. Therefore the detectors need to be able to sense all the potential indicators of a real fire risk according to that particular environment.
These indicators include smoke, heat, gas, air changes and flame. In a warehouse or distribution centre the height of ceilings and the sheer expanse of the open area to be protected may mean that it can be very tricky to ensure the fire alarm detectors are triggered in time.
Similarly, there may be a lot of nearby vehicle movements emitting exhaust smoke, shutter doors being constantly opened and closed, and large roof voids. These factors can cause difficulties setting the fire alarm and sensors so that it is triggered by the indicators of a real fire and therefore avoiding the cost and inconvenience of false alarm activations.
It is, therefore, all the more important to ensure the right systems are installed and maintained by expert engineers with knowledge of the system installed, who are experienced in maintaining fire alarm systems in warehouses and distribution centres.
The most common fire alarm systems installed in these environments are either an aspiration detection system(VESDA ®) which detects fire signals by sampling air flows, or open area smoke imaging detection system(OSID) which use infrared beams to detect fire signals.
Dangers of expanding shelving and storage bays
When moving or installing new storage bays and aisles it is important to consider the impact on fire detection. When installed, the fire detection devices will have been carefully positioned to detect the early signs of fire. Therefore you will need to ensure that any additional shelving or re-positioned aisles will not prevent fire detection devices from signalling the early signs of fires. Typical examples include new or higher shelving that is now obstructing the infrared beams used in OSID systems or affecting air flows to an ASD system.
Temporary staff and visiting drivers
A vital component of managing fire risk is ensuring staff are aware of fire safety. Due to the high and lows of seasonal demand, it is common for companies who may be collecting and delivering goods to use temporary drivers who may not be familiar with your fire safety policies and procedures. It is therefore important to ensure they are given a briefing before being allowed onto the site.
Training and education
Similarly, if you employ new permanent or temporary workers it is important they are all given a thorough induction to ensure they understand and can follow your fire safety policies and procedures. This will ensure they do not do anything that will inadvertently cause a fire and have the confidence to report anything that may cause a fire risk. It is also important to provide ongoing training and regular fire drills.
The person or persons responsible for fire safety should ensure the fire alarm system, smoke detectors and other fire equipment such as sprinklers and fire extinguishers and fire blankets are regularly maintained and inspected. The quicker the fire alarm is sounded the greater chance everyone has of being evacuated to safety.
If fire alarm maintenance is neglected not only is there a greater risk to life, it can lead to system failures and false fire alarm activations which will cause building evacuations and lead to operational inefficiencies that will impact profits.
By law, a company must appoint a Responsible Individual or team of RI’s who will ensure all fire safety policies and procedures are followed, and ultimate responsibilities lies with company directors and managers. In a nutshell, the role of the Responsible Individual is to ensure the company for which it has been appointed complies with Fire safety regulations as laid out in a document known as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
This means that it is your role to take general fire precautions that will ensure as much as is reasonably practicable, the safety of employees, and that the premises are safe from fire.
Neglecting to provide all staff with adequate fire safety training, failing to ensure fire safety rules are being followed and that systems are well maintained can have serious repercussions. The consequences of getting it wrong or being found to have failed in this duty could mean a hefty fine or even a prison sentence.
The following are areas within warehousing and distribution that present a high fire risk:
Can we help protect your warehouse and distribution centre?
At Tecserv UK we have a team of fully qualified engineers who are able to interpret the requirements of the design specification provided by the fire risk assessor.
We have distributor agreements with most of the major fire and security alarm, access control and CCTV system manufacturers and are therefore able to supply and install the systems best suited to protect the processes, property and people working in warehouses and distribution centres.
We have a twenty-year track record of installing and maintaining the fire alarm systems within large stores and distribution centres for leading brands such as Marks & Spencer, B&Q, Britvic and we also protect Pinewood studio’s where all sorts of special film effects are carried out within a vast complex of high ceiling buildings.
We, therefore, have an expert understanding of the important factors that need to be considered.