Crucial steps you can take to protect your staff and secure your building against arson.
Protecting your building is a serious business. You’ve worked hard to build your investment and create a safe, welcoming space for inhabitants, such as staff members and customers, so the next step is to fortify it against crimes such as arson.
Arson is a heinous crime and unfortunately, an ever-present threat to businesses and commercial premises.
Arson attacks can be either targeted or random; for a determined criminal, there’s often little chance of stopping them trying. They typically scope out buildings beforehand to determine whether it’s impenetrable or not – for instance, a building with obvious CCTV cameras and 24-hour security guards may be avoided and seen as a lost cause to an arsonist looking for an easy target.
However, there are ways to either prevent or slow down an attack of this sort.
Your priorities may be different if your building is left derelict or vacant for some time. For example, we recently saw in the news the derelict Victorian factory in Ipswich which was destroyed in a fire – believed to be the result of an arson attack. The building had been left empty following plans which were approved in 2014 to turn the site into a £20m housing and business park. Work hadn’t yet started, and it appeared that no provisions were put in place to protect the building in its vacant state.
10 measures you can implement:
1. Don’t allow easy access to flammable materials.
Leaving flammable materials, such as wood, stacked up against your building or within easy reach inside of your building (for example, in a warehouse), is a no-no as it’s an easy target for starting a fire.
Make sure to store items in skips with metal covers. If you’ve got gas bottles, try and store these in locked, metal cages. Attempt to empty bins as often as possible and/or keep a locked bin store. If you store oils and fuels, keep these far away from ignition sources and keep them within secure containers that are fire-proof.
These steps are mostly common sense, but you’d be surprised how much can be forgotten or overlooked during the busy, day-to-day running of a business. These are simple measures that can certainly go a long way to preventing or slowing down a fire-related attack.
2. Consider installing CCTV and/or an intruder alarm.
You should have a fire alarm that’s in working order, meets the requirements of your premises’ needs according to British Standards, and is regularly serviced. However, the fire alarm detects when a fire has already started. An intruder alarm detects when someone unauthorised has entered, so this can catch them out before they’ve attempted to start a fire (that is, if they’re choosing to start the fire from the inside of your building). So, another way to protect your business is to get a security/intruder alarm installed.
CCTV is also a proactive way to fortify your building. As well as any automatic security lighting outside your building, CCTV cameras can be a visual deterrent. Once spotted, this could be enough for a potential arsonist to walk away; if they do decide to pursue their criminal intentions, the sophistication of modern cameras means they are more likely to be identified and prosecuted.
If your site is particularly large or comprised of many segmented areas, you may like to consider a gate with an entry system to your site, ensuring an extra layer of security, which allows only authorised persons within your vicinity.
3. Consider installing monitoring on your fire and/or intruder alarm.
Alarm monitoring means that you/designated persons and/or the emergency services (depending on how you’d like it set up) will be called and notified of your alarm’s activation. If it is set up to send a notification to the emergency services, they’ll then attend to investigate/put out the fire.
You can have monitoring for just your fire alarm, but you can have it connected to your intruder alarm as well, thereby initiating a police response when there’s been an intrusion before a fire’s even been started.
Certain premises are required to have this installed, such as care homes, due to the level of risk or deemed sensitivity of persons and/or artefacts within the building. Your insurer will usually advise you if this is necessary, although many businesses and commercial premises choose to have this anyway for extra control and peace of mind that there’ll be a fast response in the event of an intrusion and/or fire.
4. Ensure fire exit doors are kept closed, unless they are self-closing, and are regularly serviced.
Fire doors are designed to keep a fire contained for a period of time, enabling safe evacuation. Typically, they can contain a fire for 30-60 minutes, depending on their design, and there are steel fire doors which can offer up to four hours of resistance. Keeping these closed at all times is therefore vital. You may have fire doors which are linked to your fire alarm and close automatically.
Regular maintenance, ideally every six months (or every three months if you’re in a busy building with frequent movements) is advised to ensure your fire doors are suitably equipped to contain a fire.
5. Ensure fire exit doors are kept clear of obstructions.
Fire doors are often left closed for prolonged periods of time and for some, this means that they’re just an extension of wall! Unfortunately, this is not the case. They must be kept clear to provide a means of safe evacuation. Plus, once closed to contain a fire, if there is a stack of material the other side, that’s perfect spreading fuel for the fire once it does [if it does] eventually make it past the door.
6. Install a fire suppression system, such as sprinklers.
A fire suppression system, such as sprinklers, is a great way to stifle a fire that’s been started.
If you have a server room, you’ll want to keep this secure, plus a gas suppression system is advised for suffocating a fire that’s been started.
7. Determine the risk factors your property faces with a Fire Risk Assessment and/or by contacting your insurers.
Building owners and responsible persons will, and should, be aware of risk factors that their building faces in all matters concerning health and safety. All premises with more than 5 persons within it at any given time are required to have an up-to-date Fire Risk Assessment, which outlines risk factors in relation to a fire, with a priority list of criteria to meet for adequate detection and prevention according to British Standards.
If the building ownership changes or structural changes occur, including refurbishments, then a Fire Risk Assessment is again called-for to assess the building in its new state.
Your insurance company will also set out provisions that need to be met based on risks they believe your premises poses.
8. Ensure all fire, security and CCTV systems, from your alarm systems to extinguishers, are all regularly serviced and faults are immediately acted upon.
Installing CCTV cameras, a fire alarm and an intruder alarm are all important. But servicing your systems is just as important as installing them in the first place. Without maintenance, you’re doing yourself and your business an injustice, as a lack of servicing will increase the likelihood of faults going unnoticed and the need for an early replacement.
Something as simple as forgetting to replace the batteries in a smoke detector can have costly consequences.
Your intruder alarm is to be maintained typically once a year, or twice a year depending on your site’s needs. Your CCTV cameras should be serviced at least once a year; depending on the number of cameras you have, you may prefer to have them maintained more frequently.
9. Stay informed about arson attacks in the area and report any suspicious activities.
You can contact your local fire protection team for information about local activities or to advise them about concerns you have based on suspicious activities. If you have business neighbours or are part of a community group within your business’s locale, it’s a good idea to stay in the loop of recent goings-on so you are armed with the knowledge to be extra vigilant.
10. Ensure all staff members are adequately trained in how to respond in the event of a fire.
Many arson attacks happen in broad daylight when staff and/or customers are within the building. Ensuring you have an evacuation plan, which has been rehearsed, in place is vital for any business or premises. Assigning fire marshals/wardens and equipping them with the knowledge of how to respond in the event of a fire and how to use fire safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers, will go a long way to protect the lives within your property.
It’s a good idea for all members of your building to have basic fire safety training on how to respond in the event of a fire, with your fire marshals having extra responsibilities such as clearing areas within the building and ensuring fire doors are shut on the way out.
Whilst the above measures can’t necessarily prevent an arson attack, they do go a long way to deter an arsonist, slow down a fire or put it out once it’s started.
We mustn’t live in fear, but equally we mustn’t live in ignorance.
After all, you owe it yourself, your staff and all of your hard work, to protect your premises as best you can!
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