Why Do Fires Still Kill?

Why fire is still a serious risk in commercial workplaces, on construction sites and in the home despite advances in fire safety legislation and equipment design.

 Fire still a major risk despite increased health and safety procedures

Although health and safety procedures have improved immensely in many workplaces and homes over the years, fire is still a significant risk both domestically and commercially. At a time when fire prevention methods have improved, why is this the case?


Put simply, there are more fire hazards in place as technical advances have in many ways increased fire risks. For example, with more electrical equipment in use and left switched on over longer periods, this increases the chances of a fire.

A modern office may have many computers, printers, photocopiers and related equipment in use and switched on for long periods – and sometimes in use without anyone being in attendance. For example, a photocopier running off many copies of a document may be left unattended for a lengthy period and IT equipment such as servers may run 24 hours.

Certain premises are open over longer periods such as ‘out of hours’ call centers and other organizations, so electrical equipment is left powered up over longer periods. It’s also easy to leave something switched on by mistake when a premises is vacated at the end of the working day or shift, especially when there’s so much to remember to switch off or at least put on standby.

There are many procedures and requirements in place to help maintain high standards of fire safety such as the use of fire prevention signs, but human error can often play a part in starting unnecessary fires such as, say, leaving a fire door open.

Construction Sites

These are a particularly hazardous environment; according to the ‘Fire Safety in Construction’ report from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) there are thousands of construction related fires annually.

This high number is partly due to the simple fact that there are more construction projects in progress at any given time as increased levels of housebuilding and related work such as refurbishments and renovations take place throughout the UK. The law of averages say that risks are therefore increased – not just for fire but other construction site related accidents.

Construction sites are rife with the three elements that need to be present for a fire to start – namely:

  • Ignition – for example a spark or naked flame
  • Fuel – there’s plenty on a construction site such as flammable materials including wood, solvents and fuels like diesel for powering equipment
  • Oxygen – many construction sites are open to the elements so fires can easily take hold

Fires on a construction site can be particularly dangerous as they can affect people, buildings and environments nearby if they get out of control and spread beyond the site itself.

Good project management can identify and help provide sound preventative fire measures, but it’s still down to ongoing careful work practices and trying to avoid or at least minimize human error. For example, ensuring flammable supplies are stored carefully before they’re required and preferably aren’t over-ordered so they spend long periods in store before being used in the construction.

In the home

Many households have smoke detectors – a legal requirement in rented property – but, as with commercial offices discussed above, more electrical equipment is used in the home which in its own way increases fire risks.

The more electrical equipment in use, then statistically the more chance there can be of fire – a risk exacerbated through human error. For example, appliances such as tumble dryers can be a fire hazard if used improperly, and leaving equipment switched on for protracted periods can increase potential for fire.

New Risks

Other types of fire, previously not recognized as significant hazards, are now recognized as such. A prime example of this is wildfire; some 70,000 grassland fires are fought each year at a cost of some £55 million.

Safety first

While modern electrical equipment is designed to adhere to high standards of fire safety, the increased use of labor saving and communication devices increases a risk of fire and the human error element is always present.

While legislation and technology can help improve fire safety, it’s still incumbent on project managers, site managers, those in positions of authority within organizations, the staff themselves and domestic householders to take every precaution so as to avoid the one aspect fire prevention can’t legislate for – human error.

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