Fire and explosions can be devastating. They may not be the most common hazard that organisations encounter, but in their impact, they can be the most severe and destructive.
Working with dangerous and volatile substances such as flammable liquids, gases and dusts can be extremely hazardous with the potential risk of fire and explosion. Employers have a duty to protect employees and the general public from ‘fire and explosion’ risks and much do all they can to control such risks. Robust and effective risk assessments and policies must be developed and regularly maintained. When reviewing your policies and practices, consider the following:
Dangerous substances are defined as a substance that is present or used in the working environment and that could cause harm to people as a result of a fire, chemical reaction or explosion if that substance is not properly controlled. These may include substances such as; varnishes, solvents, paint, flammable gases, vapours, petrol, or dust accumulated from operations such as sanding.
An explosive atmosphere is defined as a mixture of dangerous substances with air, under atmospheric conditions, in the form of gases, vapours, mist or dust in which, after ignition has occurred, combustion spreads to the entire unburned mixture.
Steps to be taken
The DSEAR regulations place a duty on employers to assess, eliminate or reduce risks from dangerous substances so far as is reasonably practical. The following steps must be taken by employees:
- Assess the risks by way of formal risk assessment. These should be revised whenever any change in environment or circumstances occurs.
- Eliminate or reduce the risk to employees from dangerous substances as much as is reasonable practical.
- Implement appropriate control measures, such as clearly marked zones to identify hazardous locations.
- Provide appropriate fire awareness training for employees.
- Ensure that appropriately trained members of the workforce are in place with the ability to control emergency situations and evacuations.
- Put mitigation measures in place to minimise the spread of fire or explosion.
- Provide explosion relief and suppression equipment and suitable PPE (personal protective equipment).