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Common Causes of Workplace Fires

In the UK there are over 25,000 workplace fires every year, of which most would have been avoidable.

More worryingly 60% of privately owned businesses never recover from a major fire. There are several factors contributing to this, but they all relate to the financial impact on the business. Factors include:

  • Loss of business operations. A major fire could destroy some or all physical systems that enable a business to deliver their product or service to their customers. Without these systems, a business cannot generate revenue.
  • Loss of customers. If a business loses its systems, it will be severely restricted in delivering to their customers. If customers cannot get what they want, when they want, they’ll go elsewhere. They may never come back.
  • Loss of reputation. A major fire may portray a negligent and irresponsible attitude towards good safety measures, to both customers and suppliers. Regardless of the business’ ability to continue trading, people just may not want to deal with that business any longer.
  • Obtaining insurance pay-outs is not easy. The timeframe between making a claim and receiving the funds can hugely impact how quickly a business can ‘bounce back’ from a fire. Many businesses will rely on insurance pay-outs due to having insufficient capital to rebuild their losses.
  • Other factors. Whilst insurance could cover a large proportion of replacement and repair costs, many other financial and non-financial costs will not be covered by insurance.

Insurance won’t cover replacement staff, won’t bring back lost customers, and won’t repair a damaged reputation.

Recovering from a fire is challenging and some never achieve it. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of proactive, effective measures you can implement to minimise both the fire risks and the impact a fire could have. With that in mind we examine the most common causes of workplace fires, and some solutions to prevent them.


Overloaded electrical circuit causing electrical short and fire.

The most common cause of workplace fires. Around 12,000 fires a year are caused by damaged, faulty or misused electrical appliances. Faulty electrics covers a variety of potential fire hazards including loose cables, damaged electrics and improper use causing overheating.

These fires can most often be avoided by conducting regular testing of electrical equipment, repairing any faults or damage as soon as they’re identified and making sure health and safety procedures are in place and maintained. In premises, automatic detection systems can minimise the risks to people and property by providing early warning of fire. In plant and machinery, automatic fire suppression will detect and extinguish a fire in the very early stages, eliminating any need for human interaction, and minimising damage to property.


Unless strictly controlled, combustible materials can build up to unmanageable amounts in any premises. Whilst these materials won’t ever cause a fire, large amounts of combustible material will be the biggest cause of fire spread and growth.

Your trained fire wardens and external Fire Safety Consultants or Fire Risk Assessors will give you professional advice to ensure that waste and combustible materials are stored carefully and safely to minimise fire risk. We recommend that you have a Fire Risk Assessment carried out at intervals no greater than 2 years.

Where dedicated waste-handling areas are present, specialist automatic fire suppression systems can provide excellent protection for people and property.


Roughly 36% of fires (Commercial and non-commercial) are caused by smokers’ materials.

An effective way to prevent smoking related fires is to ensure you have a dedicated smoking area on your premises. This should be located at least 4 metres from your buildings, and strict smoking policies should ensure all smokers use dedicated smoking areas. It is good practice to install fire extinguishers in these areas.


Whilst not a direct cause of workplace fires, poor maintenance of automatic detection and alarm equipment and faulty equipment can lead to large uncontrollable fires. Modern, correctly-operational fire detection equipment will give very early warning of fire ensuring the fire can be tackled in the early stages, which will prevent serious damage.

Regular fire alarm maintenance and servicing will ensure your system remains operational at all times. Our expert Fire Safety Consultants can advise the best automatic detection systems for your unique environment.


Arson is a prominent cause of workplace fires. Unfortunately, industrial areas are particular targets of vandalism and arson as they can be left unattended for long periods of time. Arson attacks can be reduced with the use of intelligent video fire detection systems. Good security measures will also deter potential arsonists.


Sadly, human error is another of the dominating causes of workplace fires. Whether from improper use of equipment, failing to follow health and safety guidelines or simple errors in judgement, humans can be fatal.

Health and safety training and fire safety training are essential to minimise the risk of human error. By making sure you have protective policies in place you can minimise the risks.

For any aspect of fire safety maintenance, installation or risk management feel free to contact us directly – we want to help.