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Guidance on fire safety for staff

Environmental, Health and Safety Services  (1999)




  1. How do fires start at work?
  2. Fire prevention
  3. Means of escape
  4. Fire routine
  5. Use of firefighting equipment
  6. First-aid
  7. Is there a fire behind this door?
  8. Going through smoke
  9. And finally


This note is for your personal use to refer to at any time following attendance at a training session on fire safety in the workplace.


Very few people retain all of the information given during a lecture or talk and this information may help save your life and the lives of others.


Please keep your personal copy safe and accessible.




How do fires start at work?

Fires cannot occur without a source of ignition. You should identify sources of ignition in your workplace and control their potential to start a fire. Examples are:


  • Cigarettes;
  • Electrical equipment;
  • Machinery;
  • Matches / lighters;
  • Hot work (welding, grinding etc);
  • Heating appliances.


With the obvious exception of wilful fireraising (arson), most fires can be prevented by employees taking care whilst at work. It is worth making the effort! All large fires start as small fires or even sparks but the consequences can be personal, financial and environmental disaster.

Fire prevention

There are several easy ways in which you can ensure a safe working environment for yourself and your colleagues:


  1. Do not smoke in your workplace. The University of St Andrews has prohibited smoking in all areas other than those designated as smoking zones.
  2. Report fire hazards such as worn electrical cables and loose wiring or damaged plugs and wall sockets immediately.
  3. Make sure the general housekeeping at your workplace is of a high standard. Do not allow the build up of rubbish or other combustible material in your work area, corridors or stair enclosures as this is fuel for fire and may also create obstructions to escape routes.
  4. Do not have fabric or other readily combustible material near electric fires or portable gas heaters.
  5. Turn off electrical equipment when not in use. Unplug it from the wall socket if possible.
  6. Do not leave hot plates or containers e.g. frying pans, unattended when in use.
  7. Ensure safe storage of gas cylinders.


Means of escape

Means of escape is the term used to describe your exit route and the associated fire safety measures i.e. fire doors, emergency lighting, fire call points, hosereels and fire extinguishers, fire action notices and exit route signs.


The width of corridors and doors are designed to allow a pre-determined number of occupants to escape safely in an emergency. Any obstruction in these areas reduces the passage of people and may lead to casualties.


Fire doors are designed to hold back smoke and flames to allow people to escape safely. Once the fire is contained behind a closed door everyone should be able to reach a place of safety. You should therefore ensure that these doors are NEVER  NORMALLY  propped open. Fire doors should have a circular blue sign on them and a self-closing mechanism which allows the door to return to a fully closed position after each use.


Ensuring fire doors are closed at night is very important. There are less people around and fire can grow and spread undetected at night easier than during the day. Statistics show there are more serious fires at night than during daylight hours.





Fire routine


Events can move rapidly when a fire occurs so you must know your fire routine before a fire breaks out i.e. what to do if the fire alarm sounds and what to do if you discover a fire.


If you discover a fire you should:


  1. Sound the alarm by breaking the nearest glass fire call point. This will set off the building fire alarm. You or someone else must then phone 9-999 (or 999 from phones outwith the University) and request the attendance of the Fire Service. The sounding of a building fire alarm does not mean the Fire Service are automatically alerted. In fact this is not the case in most instances so you must assume the alarm has not alerted the Fire Service and you should make the emergency call EVERY  TIME.
  2. Only fight the fire if you can do so without endangering yourself or others - a water extinguisher can throw a jet of water up to 6 metres. If one extinguisher does not put the fire out, GET  OUT  AND  CLOSE  THE  DOOR  BEHIND  YOU  AND  STAY  OUT  UNTIL  TOLD  BY  A FIRE  SERVICE  OFFICER  IT  IS  SAFE  TO  RETURN.
  3. Do not fight a fire which is large and/or spreading or if you are unsure of the type of extinguisher to use on the fire.


If you hear the fire alarm you should:


  1. Leave your place of work, closing windows and doors behind you if this can be done quickly.
  2. Follow your nearest exit route to the agreed place of safety/assembly point and stay there until authorized to return by a Fire Officer.
  3. If your usual exit route is blocked by smoke, STOP  -  CHANGE  DIRECTION  -  FIND  AN  ALTERNATIVE  EXIT ROUTE.  You should still muster at the normal assembly point for your workplace.
  4. Do not use lifts to exit the building. Their movement assists fire travel and they may stop suddenly if there is a power failure. They may also take you to the scene of the fire. Do not wait for a lift to come as in many cases they will automatically go to the ground floor when the alarm activates and will stay there. Use the stairs at all times.


Use of firefighting equipment


If you discover a fire, any attempt to extinguish it must only be made once the fire alarm has been activated, the Fire Service called and you know which fire extinguisher to use.


All new extinguishers must conform to the British Standard BS EN 3, which means that they will have a red body and icons to indicate the types of fire they can be used on. Older extinguishers are colour coded and have instructions for use written on the label.


The older extinguishers will only be removed when they have reached the end of their useful life and are coloured RED  -  water,   BLACK  -  CO2, CREAM  -  foam, BLUE  -  dry powder.


The new fire extinguishers all have a RED body but can also have some colour coding band or coloured cylinder valve which relates to the old colour coding.


The icons are as follows:







Class A fire extinguisher logo Indicates the extinguisher is suitable for use on Class A fires e.g. wood, paper etc., known as carbonaceous materials.

Class B fire extinguisher logoIndicates the extinguisher is suitable for use on Class B fires e.g. flammable liquids.

Class C fire extinguisher logoIndicates the extinguisher is suitable for for use on Class C fires e.g. flammable gases (Do NOT use an extinguisher on a flammable gas fire until the gas supply has been switched off).

Class D fire extinguisher logoIndicates the extinguisher is suitable for use on Electrical Fires.

Water - Completely RED body. Use on paper, cardboard, wood and clothes BUT  NEVER  ON  ELECTRICAL  EQUIPMENT  OR  FLAMMABLE  LIQUIDS. Can hit a target up to 6 metres distant.


Dry Powder - Red body (possibly with blue somewhere on the upper half of the extinguisher). Effective on most types of fire but have a good VACUUM CLEANER handy after use. Particularly effective on flammable liquid and metal fires.


Carbon Dioxide - Red body (possibly with black somewhere on the upper half of the extinguisher). Effective on flammable liquid and particularly effective on electrical fires. Very noisy when in use and do not hold the discharge horn as it will freeze during use and will burn your hand. Can hit a target up to 2 metres distant.


Foam - Red body (possibly with cream somewhere on the upper half of the extinguisher). Specialist use on flammable liquids and also effective on carbonaceous fires. Some training required to use effectively. Can hit a target up to 4 metres distant.


Hose Reels - Can be either automatic or manual in operation. If the reel is a manual type, remember to turn on the valve before pulling the reel off the drum. To operate simply twist the grip at the nozzle. There is an unlimited supply of water to the hose reel.


Fire Blanket - Effective at smothering a fire and protecting you from heat and flames. To operate, remove from container and unfold. Ensure you grip the blanket in such a way that your hands are inside the fold. Hold the blanket in front of you and lay it over the burning material, do not throw the blanket.


When using an extinguisher think  PASS: Pull,  Aim,  Squeeze,  Sweep.

PULL  -  out the locking pin or retaining clip;

AIM  -  the nozzle or horn at the base of the fire;

SQUEEZE  -  the handle of the lever;

SWEEP  -  from side to side across the base of the fire.

Remember, putting water on a fire creates steam and steam burns can be fatal. Crouching helps you keep clear of any smoke and avoid heat from the flames and steam, so crouch when using water on a fire.


Do NOT fight a fire if:


  1. It is too big with flames reaching the ceiling.
  2. Any hazardous materials are involved.
  3. There is any risk of your personal safety and/or escape route being cut off either by fire or smoke.
  4. You have not received appropriate training and are not confident in the use of fire extinguishers.







Injuries sustained in a fire may include burns and breathing problems caused by smoke inhalation. These can be life threatening.


Access to first-aiders / appointed persons is provided in all workplaces.  In the event that no first-aider is available the following action is recommended:


  1. An ambulance should be called so dial 9-999 immediately or get someone else to phone and confirm that this has been done.
  2. Assess the situation. Only approach the casualty if it is safe to do so.
  3. Consider the possible risks to your own safety from flames, smoke and toxic fumes particularly if you are not wearing protective equipment.
  4. Stay calm and reassure the casualty. If they appear to be unconscious shout at them and carefully shake the casualty's shoulder to provoke a response.
  5. Assess their airway, breathing and circulation and if necessary begin to resuscitate the casualty if trained to do so.


Serious burns


If a burn is larger than a 2p piece, if it looks blistered and raw, waxy or charred then it is serious and requires immediate medical attention by a medical / nurse practitioner.


The first-aid treatment of burns is:


  1. Check that the area is safe and then phone 9-999.
  2. Reassure the casualty, make them comfortable as possible and encourage them to lie down and raise their feet.
  3. Pour copious amounts of cold water over the burn or immerse in cold water i.e. bucket/bath for at least 10 minutes.
  4. Remove any jewellery, watch or clothing from the affected area - unless it is sticking to the skin, in which case leave it.
  5. Cover the burn with clean non-fluffy material to protect from infection e.g. a clean plastic bag, cling film or first aid dressing.
  6. If the casualty loses consciousness assess the airway, breathing and circulation and if necessary undertake resuscitation if trained to do so.




Inhalation of fumes


Smoke may contain toxic gases and can be lethal if inhaled. Do not put your own life at risk by entering a smoke filled area, as rescuers without protective equipment are likely to add to the casualty list.


Signs of smoke inhalation include noisy distressed breathing, choking, coughing, impaired consciousness leading to unconsciousness and possible dark smoke stains around the mouth and nose.


You should:


  1. If it is safe to do so, move the casualty to fresh air.
  2. If unconscious check the breathing and pulse and be prepared to resuscitate if trained to do so.
  3. Even if conscious, give oxygen if it is available and you have been trained in its use.
  4. Monitor breathing, pulse and level of response until the ambulance or Fire Service arrive.


Is there a fire behind this door?


If you think there may be a fire behind a closed door do the following checks before attempting to open the door.


Have an extinguisher or other fire fighting equipment available.


Test the door for heat by running the back of your hand against the door from top to bottom. If it is cool to touch, check the door handle in the same way as heat will conduct readily through some door handles.


If the door handle is hot  DO  NOT  OPEN  THE  DOOR. There is a fire on the other side of the door. If this door leads to your exit route find an alternative route and close doors behind you.


If it is cool open the door slowly holding the handle tightly. If there has been a fire on the other side of the door and it has burned out due to a lack of oxygen, the act of opening the door may lead to an inrush of oxygen at a terrific rate. You must shut the door quickly if you sense or hear this happening.


If you do not have an alternative route out, use clothing or any other items to block the bottom of the door to help prevent smoke ingress , open a window and shout loudly for help. If there is a phone in the room, dial 9-999 and inform the Fire Service of your exact location within the building.


Going through smoke


If you are caught in a smoke filled atmosphere, try not to panic. Smoke builds from the ceiling down in layers. The hottest and potentially most toxic area is at ceiling level. There will be fresh air at floor level. Get on your belly and crawl like a snake towards the door. You will probably be able to see at floor level. Find the wall (and follow the skirting board until you feel a gap or recess - this is the door) reach up and open the door and get out closing the door behind you.


And finally


Be aware of the usual and alternative exits from your normal place of work and if you work in many places, you need to identify each route and assembly points. University Fire Action Notices are posted in your workplace. These are Blue in colour and give instructions in the event of a fire. Read it often and if the building(s) do not have notices tell your supervisor or the School/Building safety co-ordinator. Firefighters have lost their lives searching for people who were thought to be in a building while that person has been safely evacuated. Please be sensible and follow the fire routine.


NOW spend 5 minutes assessing your workplace, become familiar with the risks, firefighting equipment, exits and assembly points. Discuss this note with your colleagues and encourage new members of staff to be familiar with local fire procedures.



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Mr Steven McKenzie, Fire Safety Adviser

Environmental Health and Safety Services
Bute Building, Queens Terrace
St Andrews
KY16 9TS
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1334 462782
Fax:+44 (0)1334 462747