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The two requirements for an individual or organization to be considered prepared for fire are:

  • Knowledge of how to respond to a fire outbreak, and
  • Keeping our homes, offices and business premises hazard free.

For us to keep our homes, offices and business premises hazards free, it is very important to know the hazards that causes fires and how to reduce them and minimize their effects.

A hazard is a source or a situation with the potential to cause harm. They are the features of a risk which may facilitate start and spread of the fire peril and can be classified as physical and moral hazards.

Physical hazards

These are tangible aspects of a risk which will affect the safety of the property. The physical hazards can be recognized, assessed and improved on. They usually include:

  •  Inception and propagation hazards,
  • Occupation hazard;
  • Location and exposure hazards,
  • Size of the premises.

Moral Hazards

Moral hazard is the intangible aspect of the risk, and brings into focus the human factors namely carelessness, disobedience and attitude into risk assessment. Moral hazards occur when the property owner behaves in a way that may make the property vulnerable to a fire occurrence.

Moral hazards will impact the occurrence of the physical hazards.

Inception and Propagation Hazards

The factors that cause fires are known as inception hazards, while those that facilitates the spread of the fires are known as propagation hazards.

Inception risks are chances of a fire peril starting. The risk varies from occupation to occupation. Examples of inception hazards may includethe trade itself, the processes used, the presence of flammable vapors and combustible materials.

For example, in a metal working environment where metal is cut, drilled, welded, and spray painted, there is the ever-present use of electricity applied against metals through cutting, grinding and welding all of which may lead to generation of sparks capable of starting a fire.

Spraying generates volatile vapor that can easily catch fire. In addition, there is the possible risk of overheating of machinery which also raises the chances of a fire starting. This scenario is conducive to a fire starting and the inception risk is therefore very high.

Propagation risk is the risk of a fire developing and spreading. Here, the question of what will burn is important. In the metal working example, the only items that will burn are the paints, any oil and any combustible part of the structure. In the above example, the inception risks are high, but propagation risk is low.

Propagation hazards are numerous and may include:

  • Use or occupation to which the premises is being put.
  • Location of the premises
  • The size of the premises
  • The number of employees
  • The number of Machines

Use or Occupation of the premises:

A building is designed per the activity the owner intends to utilize it for. The building structure including construction materials should therefore correspond to the nature of the intended occupation. It is essential therefore that a building is designed and constructed in a manner relating to the type of risks it may face.

Uses of premises may include, households, warehouse, hospitals, offices; factories, hotels amongst others. Different uses to the premises offer varying degrees of hazards. For example, in a warehouse, the inception risk may be small, with little use of electricity apart from lighting. However, the fire that accidentally starts may spread rapidly due to the availability of combustible materials such as packaging materials including cardboard, plastics, timber and paper. The narrow passage between the high stacks create a flue effect, drawing heat upwards to spread the fire vertically. Small number of personnel present at any one time also mean that the fire may go undetected for some time.

On the other hand, a householder may bring into the house items which can present fire and explosion hazards such as gas lighters, gas cylinders, refrigerators, cooking appliances, and petrol.A dwelling house is however considered a relatively non-hazardous fire risk because the householder has apersonal interest ensuring that his property is not misused, damaged or destroyed.

Location of the Premises

The location of a property has a material effect upon both inception and propagation of a fire. Location can be looked at from the facets of:

  • Location in a congested area,
  • Location in a remote area,
  • Location in the Country side i.e. country side properties.

Location in a congested area implies that the buildings are near each other and fire starting from one property can easily spread to the adjoining properties. The   firefighting ability on the other hand will be impaired as access to the seat of fire will be limited and the fire fighters may only be able to attack the fire from one side.

Location in a remote area implies that the property is isolated and may not be inaccessible. Such property is subject to the following negative factors in the event of a fire:

  • The possibility of fire burning undetected for a considerable amount of time;
  • Distance from water, and
  • Distance from the nearest fire brigade.

Location in the country side is a hazard because most country sides have the following characteristics:

  • There is no water supply available;
  • The speed with which fire fighters can attend is almost nil.
  • There is the ever-present possibility of grass or bush fires particularly in times of drought.
  • The possible causes of fire are numerous and may include:

Lighted cigarette ends or matches thrown carelessly or maliciously on dry vegetation.

Sun’s rays focused through a broken bottle /glass will cause of fire.

 The Size of the Premises:

Size of the premises has a bearing on both inception and propagation risks. The size of the premises may be looked at from two facets as follows:

  • The actual physical size:  Control and extinguishment of fire is limited by the size of a building even by the most efficient fire fighters, having available the best apparatus and water supplies.
  • The unit value of property in the buildings: Unit value of property in the building is a factor under the size of the premises risk. Two buildings may be of equal size, but the contents in one may be of greater value than the other.

The number of employees

The number of employees may indicate the amount of work done, the quantity of materials passing through the factory, and consequently the quantity of plant and machinery, materials, work in progress, and stock present at any one time. For example, ten woodworkers are more hazardous than a single woodworker because they handle more wood, create more litter, and produce more goods. The numbers proportionately increase the human risks and moral hazards. These human risks include carelessness, disobedience, neglect or other forms of human failure , which increases proportionately with the number of people employed.

Number of machines

The number of machines is a fair measure of fire hazard. This is because the machines:

  • Create readily combustible waste
  • Give rise to conditions favoring a fire.
  • Can cause fires through misfiring

An example is wood working machinery where the accumulation of fire risks is in direct proportion to the number of machines.

Moral Hazards

Moral hazard is intangible, and brings into focus the human factors namely carelessness, disobedience and attitude into risk assessment. Moral hazards occur when the property owner, his household or his employees behave in a way that may make the property vulnerable to a fire occurrence.

Two types of behavior patterns can be noted.

  • Before the event moral hazard;
  • After the event, moral hazard.

Before the event moral hazard is a situation where the property owner behaves in a risky manner, which may lead to the occurrences of a fire incidents.  For example, one may tend to be less careful about preventing fires and say  smoke in bed, throwing lighted cigarette butts carelessly or neglecting to replace batteries in fire alarms, and neglecting to keep the firefighting appliances in good working order.

After the event (ex-post) moral hazard is portrayed where the property owner is careless during a fire occurrence and deliberately refuses to take measures to stop the fire. For example, not alerting the fire brigade immediately the fire is noticed.   

Poor Moral Hazard

Insurers have categorified the worst case of poor moral hazard as the property owner who deliberately causes the damage to the insured assets for example by setting his business premises on fire in times of recession or bad trade to reap the benefits of insurance or he may act in collusion with another to stage a theft of his own property with a similar aim.

Moral Hazard at the Work Premises

Moral hazards can be considered under the following headings in the workplace:

  • Housekeeping
  • Waste disposal
  • Management,
  • Labor relations,
  • Smoking discipline and
  • Night work.


This refers to standards of cleanliness and order maintained in the premises. The standard of cleanliness can be classified as:

  • Good housekeeping and
  • Bad house keeping

Good housekeeping is one of the most important ingredients in fire prevention and implies cleanliness of the premises and orderliness in operations. It cost little or nothing to effect, but is very easily overlooked and frequently neglected.

Bad House Keeping can lead to the inception and propagation of fire.

Some of the major forms of bad housekeeping are:

  • Failure to maintain a high standard of order and cleanliness both inside and outside the premises. This is particularly important where processes involving dust or fluff are carried on.
  • Untidiness, failure to maintain clear gangways between machinery or stacks in warehouses, and failure to clear waste regularly.
  • Laxity to enforce rules and regulations concerning smoking, routine inspection and maintenance of fire extinguishing appliances, closing of fire break doors outside working hours, replacement of burnt out fuses etc.
  • Disregard of situations where litter or trade waste can accumulate and into which cigarette ends, matches or other sources of ignition can be dropped,
  • Congestion because of the premises being unsuited to the purpose for which they are being used, insufficient floor space, or faulty arrangement in layout of stocks, plant, machinery, fixtures and fittings.
  • Failure to provide the appropriate safeguards in the storage, and use of hazardous materials;
  • The installation of unsuitable types of heating and lighting arrangements;
  • Failure to safeguard all supplies of power, lighting, and heating when premises are left unattended;
  • The presence of defective windows, pavement lights and trap doors;
  • Fire extinguishing appliances:
  • Not provided for;
  • Insufficient in number;
  • Not properly distributed;
  • Not properly maintained;
  • Unsuitable for the type of occupation and risk.
  • Buildings, boundary walls, fences, and gates being allowed to fall into poor state of repair, which may render the premises more vulnerable to fire from external causes.

Waste Disposal

One of the signs of a well-managed factory is satisfactory and regular or routine clearance and disposal of waste. Factory waste are combustible and can easily be set ablaze.

A good manager will readily appreciate the hazards which arise from undesirable accumulations of manufacturing waste.


Good housekeeping in business depends up on good management. Efficient management means effective direction and supervision of the work force without which productivity and profitability will inevitably suffer.

Lack of profitability will deny the company revenue, capital and liquid funds, which means that some activities such as timely lubrication of machines will not be carried out.

Good management is evidenced by:

  • Cleanliness and tidiness of the premises,
  • Arrangement of machinery and processes so that work proceeds smoothly,
  • Efficient, regular maintenance and adjustment of the machinery,
  • Strict adherence to all statutory rules, regulations and expressed requirements,
  • The steady activity of the employees.
  • Discipline and control of employees;
  • Good labor relations
  • Good lubrication methods
  • Satisfactory clearance and disposal of waste and salvage.
  • Good factory set up (layout)

Factory Layout

The layout of a factory’s production processes is a good indicator as to the quality of management. A good factory lay out is a clear indicator of good management and vice versa. A good layout ensures that:

  • Raw materials enter one end of the factory, travels straight through the factory during its conversion by machining or trade process into the finished product, and emerges at the other end ready for packing and conveniently placed for dispatch and conveyance.
  • Work flows smoothly, and the cost of carrying work in progress back and fourth is minimized.
  • Employees do not have to make unnecessary journeys about the factory.
  • Convenient position of stores
  • Good factory systems for recording jobs, obtaining materials from stores, checking and temporary storage of partly finished goods.

Bad Management with inadequate supervision is shown by features such as:

  • Lack of cleanliness and untidiness;
  • Bad arrangement of machinery, and processes so that everyone seems to be in the way of someone else;
  • Spasmodic maintenance of machinery;
  • Carelessness on the part of the management and or employees;
  • Preponderance of cheap labor which is usually inefficient.

 Labor Relations

  • The type of Labour force and
  • Working Conditions

Moral hazards may also arise from the actions of employees and third parties.  Discontented or disinterested employees carelessly or even criminally cause fire damage to the property of their employer. A good relationship between the employer and the employee is therefore essential for the efficient operations of a business.

When the staff is controlled by good management with the proper enforcement of rules, it is certain that routine duties such as the regular filling of fire buckets, and the closing of fire proof doors will be observed; packing materials will be kept in their proper bins, not left  strewn about the floor; supplies of flammable materials will be kept in their proper store places and not left lying where they were last used.

Type of labor: The type of labor is an important issue to be considered. The employment of skilled, permanent labor implies a reliable staff whereas casual laborers may be less reliable and disinclined to observe rules, regulations and precautions.

Well-disciplined staff means that care is taken to prevent losses.

Working Conditions: Good working conditions together with a carefully selected and contented labor force are major factors in controlling property damage. The comfort and welfare of employees is an essential feature of good management, which leads to a well-disciplined staff.

Staff comfort which includes adequate lighting, heating, ventilation, and reasonable break periods leads to discipline, which eventually results in good work and careful operation by the employees.

Uncomfortable and dissatisfied staff do not care much about anything in the place where they work. This may lead to neglect of precautions, carelessness or even deliberate acts of arson.

Smoking Discipline

Smoking is directly or indirectly responsible for causing innumerable fires. Some authorities maintain that it is the major single cause of fires.  The habit is deeply ingrained in many people. Fire by smokers is caused when lighted matches or cigarette ends or smoldering tobacco pipes are carelessly thrown about.

Prohibiting smoking is one of the surest ways of reducing fire incidences. It is however impractical to prohibit the practice of smoking in all parts of the factory or business premises. Such a prohibition may also be counterproductive as it may lead to greater hazards from illicit smoking. Smoking must however be strictly prohibited in workrooms or factories where combustible waste is produced or where flammable vapors are present.

To contain the danger, posed by illicit smoking, it is desirable that smoking should only be permitted at certain specified times, and in suitable places, such as mess rooms, canteens, or at clearly defined smoking areas. An adequate number of suitable deep receptacles for spent matches and cigarette ends should be provided.

When ashtrays and receptacles are provided, arrangements should be made for their contents to be safely disposed of by end of day.

Night work

Nightwork means working at any time between 9 p.m. and 5a.m. Night work can lead to increase in fire risk because the normal hazards of production namely lighting, heating, use of grinding machinery are increased. This is because the machines in use day and night have no time to cool off and the hazards of friction and overheated bearings are increased. In addition, repairs are postponed or hurriedly done when day and night shifts are worked.

Secondly, the alertness and discipline of workers are severely prejudiced when they are working at times when nature dictates that they should be asleep

Electrical Installations

The electrical installations in a building often provides a valuable indication of the care taken by the management, carelessness being shown by unsatisfactory features such as joins in lengths of flexible wire to lamp holders and loose cables hanging over nails.

Kenneth Oballa

Training Manager.

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