For a fire to start, three things are needed:

• a source of ignition;
• fuel; and
• oxygen.

If any one of these is missing, a fire cannot start. Taking measures to avoid the three coming together will therefore reduce the chances of a fire occurring.

Now we will look in to how we can identify potential ignition sources, the materials that might fuel a fire and the oxygen supplies that will help it burn.

Identify sources of ignition

You can identify the potential ignition sources in your premises by looking for possible sources of heat, which could get hot enough to ignite material found in your premises. These sources could include:

• smokers’ material, e.g. cigarettes, matches and lighters;
• naked flames, e.g. candles or gas or liquid-fuelled open-flame equipment;
• electrical, gas or oil-fired heaters
• hot processes, e.g. welding by contractors or shrink wrapping;
cooking equipment;
• faulty or misused electrical equipment;
• lighting equipment, e.g. halogen lamps or display lighting too close to stored
• hot surfaces and obstruction of equipment ventilation, e.g. office equipment; and
• arson.

Indications of ‘near-misses’, such as scorch marks on furniture or fittings, discoloured or charred electrical plugs and sockets, cigarette burns etc., can help you identify hazards which you may not otherwise notice.


Hot surfaces
Electrical equipment
Static electricity
Smoking/naked lights

Always present in the air
Additional sources from oxidising substances

Flammable gases
Flammable liquids
Flammable solids
Mechanically generated sparks Electrically generated sparks
Naked flame hot surface

Anything that burns is fuel for a fire. You need to look for the things that will burn
reasonably easily and are in enough quantity to provide fuel for a fire or cause it to
spread to another fuel source. Some of the most common ‘fuels’ found in offices
and shops are:

• flammable-liquid-based products, such as paints, varnishes, thinners and
• flammable liquids and solvents, such as white spirit, cooking oils and disposable cigarette lighters
• flammable chemicals, such as certain cleaning products, photocopier chemicals and dry cleaning that uses hydrocarbon solvents;
• packaging materials, stationery, advertising material and decorations;
• plastics and rubber, such as video tapes, foam-filled furniture and polystyrene-based display materials;
• textiles and soft furnishings, such as hanging curtains and clothing displays;
• waste products, particularly finely divided items such as shredded paper and
wood shavings, off cuts, and dust
• flammable gases such as LPG.

You should also consider the materials used to line walls and ceilings, e.g.
polystyrene or carpet tiles, the fixtures and fittings, and how they might contribute
to the spread of fire.

Identify sources of oxygen

The main source of oxygen for a fireis in the air around us. In an enclosed building this is provided by the ventilation system in use. This generally falls into one of two categories: natural airflow through doors, windows and other openings; or mechanical air conditioning systems and air handling systems. In many buildings there will be a combination of systems, which will be capable of introducing/extracting air to and from the building.

Additional sources of oxygen can sometimes be found in materials used or stored at premises such as:

• some chemicals (oxidising materials), which can provide a fire with additional
oxygen and so help it burn. These chemicals should be identified on their
containerby the manufacturer or supplier who can advise as to their safe use and

A thorough Fire Risk assessment will make sure you comply with the fire regulations.

Author's Bio: 

Nick Bami is an Independent fire safety engineer offering advice and solutions on fire safety and management.

Carrying out fire risk assessment , Fire safety training , Health and safety assessments and training in London and SE.

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