You don’t need me to tell you that your petrol station is surrounded by some incredibly dangerous substances. The potential for a fire catastrophe is immense.
With all the safety features we benefit from today, and when due care and attention is given, there is no need ever to have a sleepless night about it again.
As the owner of a petrol forecourt, there are many regulations and codes of practice you must adhere to, and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 is one of them. Failure to comply can come with a hefty fine and potential jail time.
The purpose of it, like all of the others, is to keep the premises as safe as possible. Primarily, they’ll help to prevent your staff and customers from coming to any harm. However, they’re also there to better guarantee the future of your business.
Did you know that 70% of businesses which are affected by a major fire either do not reopen or subsequently fail within three years?
This shows how important it is to take action now, rather than waiting until it’s too late. And ensuring your petrol station complies with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 all starts with fire risk assessments on petrol forecourts.
What Does A Fire Risk Assessment Involve?
Completing a fire risk assessment allows you to understand your business fully. When you go through the five steps, then you’ll have done everything that’s required of you:
- Identify all potential combustibles and possible sources of ignition;
- Consider all the relevant people who are at greatest risk from fire;
- Remove or reduce the risks of fire as much as possible and provide precautions;
- Prepare for an emergency with fire safety equipment, by providing correct training, and by having a plan of which everyone is aware;
- Record any findings and regularly review the assessment to keep it up-to-date.
Your risk assessment, including all of your findings and the actions you have taken, should be written up. Although only a requirement if you hire five or more people, it is still recommended for proof that you’re fulfilling your duty as a responsible business owner.
Spotting Fire Hazards
Let’s start with the big ones: petrol and diesel.
The reality is that the only weak link in the whole system is when it comes to dispensing it. All tanks, above or below ground, and pipework are so well sealed that they actually have a minimal risk of fire. Just ensure they remain well maintained and serviced, with any issues resolved as a matter of urgency.
The biggest risk is fuel dripping, leaking, or being poured from the nozzle.
Accidents happen, but it is imperative that when they do, they’re kept well away from anything that could cause the fuel to go up in flames.
That means having strict rules in place regarding smoking and all other forms of open flame and heat, and ensuring that any spillages are dealt with swiftly.
And the same goes for any gas canisters and alcohol that may be for sale on the premises.
To burn, a fire needs oxygen, fuel, and heat. With just one of those elements removed, the chances of a fire starting are almost impossible.
Be careful to not become so blinded by the obvious fire risk that you miss the others. Rubbish bins, electrical equipment, heaters, and cardboard boxes full of stock are more likely causes of fire.
Empty bins regularly, ensure electrical equipment is PAT tested for faults, and keep boxes away from sources of heat.
Identify Those at Risk
The second stage of the fire risk assessment of your forecourt is to consider all of the people who could be adversely affected by a fire. Staff and customers are those most often at risk, but don’t forget delivery drivers, contractors, and engineers.
Even those in adjacent properties would be affected by a fire on your forecourt.
You’ll need to put in place provisions for those who are likely to need help escaping a fire. Children, the elderly, and the disabled are just some of the people whom you may need to help get to safety quickly.
Think about what could happen or what could go wrong and include the most- and least likely events to occur.
Evaluate and Act
With all the findings you’ve made, you now need to take the relevant action in limiting the risks and providing the appropriate precautions.
On the forecourt, you’re going to need 9kg powder extinguishers, and probably a few of them. Suitable for Class A, B and C fires, they’ll tackle practically all the fires you’re likely to counter, including petrol, diesel, car fires, LPG, electrics, and rubbish.
Which extinguishers you have inside the shop can vary. CO2 extinguishers are the best to use on electrical fires, and water extinguishers are suitable for normal fires involving paper, cardboard, cloth and rubbish. Make sure all extinguishers are partnered with the correct sign as they help people who are not as familiar with their use.
To counter any spillages, you need something you can use to cover the area and soak up the fuel safely with fire-retardant properties. Sand is traditionally used, but other absorbent compounds are far more superior, such as Flamezorb. Put inside a fire bucket, everyone will quickly be able to recognise, grab, and use it.
Of course, you also need a method for detecting smoke and to raise the alarm should an emergency ever occur. And you’ll also need some form of emergency lighting to help people find their way if the lights go out.
Record, Plan, and Train
It always helps to have a plan of action, especially for an emergency, to ensure everything is in place. This would include where the assembly point is, who calls the fire service, and who the trained fire wardens are.
In a normal business, you would ordinarily only appoint a few members of staff you particularly trust to become fire wardens and receive training. However, with a petrol station business, you’ll want to at least consider giving the majority, if not all, of your staff this extra training.
It helps them gain a better understanding of fire prevention and extinguishing, and will help them to keep a cool head in an emergency. At the very least, there always needs to be at least one trained fire warden present when the forecourt is open.
With everything in place, it is then a good idea to test all of the procedures by holding a fire drill. For best results, do it during a time you also have customers so you can properly put everything that you’ve put in place through its paces. That way, you can check these new measures work.
Hopefully, it’ll all go to plan and you’re good to go. Of course, it may also raise a few issues which you might otherwise not have realised, and it’s best to find them out now rather than when it’s too late.
Whilst evaluating your findings, you should also consider that people don’t always do as they should. People parking their cars badly may obstruct an emergency escape route, so have a second prepared. And consider all the activities which take place, frequently or otherwise. Although the probability of a particular occurrence may be small, you will need to consider the potential consequences.
A fire risk assessment is not a one-time activity, and must be reviewed regularly, and when required.
Any change to the site or operating procedures could affect the level of risk. Even though small changes may not have an impact, a number of changes together can have a cumulative and significant effect. So don’t forget about it.
Therefore, it is good practice to review fire risk assessments at least once a year. Many fire services also recommend this.
No two sites are going to be the same, so it’s impossible to provide a straightforward list of what you need to do. If the risks are already low enough, you may not need to introduce further measures. Should you conclude that more can be done, then you must explore options for controlling and minimising the risks as much as practically possible.
The owner of a forecourt is the responsible person and will be held ultimately responsible for carrying out fire risk assessments and complying with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot seek further advice when you need it.
In fact, for peace of mind, you may choose to hire a professional risk assessor to carry out the assessment on your behalf. That way, you can be confident that all hazards have been brought to your attention, so you remain fire-safe.
We’ve put together a Petrol Forecourt Fire Safety Bundle to give you a good starting point from which you can best prepare your business.