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A fire can be devastating for any retail business, leaving many unable to pick up the pieces. A typical shop contains many fire hazards and risks, and it’s imperative to be aware of the potential perils.

According to Home Office figures, the Fire and Rescue Service has attended over 26,000 fires in industrial and commercial buildings in England alone during the past three years, with on average one in 140 commercial premises likely to experience a serious fire each year. The consequences can be enormous, from lost stock and property damage to job losses and even loss of life.

As the owner of a retail business, it is your responsibility to minimise the risk of fire breaking out in your business. Having fire safety procedures in place and conducting a fire risk assessment is a legal duty to safeguard your customers and your staff. Worryingly, according to Elite Business Magazine, four out of every five businesses that suffer a major incident such as a fire collapse within 18 months.

Conducting a risk assessment

A risk assessment will enable you to understand the possible fire risks and consequently improve your fire safety precautions and procedures. Government guidance identifies 5 steps involved in a fire assessment. You may find it easier to carry this out if you divide your retail environment into specific areas such as the shop floor, storeroom, office and staff areas.

  1. Identify potential fire hazards – check for ignition, fuel and oxygen sources
  2. Identify the people at risk – staff, customers and visitors, particularly recognising more vulnerable people
  3. Evaluate, remove and reduce the risks – put safety measures in place including fire alarms, extinguishers and signage
  4. Record, plan, inform, instruct and train – record your findings, prepare an emergency evacuation plan, instruct and train staff on fire safety plans and procedures
  5. Review – your fire risk assessment must be reviewed regularly and as a minimum every year

Implement a practical fire safety management system to minimise damage and injury

Carrying out a risk assessment will enable you to implement a practical fire safety management system. This will help to stop fires occurring and minimise the risk of damage or injury in the event that a fire breaks out. If you have never conducted a risk assessment before or unsure where to start, then why not download our in-depth risk assessment guide. Just click here to download the risk assessment you require for your type of business.

Fire safety procedures

  • Have designated fire exits and escape routes
  • Keep fire exits clear at all times
  • Install fire alarms and test them regularly
  • Provide fire safety training for all staff, ensuring they are aware of evacuation procedures and the location of fire-fighting equipment
  • Install fire extinguishers and check them monthly – make sure they are within easy reach
  • Inspect and maintain sprinkler systems

The most common fire hazards in a retail store are electrical wiring and outlets, lighting, gas lines, and potentially flammable products including chemicals, paper and boxes. Other risks include lightning, vandalism and arson.

Fire risks in a retail store

Retail and food businesses face particular fire risks, so it is recommended to take specific steps to minimise these:

  • Ensure electrical equipment and appliances are checked regularly and tested annually
  • Have a designated outdoor smoking area or preferably adopt a No Smoking policy to avoid fire due to discarded smoking materials
  • Ensure any food that is being cooked in staff break rooms is not left unattended and keep cooking equipment clean so that grease does not build-up
  • Check storerooms regularly and keep them tidy as they may contain flammable goods
  • Don’t allow bins to overflow with paper and other flammable objects, bins should be kept at least 3 metres away from your business premise
  • Clean around appliances to ensure no dust build-ups occur

Fire prevention should be considered important enough to adopt a daily fire safety checklist in your retail store. Make inspections, repair any faults promptly and keep areas as clean and tidy as possible. Also, make sure that you have the right cover in place if you suffer fire damage for any reason.

Buildings cover

You will need the right amount of cover in the unfortunate event that a fire breaks out. This will include building insurance or similar protection to cover the financial costs of repairing or rebuilding the physical structure in the event of damage. Buildings cover is usually compulsory if you are buying commercial premises and you have a mortgage. If you are the landlord of premises used as a retail shop or other commercial business, it is your responsibility to ensure that you are covered and not your tenants’. This form of cover is for all owners and landlords of commercial buildings including offices, retail shops, restaurants, hairdressers, barbershops, beauty salons and fish and chip shops, and will cover you against fire.

Business interruption cover

This will help compensate you for any financial losses that you may incur if you cannot operate your business for a period of time due to damage caused by fire. It will cover the gross profit that your business would have generated had the fire not happened. It is necessary for businesses that are reliant on physical locations and assets as well as specific equipment and machinery. This includes retail stores, restaurants, coffee shops, hair salons, barbershops, beauty salons, fish and chip shops, and dry cleaners.

Stock and contents cover

This covers all items that are important to you and your business. It is designed to protect the equipment and possessions in your work premises and covers items in the event that they are damaged by fire. It is not mandatory to have stock and contents cover. However, all retail businesses including coffee shops, restaurants, bars, fish and chip shops, hairdressers, barbershops or beauty salons should have protection to safeguard their businesses from fire, flood, theft and vandalism.

Download our Risk Assessment for Shops

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