Common Causes of Workplace Fire

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Think for a moment, if you will, about that big clock on Countdown. In the 30 seconds that it takes for that clock to time each round, a potentially disastrous fire could also start in your workplace. Two minutes after that, the fire could have spread enough to do serious damage, resulting in an average cost of over £20,000. In just five minutes, someone could fall victim to a fatal level of smoke inhalation. Preventing these rapid fires, then, is vital; to do so, you must understand the common causes of workplace fire. Here’s the top 5.

Human error

Whilst all mistakes may be created equal, some are deadlier than others.

If you work in a workshop or somewhere with very obviously flammable materials, you likely have many day-to-day microroutines in place to prevent catastrophe. In terms of probability, such measures reduce risk to a minimal level.

However, human error is often more prevalent in workplaces which superficially seem innocuous, with regards to fire. Untested kitchen appliances, overloaded plug sockets and deactivated smoke alarms are just a few of the possible harbingers of fire in your workplace, all caused by human error.

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Faulty electrics

In the modern workplace, there is often a plethora of potential sources of electrical fire. Badly wired plugs and broken cables can provide the ignition needed for fire.

Regular PAT testing and some common sense will reduce the danger here. However, note that in some cases, perfectly safe and adequately-tested equipment can still be a danger if neglected.

One equipment problem every firefighter will be familiar with is the danger posed by cheap, imported personal device chargers. A poorly-constructed charger or battery using low-quality components can explode, leak and cause fire.


A startling amount of workplace fires are caused by simply not caring about the risk, not recognising negligent behaviour or not following safe practices. Negligence should always be challenged and rectified, regardless of whether the neglected item is a toaster or a forklift.

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Flammable materials

There are a wide range of regularly-used materials in almost every workplace that can ignite or even explode. There are both obvious and less-obvious examples; petrol and gasoline can cause fires but so too can paper stationery in the office.

Paper and packaging materials are one of the most common causes of workplace fire. Where items such as flammable liquids are present, your workplace should have CoSHH and other safety controls in place. However, there are no formal controls in place to stop sunlight reflecting through a glass of water and igniting paper on a desk, for example, or a smouldering cigarette from igniting a pile of old cardboard. Be vigilant.


Sadly, a large percentage of fires are malicious in nature, either as revenge or vandalism. While there is probably little you can do to stop a determined arsonist, never ignore other signs that the workplace is being visited by unwanted guests.

Broken fences, external graffiti and so on can all indicate that you could be at risk. Similarly, never dismiss threats of attacks by disgruntled employees or even customers.


Recognising and reacting to a potential fire hazard is the basis of an effective policy that will have a real impact on your fire safety. Thinking in terms of general areas like the ones above will help define the potential risks in your specific circumstances.