Fire preparedness is a burning issue

By Adam Bernstein, Monday 09 October 2017

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In ancient Greek and Roman tradition, fire was one of the four elements alongside earth, water and air that were used to explain the nature and complexity of matter. But irrespective of how it’s considered, fire, when it strikes, can devastate a business.


And print has suffered.

In December 2015, a fire broke out in a unit of the Ross Walk factory that housed litho print business Service Press Leicester. The print house and its neighbours were destroyed taking with it a four-colour Ryobi 524 GX press, a Heidelberg GTO, a number of mono presses and various pieces of finishing kit. And in May of this year, Taylor Bloxham suffered significant damage following an electrical fire. The fire itself wasn’t huge, but sprinklers combined with black acrid smoke to create an acidic solution which damaged equipment – a Kolbus PUR binding line and a Muller Martini Amrys stitching line. 

Robert Lockwood, chief executive officer of Taylor Bloxham Group, said that the fire was probably caused by the movement of pumps in a cabinet rubbing against some acoustic insulation: “The fire was eventually extinguished by the sprinklers, but the damage had already been done to the equipment and stock in the vicinity.” Lockwood says that because of the fire, the business lost all PUR binding and saddle-stitching capabilities. Fortunately, his “customers were supportive and there was no impact on business volumes.” However, the company was forced to outsource these services to local trade finishers and swallow the associated costs.

The problem for print is that the very nature of the products involved raises the risk of an incident involving fire. 

Fire safety requirements

While there are several pieces of health and safety legislation involved with fire – the Approved Code of Practice – Fire, the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, the Fire Safety (Employees Capabilities) Regulations 2010, and the Building Regulations 2010 – the main and governing legislation for fire safety is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The Order applies throughout England and Wales and it covers general fire precautions and other safety duties. 

Laura Guntrip, a partner at law partnership Lester Aldridge, says: “The responsibility for complying with the Order rests with the ‘responsible person’, and in a workplace, this is the employer and any other person who may have control of any part of the premises, for example an occupier or an owner.”

As Mandy Robson, head of Health, Safety & Environmental at the BPIF, notes, the Order’s placing of duties on a responsible person is “the correct approach. And with the correct level of focus on general fire precautions… so far as is reasonably practicable, [the Order should ensure] employee safety.” She adds that it’s important to recognise those who are not employees: “The responsible person must take such general fire precautions ‘as may reasonably be required in the circumstances of the case’ to ensure that the premises are safe.”

Fire risk assessment

To do this Guntrip says that the responsible person must carry out a fire risk assessment. But what does it involve? Guntrip says it’s “an organised and methodical look at the premises, the activities carried on there, and how a fire may start”.

It should identify fire hazards; reduce the risk of those hazards causing harm to as low as reasonably practicable; and decide what physical fire precautions and management arrangements are necessary to ensure the safety of people within the premises if a fire does start. “It must,” says Guntrip, “pay attention to those at particular risk and must include consideration of any dangerous substances which are likely to be on the premises which may act as an accelerant.”

Fire safety duties

But there’s more to the obligation – in addition to the completion of a robust fire risk assessment and action plan, businesses also need to comply with other fire safety duties. 

“The first step,” says Guntrip, “is to appoint one or more ‘competent persons’ to assist in undertaking any of the preventative and protective measures required by the Order.” She defines a competent person as someone with enough training and experience or knowledge or other qualities to be able to properly implement these measures.

As part of this process, employees must be provided with comprehensive information on the risks to them identified by the fire risk assessment, details of the measures taken to prevent fires, and how these measures will protect them if a fire breaks out.

But others are protected too according to Guntrip: “Non-employees, such as agency workers or contractors, need to be told of the relevant risks to them. They too should be told about the fire safety procedures for the premises. The same information ought to be given to any agency employing those individuals.”

In terms of employees, they should be given ongoing information, instruction and training, during their normal working hours, about fire precautions in the workplace. And premises and anything connected with firefighting, fire detection and warning or emergency routes and exits must be regularly maintained by a competent person to ensure they are in good working order. 

Should disaster strike

Of course, no matter how much effort a firm makes, chance plays a role in determining when disaster may strike. This is why Robson says it’s important that printers have some form of business continuity plan in place to ensure that they can anticipate issues and manage responses to an incident or a crisis situation.

Malcolm Tarling, chief media relations officer at the Association of British Insurers (ABI) agrees, saying: “Every firm should have a business continuity plan because it can take weeks or months to recover from an event such as a fire, during which time a business will need to continue trading. Few firms can afford to stop while fire damaged premises are being rebuilt.” Business interruption insurance can pay for the costs of, for example, hiring temporary premises and equipment following an incident.

Robson expands on her points: “A business continuity plan puts a defined crisis management structure in place with clearly assigned roles and responsibilities; ensures a company is well prepared to respond to and manage a wide range of potential incidents; permits prompt notification and effective coordination; and puts in place procedures to support business recovery.” Quite simply, a plan should allow a business to resurrect itself quite literally from the ashes of disaster.

Luckily most incidents do not escalate into a crisis, even so Robson says that “every incident certainly has potential.” This is why she says a business continuity plan should cover not only fire, but a wide range of incidents that may occur within the site at any time, such as environmental incidents (explosion, spillage, and fire), security issues (extortion, bomb threat, arson, mail contamination, workplace violence, and sabotage), natural disasters (flood and extreme weather), manmade disasters (biological, chemical, radiation, and avian flu), deaths and/or serious injuries, as well as major disruptions of operations (demonstration, strike, and terrorist activities). It’s a long list but incidents involving these situations do occur.

Dealing with insurers

It’s inevitable that claims will arise. In Lockwood’s case, he said his “insurers were brilliant... we had assessors on our site almost immediately and once the claim was approved, interim payments were made rapidly”. But that’s not always the case. It’s one reason why Tarling offers what is obvious advice: “Make sure you know where your policy details are and who to contact in an emergency if you need to claim. Most firms arrange their property insurance through a broker who will be able to help and advise.” Details of emergency contacts at the insurer should be part of the business continuity plan.

Tarling further suggests making sure that the policy will deliver; to do this it is crucial to comply with any terms and conditions of any policy. He cautions policyholders to follow any requirements around fire prevention equipment such as sprinklers and their up- keep, and that the sum insured reflects the rebuilding cost of premises and the value of stock and equipment.

Insurers, as experts in risk management should be able to advise on fire precautions they would expect to see in place. But some may not be associated with fire prevention equipment. Taylor Bloxham looked into the immediate cause of their fire and subsequently checked the pumps on their other equipment – and Lockwood said that his internal CCTV proved invaluable in highlighting how the company responded and what it could have done better.

And Lockwood has his own tips for dealing with a claim. “Firstly, check your policy and make sure that you are covered for everything you think you need. Also, do not risk under-declaring asset values or any other aspect of your business activity because this will adversely affect the monies you can claim.” 

This echoes Tarling’s view – that risks must be accurately recorded.

He also recommends capturing all additional costs promptly and accurately – “this will give insurers confidence that you are in control.” Lastly, Lockwood recommends seeking professional advice when dealing with loss adjustors as “doing so will speed up the processes and take away any misunderstandings of what is and is not covered.”

To conclude

Clouds often come with a silver lining. While the fire at Taylor Bloxham was an unpleasant experience, the company did purchase new equipment as a result of the insurance settlement. Lockwood says: “Housing the latest technology is always important in the print industry and our new machines offer even faster make-ready times and running speeds than the machines that we had before the fire.” Even so, it’s quite clear that fire is a serious risk to print-houses. As Guntrip says, action needs to be taken to ensure compliance with the law in this area – “failures can be expensive in a number of ways”.


Fire safety risk assessment involves five steps:

1 Identify fire hazards

A Sources of ignition for example:

Smoking materials eg cigarettes/matches or lighters; naked flames; electrical, gas or oil-fueled heaters, cooking equipment; faulty or misused electrical equipment; lighting equipment; hot surfaces and obstruction of equipment ventilation

B Sources of fuel for example:

Stocks of wood; paints and cleaners; plastics; seasonal and religious decorations; flammable cleaning products paper products, books and stationery; waste storage; materials used in the construction of the premises which may contribute to the spread of fire

C Sources of oxygen

2 Identify people at risk

People in and around the premises; people especially at risk (anyone with mobility, hearing, visual or cognitive impairments)

3 Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect from risk

Evaluate the risk of a fire occurring

Evaluate the risk to people from fire

Remove or reduce fire hazards:

Remove or reduce sources of ignition (including a safe smoking policy); remove and reduce sources of fuel; remove and reduce sources of oxygen

Remove or reduce the risks to people through: 

Detection and warnings; firefighting; escape routes; lighting; signs and notices; maintenance

4 Record, plan, inform, instruct and train:

Record significant findings and action taken; prepare an emergency plan; inform and instruct relevant people; provide training 

5 Keep the assessment under review and revise where necessary

Flammable and combustible management 

Travelers Insurance Company points out that printing and cleaning operations include the use of flammable and combustible solvents and inks. Many of the substances also produce vapours, which can be explosive. Situations that can lead to fire are numerous and practically speaking, the advice is to:

Substitute with less flammable liquids where possible, including water and plant/bio-based inks. Also store flammable liquids/chemicals/cleaning agents in appropriate flammable liquid storage safety containers, in flammable liquid cabinets, or in a special storage room separated from the press room by a fire wall. Never store combustible materials near heat sources or chemicals.

Follow manufacturer’s instructions and warnings when handling, dispensing or using the products and provide employee training on proper handling, storage and disposal of flammables/explosives.

Store glues and inks in tightly capped containers and provide adequate ventilation around hot melt glue pots, due to flammability of vapours.

Do not keep more than one day’s supply of cleaning agents or inks outside the storage area (especially in the press room). Also provide access to safety data sheets (SDSs) for the products and follow flammability/explosive guidance. 

Do not operate overheated machinery or equipment. Solvents, washes and inks should not be applied to overheated presses.

There should be static electricity controls on all presses and coaters as well as suitable combustion controls for gas or oil-fired equipment used in building and process heating and fume incinerators. Hydraulic systems should be inspected and cleaned. If possible, use only low-hazard fluids in these systems to reduce the fire hazard potential. Design emergency shutdown provisions for hydraulic systems in the event of a fluid release.

Good housekeeping 

Untidiness - clutter and debris on the floor or grime around equipment and exhaust fans that are not routinely cleaned - can contribute to a fire. Dry products in continuous motion can generate static electricity that can ignite paper or dust. Dust can also be explosive. Risk management measures include:

Storing all roll and sheet paper on wood pallets or platforms off the floor

Storing large rolls of paper, plastic or fabric horizontally in well-spaced, low height piles to reduce fire spread

Removing materials, such as unused boxes and remnant paper, throughout the day

Storing soiled rags in appropriate, fire-resistant containers

Using automatic removal systems on machines producing large quantities of waste

Cleaning all process areas once per shift

Fire detection and suppression devices/systems 

Fire and explosion hazards in the printing industry clearly exist so it is important to install and maintain the correct fire protection systems. Options include automatic fire suppression/sprinkler systems, heat and/or smoke detectors with alarm functions and internal fire teams. Only certified professionals should be considered with these decisions. A responsible person should supervise all matters relating to a fire alarm system. That person should ensure the system is tested and maintained in accordance with applicable standards and that records are kept.

The process should consider the following measures:

Having a qualified professional routinely inspect, test and service your sprinkler system and fire detection equipment/devices

Arranging for your fire detection and alarm devices to be connected to a central station alarm monitoring facility

Providing automatic sprinkler protection or a clean agent gaseous suppression system for the computer/server room

Providing a sufficient number of readily available Class ABC and possibly D fire extinguishers

To protect from flash fires, have a special extinguishing system, such as carbon dioxide, for printing presses, dryers and laminators using flammable inks or liquids

Where to go for advice?

There are many sources to approach for advice, but one of your first ports of call should be the BPIF. It says it has a team of health and safety professionals who hold experience in fire safety within the printing industry and who are keen to help. The BPIF’s website offers more detail with information on local health and safety advisers. Visit

There are other online resources such as which companies can utilise, and a great deal of support tools can be found on the HSE website which features specific advice for the printing industry. See 

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