Arson is a significant threat to businesses. Since the 1950s, arson attacks have become increasingly common and the latest figures show that over 40 per cent of all fires in industry and commerce are started intentionally.
The cost is not just financial - every year, around 90 people lose their lives in arson attacks and more than 2,000 people are injured. This highlights how arson is not just a threat to property and business continuity but, far more importantly to life.
It must also be remembered that many of the organisations who fall victim to fires, whether initiated maliciously or otherwise fail to reopen for business.
Although arson is a very real threat for businesses, there are steps that can be taken to help reduce this risk.
It is essential to carry out an arson risk assessment and develop an effective arson prevention strategy in order to protect life, property and the continued smooth-running of business operations.
A first step will be the appointment of a competent designated senior person to oversee the risk assessment and establish a risk management programme which thoroughly addresses the risks.
Programmes should be based on the findings of the arson risk assessment for the premises which will be part of the fire risk assessment undertaken in accordance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 or equivalent legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Considerations include the type of occupancy, the susceptibility of the building, the security measures adopted both internally and externally, whether malicious attacks have occurred in the area lately and the crime profile of the area.
No business or organisation can assume that it is safe from deliberate fire-starting, and such a lax attitude will in itself increase the risk of such an event occurring. However there are examples of organisations that are at a higher risk of being targeted.
According to the Fire Prevention Association (FPA), the high-risk organisations include businesses in financial difficulty, schools, unoccupied buildings, premises where animal experiments are undertaken, embassies, newspaper premises, intensive animal breeding and rearing units, furriers, fur farms, livestock markets, companies involved in the transport of animals for slaughter and similar premises where sensitive or emotive work is carried out.
Fires that are lit intentionally are often far more damaging than others for reasons which include targeting vulnerable areas, starting multiple ignition points and using accelerants.
Consideration therefore needs to be given as to how vulnerable the premises are internally and externally both night and day. Buildings which are dimly lit, poorly protected and can be accessed easily without being seen are relatively straightforward targets for arsonists.
So apart from good physical security to buildings supported by intruder alarms installed by appropriately accredited companies with secure remote signalling to an alarm receiving centre measures which help reduce the arson risk include the installation and maintenance of perimeter fences, the use of CCTV cameras and security lights.
In some areas, or if a building is unoccupied, permanent manned guarding using a National Security Inspectorate or Security Industry Approved company may have to be a considered option.
Also important is the need to remove sources of ignition away from both buildings and public rights of way. This not only includes combustible waste but also other combustible storage such as stock and pallets.
Even though many deliberate fires are started at night attacks can still occur during daylight hours when the premises are occupied. Arson attacks in occupied buildings are often launched in storerooms and warehouses, away from witnesses and in a place where the fire will be given time to take hold before being discovered.
Once started, a fire can spread extremely quickly, especially if combustible materials are nearby. Security of the premises is therefore important during the day requiring vigilance at all times with measures in place to stop strangers or even customers and visitors entering unnecessary parts of the premises. Staff should to be encouraged to challenge strangers.
Although the locality of a premises can be a material feature, businesses always need to be alert to problems in their area – an increase in graffiti, small fires being started elsewhere may all be indicators of an increased risk.
Martin Hartley, property class specialist at Aviva, comments:""The fire statistics show that all businesses need to take the risk of arson seriously, remain vigilant and ensure a competent senior person takes responsibility for minimising the threat by appropriate risk assessment and risk management.
"Apart from the physical measures and management controls which can be implemented staff remain an important element of defence and need to be involved, informed and provided with appropriate training."Our preferred supplier, Chubb Fire Limited, offers a range of fire safety solutions at discounted rates to Aviva insured customers. Call the Risk Helpline on 0845 366 66 66 for further details