'Deck The Halls Without The Folly': Bureau Veritas advises retailers to be extra vigilant of increased risk of fire risk this Christmas

Dec. 9 2019

With the annual seasonal shopping rush in full swing, leading compliance authority Bureau Veritas is reminding retailers of the increased fire risks brought about during the festivities and the importance of increased health & safety measures.

With some of the big shopping days during the festive season representing sales of as much as £1.4bn, as well as seeing High Street footfall surge as much as 45% on the daily average, it is, perhaps, no surprise that Christmas inherently presents increased safety risks in terms of managing overcrowding levels and the associated implications. However, Bureau Veritas is keen to remind retailers that there is a plethora of other fire risks to factor in.

A key concern, for example, lies in the use of festive decorations, with some staples items –  such as garlands, tinsel and trees –  often made from combustible materials in readily ignitable forms, whilst festive lights and other seasonal electrical equipment, if overloaded, damaged or poorly managed, can also present a risk of fire. The same can be said of poorly positioned Christmas trees, which could pose a fire hazard if located next to some types of heating equipment, along with the increased use of candles throughout the season.

Adding to the equation is the dangers presented by additional stock levels and associated packaging, providing increased fuel should a fire arise, in addition to the potential for poorly stored stock to obstruct fire doors, routes to exits, fire-fighting equipment or signage.

Bureau Veritas also asserts that the potential lack of fire risk awareness amongst new employees, or casual/seasonal workers brought in over the seasonal period, adds to the issue – with many unfamiliar with a premises’ fire risk assessment, emergency plan and fire safety procedures.

Alastair Pert, Senior Consultant for Fire Science at Bureau Veritas comments: “Christmas is, of course, an incredibly exciting time of year, especially for the retail sector where it often constitutes a major chunk of annual sales. However, while it can be all too easy to get swept up in the fun and grandeur of the season, it is absolutely imperative that retailers do not overlook their health & safety strategy and the importance of adapting it accordingly.

“Aside from the obvious pressures of a huge surge in footfall and ensuring extra seasonal staff are adequately trained, further concerns are presented by the fire risks arising from a wide range of decorations used throughout the season and the sharp spike in stock levels – all of which should be carefully and pre-emptively managed.

“Retailers, after all, have a duty to protect their colleagues, volunteers, contractors and members of the public from harm when visiting their premises, by eliminating or controlling risks to a minimum. Thus, the recommendation is that they take the time to review their full health and safety strategy, with particular attention to their fire risk assessment and emergency evacuation plan well in advance of Christmas so that, should the worst happen, they are prepared. As always, if in doubt, we’d recommend they call on an expert consultancy, such as the team at Bureau Veritas, who would be able to provide an expert assessment and relevant recommendations to ensure absolute best class in health and safety policy.”

To help retailers optimise their H&S strategy ahead of the impending festive frenzy, Bureau Veritas offers the following best practice guidelines:

  • Review the premises’ fire risk assessment and emergency plan well in advance, and ensure all staff (especially new/casual/seasonal employees) are fully briefed.
  • Make sure that all fire protection and fire-fighting equipment have received their periodic service and maintenance checks.
  • Apply increased vigilance to ensure proper storage/placement of stock, refuse and decorations away from ignition sources, and ensure that they are not obstructing escape routes, signage or emergency equipment.
  • If you’re putting up lighting decorations or other electrical equipment, ensure it carries the British Standard (BS) mark. Also make sure it has undergone annual Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) and is inspected for damage by a competent person prior to use, followed by periodic checks.
  • Ensure any trailing electrical leads are either kept away from pedestrian traffic routes or otherwise protected. Don’t overload sockets and keep decorations away from lights and heaters.
  • Be mindful when siting additional floor heaters that they are stable and not too close to combustible materials.
  • If possible, avoid leaving lights and other electrical equipment – particularly heaters – switched ‘On’ when the premises is unoccupied.
  • Avoid placing Christmas trees – both live and artificial – close to sources of ignition, and ensure live trees are kept properly watered.
  • If using real candles, ensure that they are placed on a stable surface away from combustible materials and are never left unattended while lit, or in locations where they might be knocked over or accessed by children or animals.