by Drew Underwood, Senior Consultant, HCS Safety Ltd

The recent fire at the Ocado factory raises some interesting issues with regards to protection of people and buildings from fire risk.

Ocado’s facility in Andover is one of the most advanced automated facilities in the country, with a team of over 1000 automated robots controlled by a bespoke 4G network and far fewer human staff than would be found in almost any other warehouse of its size.

It is also protected by a sprinkler system which has won global awards and received the highest insurance protection rating possible.

Despite this, the facility suffered a serious fire which started in the early hours on Tuesday 5th February and was not brought completely under control until the end of the week. Fire crews are expected to remain on site for several weeks and it will be many months, and maybe even years before the building is fully operational again.

The good news? There were no human casualties.

The less people are exposed to risk, the less chance there is of harm. This is one of the advantages of increasing automation in business, but one that many companies just do not have access to. What we cannot forget is that fire brings with it the potential for the ultimate consequence whenever it breaks out.

Fire regulation, as is correct, places the majority of its emphasis on the protection of people. Buildings are viewed largely through the prism of a tool, which when properly designed can help to deliver this aim.

There is no single answer when it comes to controlling fire risk. As with almost all other health and safety laws the emphasis is placed on risk assessment and the identification of practical and proportionate controls.

The fire at Ocado shows that even with the best protections in place, the risk of an out of control fire is always present. Make sure that your business is doing everything it needs to keep its staff and premises safe by ensuring that you have a robust fire risk assessment in place.

If you need any help with your fire risk assessment contact us, we’re always available to help.

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