There are various reasons why manufacturing and industrial processes can increase the risk of a fire or explosion. The materials used and the processes themselves can pose an increased fire or explosion risk, as can equipment failure and human intervention. Employees involved in processes with the potential to cause a fire or explosion must be aware of the risk from dusts, liquids, gases, metals, vapours, waste materials and by-products of the process which may be easily ignited.

With the right level of planning and precautionary action, many process related fires or explosions can be prevented.

Key actions involving process hazards

  • Make sure that you understand the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR), including completion of a DSEAR risk assessment and making sure all parties involved know their responsibilities and duties.
    • Every employer has a duty to ensure risk from a dangerous substance is where practicable, eliminated, and if not, reduced and controlled.
  • Develop an understanding of all materials involved in your processes (including waste) and their potential to affect fire and explosion hazards.
  • Ensure you understand the risk posed by energetic events, like runaway exothermic reactions or decomposition of unstable substances.
    • It isn’t just the properties of the material at normal temperature and pressure you need to assess – it’s also what you’re doing to it as part of your processes. For example, a normally low to moderate hazard substance (such as flammable oil in a quench tank) may present a significant fire or explosion risk when the temperature is raised.
  • Don’t let waste build up, especially combustible dust like the overspray in powder coating areas or metal/wood dusts on and around machinery. Even the thinnest layer of combustible dust on a surface can significantly increase explosion risks. This can then lead to the risk of secondary explosions. 
  • Contain vapours given off by flammable liquids to prevent them spreading and being ignited. This must be considered while developing measures to minimise and control the risk – in accordance with DSEAR.
  • Check precise risks associated with gases being stored and used, as they’ll vary based on their physical and chemical properties – and how they’re stored and used.
  • Protect cylinders storing gas under pressure to prevent damage. A damaged cylinder can lead to an uncontrolled release of the gas, creating a flammable or explosive atmosphere.
  • Consider what might happen if an automated machine develops a fault, or if a part of the control/monitoring system fails – make sure protection systems and procedures are in place to detect and extinguish a fire that might start as a consequence.
    • Active fire and explosion protection/control systems, like automatic sprinklers or foam or gas suppression, are examples of what’s available.
  • Put back-up safety systems in place to control the fire and explosion risks presented by the processes at your business, in case the primary safety devices and procedures you have in place fail.

Templates the may help manage process-related fire and explosion hazards

Fire risk assessment

Assessment form

Fire risk checklist

Guards and safety devices

Inspection form

Additional resources

Frequently asked questions

Find answers to some common queries about preventing and controlling fires and related issues.