Fire is a serious risk for the environment. You should always try to reduce the risk of fire and so reduce the environmental damage that fire and firefighting can cause.
What you must do
Carry out a fire risk assessment to identify and reduce potential causes of site fires. Use the assessment to reduce potential sources of ignition, stop the ways fire could spread once started and set up fire controls such as extinguishers and sprinklers.
Use and store flammable or explosive materials safely.
Check that your firefighting foams are authorised and all banned foams have been replaced.
Create an incident response plan which includes measures for protecting the environment if there is a fire. Keep the plan up to date, practise it, display it clearly for all staff and review it regularly.
In the event of fire, prevent firewater from escaping, for example by temporarily blocking drains or using a containment barrier. Firewater is water which has become contaminated after being used for firefighting.
Ensure all staff know how to react if there is a fire.
You may have responsibilities for fire safety in your business premises.
- Scottish Government: Non-domestic fire safety
- Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue: Keeping Businesses fire safe
Comply with ozone depleting substances and fluorinated gases regulations
Ensure that your fire protection systems and fire extinguishing equipment comply with the ozone depleting substances (ODS) and fluorinated gases (F-gas) regulations.
Do not keep or use firefighting or fire protection equipment containing halons. Halons are now banned and must be disposed of at a licensed facility.
If your fire protection or firefighting equipment contain F-gases you must:
- use appropriately trained and qualified people to service, maintain and decommission your equipment
- regularly check for and repair leaks - how often you do this will depend on the CO2 equivalent of the F-gas in your system (in Tonnes CO2 )
- clearly label all equipment with the amount and type of F-gases they contain.
- recover F-gases during servicing and maintenance and at the end of the equipment's life.
If your fire protection system contains the equivalent of 5 tonnes of CO2 or more of F-gases you must:
- keep records about your equipment, including service history
- check for leaks at least once a year.
If your system contains 50 tonnes or more CO2 equivalent you must check for leaks at least every six months.
If your system contains more than 50 tonnes CO2 equivalent you must test for leaks every three months.
HFC23 - 0.3kg is equivalent to 5 tonnes of CO2 , 3.4kg is equivalent to 50 tonnes of CO2
HFC 227- 1.6kg is equivalent to 5 tonnes of CO2 , 15.5 kg is equivalent to 50 tonnes of CO2
F-gas Support has information sheets covering F-gases and fire protection system Standards for UK businesses.
Hold F-gas qualifications
From July 2010, if you work with F-gases in fire protection systems and firefighting equipment you will need to hold a qualification issued by the Fire Industry Association (FIA).
You will need to pass specific modules to carry out certain tasks and work on different types of equipment.
For further details contact F-gas Support.
Use less polluting foams
Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is a chemical used in aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) which is highly polluting if it escapes into the environment. AFFF foams were used to fight fires involving flammable liquids like fuel (Class B fires).
PFOS has been phased out and is no longer available on the market. Alternative products are available.
Due to their potential to harm the environment it is good practice to return foams containing PFOS or PFOS related substances to the manufacturer for disposal by incineration.
When you test extinguishers and carry out firefighting exercises you must not allow used foams to escape. You must contain them for disposal off site. You can also get approval from your sewage operator to discharge foam into the foul sewer.
Comply with Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) regulations
If you store large quantities of dangerous substances you may need a major accident prevention policy under the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) regulations.
For more information on preventing accidents and emergency plans, see our COMAH guidance.
You must not burn tyres, plastics, chemicals, oil or any form of waste on your site unless you are authorised by your local council to do so in a boiler, furnace or incinerator.
If you emit dark smoke you could be prosecuted by your local council in Northern Ireland or SEPA in Scotland.
Firewater is water that has become contaminated by being used for firefighting. It is polluting and may be classified as hazardous/special waste. You must not discharge firewater into the environment. Ensure you have a plan and equipment in place to collect or contain it in the event of an emergency.
Store firewater correctly and ensure that it is treated and disposed of by a permitted or authorised waste management business. You may also be able get permission from your water company or water authority to discharge it into the foul sewer.
- Scotland on tap - water suppliers in Scotland
- NIBusinessinfo: water and sewerage for businesses
- Duty of care - your waste responsibilities
- Hazardous/special waste
Minimise your fire risk
You should store chemicals, fuel, oil or other flammable materials correctly to reduce possible fire risk.
- Oil storage
- Chemical storage
- Store flammable and oxidising substances, chemicals or materials separately.
- Install sprinkler systems and extinguishers throughout your site.
- Enforce no smoking zones.
- Install and maintain smoke alarms.
- Minimise flammable substances on your site.
Invite the Fire and Rescue Service and relevant authorities to your site to discuss potential outcomes of fires, how to prevent them, best practice techniques and how to develop an incident response plan.
Assess firefighting response options as part of the plan. You may consider a controlled burn to minimise water and air pollution.
To prevent firewater from running into surface drains, polluting nearby watercourses (rivers, streams and groundwater), foul drainage systems, and land, you should:
- construct containment lagoons, tanks or systems on impermeable surfaces to hold firewater
- isolate containment systems from surface drains, watercourses, land or sewers.
Pollution prevention guideline (PPG) 18 contains guidance on firewater containment systems.
GPP 18 Managing fire water and major spillages (available 2024)
Bund containment systems. This involves building a secondary barrier around the main containment system, to hold products and firewater if the main containment fails. Ensure the bund is resistant to both heat, and the products you store.
Pollution prevention guideline (PPG) 2 contains guidance on bunding and storage.
Further information on firefighting
- GPP 18 Managing fire water and major spillages (available 2024)
- GPP 21: Pollution incident response planning
- GPP 28 Controlled Burn (available 2024)
- UK Fire and Rescue: Guidance - Environmental Protection Handbook for the Fire and Rescue Service (PDF)
In this guide
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