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Most common causes of fire in commercial buildings

Updated April 17, 2017

Fires due to equipment failures might make headlines but 85 per cent of the fires that occur in commercial buildings are due to human error or intent, reports Maine Municipal Association Risk Management Services (MMARMS). MMARMS reports that 70-80,000 workplaces experience fire every year, causing disruption of public services and utilities and the loss of valuable property and information.

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Arson is the leading cause of damage, death and workplace injuries that occur in commercial buildings. Arson doesn't just financially affect a business owner or company, it injures or kills workers and fire fighters; it results in job loss for many; and fire can easily spread to other buildings and damage public utilities. The motive for arson might be a way to camouflage other crimes, it can be instigated by an unhappy worker or client, or arson may occur due to mental instability. Economic and political grievances may lie behind an arson attack and arson may be committed in cases of insurance fraud. Simple vandalism is another common cause of arson.

Human error

FM Global hazards manager George Capko points out that fires in warehouses are rare compared to those that occur in commercial buildings where people work. A smouldering cigarette, a forgotten coffee pot or a paper-laden computer are common causes of commercial fires. Fire risk increase the higher the number of people that work in a building: it's the use of equipment rather than the equipment itself that is usually the cause of a commercial fire.

Electrical fires

Electrical appliances or systems can start a commercial fire but often, according to Donan's Engineering Company, people are the origin of the problem. Unqualified individuals often modify electrical circuitry. Electrical standards violations committed by unreliable builders or shoddy work by repairmen can start a fire in a commercial building. Electrical equipment that is misused or overloaded can cause fires and lack of proper maintenance can have disastrous results.

Boilers, furnaces and water heaters

There are strict codes and regulations concerning the installation, use and maintenance of boilers, furnaces and water heaters. Improper installation can trigger a fire in a commercial building as can lack of regular maintenance. Boiler rooms and the like are often used as storage areas, increasing the risk of fire. Combustible materials should never be stored in such areas.

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About the Author

Sumei FitzGerald has been writing professionally since 2008 on health, nutrition, medicine and science topics. She has published work on doctors' websites such as Colon Cancer Resource, psychology sites such as Webpsykologen and environmental websites such as Supergreenme. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University of Connecticut where she also studied life sciences.

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