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Fire claims continue to rise

9th September 2009 Print
Statistics from the Association of British Insurers show that fire claims rose again by a further 20% between the first half of 2007 and the first half of this year, with arson contributing prominently to the cost.

Allister Smith, property risk manager for Aviva, said: "Fire claims are at their highest and we are seeing an increasing number of arson claims crossing our desks. Over 40% of all fires in industry and commerce are now started deliberately.

"Because of the magnitude of the problem it is often an area that is overlooked and businesses really do have to take the threat of arson fires seriously and appreciate the opportunistic nature of most attacks. However, many risk management measures can be introduced to deter fire setting, and often at little or no cost to a business.

"A fire will, at best, be disruptive to a business and, at worst, lead to death of and injury to employees, severe property and business interruption damage, and potentially the business closing down which can have further detrimental effects on employment and local communities.

"Fire needs combustible materials in order to grow and one of the common causes of arson is through waste storage outside property on wheelie bins or pallets. We have seen devastating fire damage due to unsecured bins being pushed against buildings and the contents ignited, causing fire to spread.

"Preventing or reacting to small incidents can avoid a major loss happening," he said.

In addition, fire damage to unoccupied and unfinished properties is a major concern for insurers. Each year there are around 9,000 fires in empty buildings. If a vacant property is not regularly inspected, re-secured and repaired as required, an escalation in the frequency and size of incidents can be expected. This can also result in total destruction of the building.

"The problems can typically affect empty buildings and can vary according to their general type and size. For example, weakening of a building structure may occur because of vandalism, damage caused when stripping out fittings, or the starting of small fires, which present problems to fire fighters."

"However, there are standard measures that can be put in place to reduce the risk of arson. Property owners should undertake risk management by implementing a number of cost effective measures.

"The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005 (RRO) emphasises that the owner or employer in every workplace has a legal responsibility for implementing and complying with the Order. Businesses should have a strategy in place for managing fire safety, which includes identifying the risk of arson and acting to reduce it.

"Strict checks should be put in place before the premises are closed at the end of the working day. Doors and windows should be secure, alarm systems on, and combustible materials and flammable liquids safely stored away. Waste should be secure and out of reach.

"Where a property is vacant or left unfinished, a regular inspection of the building, internally and externally, should be carried out at least every seven days. A weekly log of inspections should be kept, giving details of repairs that are needed along with arrangements made for these to be done and any defects that could potentially deteriorate further.

"Perimeters around the property should be intact with good quality, well-maintained fencing, walls and gates and ensure entrances and windows are fully sealed and boarded up.

"In addition, businesses should isolate electricity supplies, whilst ensuring there is enough power for intruder and fire alarms. It is also important to maintain the efficiency of, or upgrade, the sprinkler systems since 99% of fires are controlled in buildings protected by sprinklers."