How to prevent wilful fire-raising in your business

How to prevent wilful fire-raising in your business

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Watch Manager Gary Wood, seconded to SBRC discusses how to prevent wilful fire-raising this Business Safety Week.

Preventing wilful fire-raising 

The 2019 NFCC Business Safety Week covers four main themes this year – the first of which is prevention of wilful fire-raising.

A large percentage of fires within commercial properties are started deliberately with malicious intent. These fires are potentially of an elevated risk in comparison to accidental fires as this activity can often have potential seats of fire in multiple locations within the building and also be started within escape routes or close to final exit doors – fire doors may be deliberately wedged open to aid the spread of fire. They may also be started using flammable liquids or other accelerants. It has even been known for intruders to sabotage fire detection and suppression equipment. 

How do I reduce the risk of this happening to my property?

There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the risk of your property being affected by wilful fire-raising. This article will cover guidance and advice on reducing that risk. 

Key elements

  • Appropriate, suitable and sufficient security measures for your building
  • An effective management strategy for fire safety measures
  • Staff who are appropriately trained and are fire risk averse

These are all key to reducing the risk to your property from wilful fire-raising. In this article we will concentrate on security considerations for your premises. Tomorrow in part  we will discuss fire safety measures to consider.

It is possible to break down the process of mitigating the risk of wilful fire raising befalling your business into three distinct areas: 

  • Security - What you can do to prevent persons with malicious intent accessing your property either directly or via adjacent properties thus denying them the opportunity of setting a fire in the first place.
  • What you can do to prevent access to combustible materials within your property or in close external areas to limit the potential for fire spread. This includes staff awareness.
  • Measures you can implement to reduce subsequent losses and disruption to your business due to an occurrence of wilful fire raising.

Security – Prevent the event occurring

Intruders with the intent of wilful fire raising have one thing in common – they would prefer not to be observed. Wilful fire-raising activities often occur at night under cover of darkness. You can counter this by considering the following:

  • The fitment of security lighting is a highly cost-effective method to reduce the risk of wilful fire raising. PIR detection can be useful as this gives an element of surprise and may scare off intruders.
  • Security lighting is a deterrent as well as affording your own staff safety should they be moving between external areas.
  • Rather than use a solid fence or a wall, consider using Palisade type fencing or similar which secures access but also makes the intruders visible to anyone external.

Consider your surrounding perimeter fencing and any gated access present

  • Gates should be locked secure out of normal business hours.
  • You should consider other aids to access such as smaller buildings and outbuildings or any other structures adjacent to perimeter fencing and gates.
  • Gates should be locked out of hours and any potential climbing aids such as structures adjacent to the fences/gates, foliage growing over the fences/gates or trees with overhanging branches adjacent to the fences/gates should be removed or trimmed back to ensure that intruders cannot take advantage of these to climb over the fences/gates.
  • Ideally any gates fitted should have anti-lift devices or any obvious features which may assist an intruder in climbing over e.g. square openings which access lock mechanisms – consider fitting metal anti-cut plates to cover these openings and prevent them from being used as a foot hold.

Pedestrian and vehicle access

  • Entrances to the site should be where possible reduced to the minimum practicable. This also goes for pedestrian access.
  • Casual access for members of the public should be discouraged if possible.
  • Pathways within the perimeter should be designed to serve the site only.
  • Appropriate restrictions should be in place in relation to vehicular movements on the site for example designated staff and visitor parking areas as well as service areas should be implemented and managed appropriately.
  • Clear signage for visitors should be in place and all visitors should be required to report to a main reception area which acts as a managed gateway from external to internal areas.

Natural aspects

Access on approaches to the site should be managed in such a way that any natural cover such as bushes, foliage and trees is maintained to low height levels thus removing potential cover areas for approaching intruders.

Buildings and Structures

External access points such as doors and windows should be locked and secured out of hours. These doors and windows should ideally be audited on a regular basis to ensure they are fit for purpose.

  • Consider utilising modern doors with multiple locking mechanisms.
  • Consider securing any items which could be used as levers to force entry through doors, windows or skylights. Such items should ideally be held in a secure area.
  • Final exit fire doors can be locked when the building is unoccupied if risk assessment identifies a security issue at that point of entry however fire exit doors must not be locked or fastened in a such a way preventing them being easily and immediately opened by any person who may use them in an emergency during periods of occupancy.
  • Final fire exit doors can under certain circumstances be held on an electronic locking device which is connected to the AFD system, reverts to failsafe position and unlocks in the event of a fire alarm activation.

If you are unsure on this, contact your local Fire Safety Enforcement Officer for advice and guidance.


Intruders may look for ways to scale a building via a convenient flat roof. They may also use items at ground level which can be moved around to utilise as climbing platforms which afford access onto roofs. 

  • An example of this would be large industrial bins – these can used to access roofs so should be positioned in an area away from the building, this also reduces the risk of fire spread via any combustibles which may be located within the bins themselves.
  • If you cannot remove or relocate these then you should consider putting something on top of the climbing aid to prevent access such as anti-climb paint or rotary spike devices.
  • Anti-climbing devices which may cause harm should not be used e.g. razor or barbed wire.

Intruder Detection

Consider the fitting of mains powered intruder detection ideally linked to a monitoring centre. Be mindful of external storage areas where if filled up may interfere with the field of vision of any security monitoring devices. These intruder detection systems should be maintained to ensure effectiveness.

External Groups Access 

  • Access provided to external groups should limited to only the areas the groups need to access e.g. community rooms. All other areas should be secured.
  • Best practice is to have a member of staff on the premises to ensure that once the external group leaves that all means of access are secured.
  • Be mindful that arson attacks often take place inside the premises during business hours, it’s not just an after-hours crime.
  • Disgruntled or dismissed employees for example have been known to start fires.
  • Always report any anti-social behaviour near your premises to the police or your neighbourhood watch team as this activity often leads to wilful fire-raising.

Contact your local Police Crime Prevention Officer, Architectural Liaison Officer or the SBRC - Scottish Business Resilience Centre for further guidance and advice on physical security measures for your premises. 

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