Fire Safety Planning Part 1: Prevention
Fire safety is an issue that all companies should be prepared to deal with. Fires and explosions can cause severe injuries and property damage. There are many aspects to a fire safety program, from preventing fires in the first place to having a plan to notify workers in the event of a fire and an appropriate exit plan so that all workers in a building know how to get out and where they need to go. Since this is such a broad topic, we will spend the next three weeks talking about it. This week is fire safety planning part 1: Prevention.
Sources of Ignition
There are three things that are needed to cause a fire: heat, fuel and oxygen. Heat includes anything that could cause a material to reach its ignition temperature, such as a spark, hot surface, or hot surface. When designing your fire safety plan, do a hazard assessment to see what sources of heat are present and to see if any of them can be eliminated or isolated from a fuel. Sources of heat for ignition can include: an office heater, flame of a welding torch, a static discharge caused when transferring a flammable liquid, and cigarettes.
Fuel is any substance (whether liquid, gas or solid) that can burst into flame. It should be noted that in order to support combustion the liquid or solid must be converted into a gas. Solids can further be subdivided into dusts and bulky. Dusts, as the name suggests includes grain, hay and sawdust. We have seen in Halifax where the grain terminals caught on fire from dust, and in British Columbia where sawdust caused explosions at a couple of sawmills. Bulky solids include cloth, coal and paper. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire shows the dramatic impact of a cloth fire, and lack of fire safety planning, on the safety of workers. Gases such as propane, butane and natural gas are also flammable. I’m writing this article on April 11, 2016 and on that date, there was a fire at a fish plant in Bay de Verde, NL. The major concern of the fire fighters is an ammonia tank. This has caused the community to be partially evacuated to prevent injury to the community, the plant having already been evacuated. The final fuel source for fire is liquids. Turpentine, gasoline and paint are flammable liquids that can be found at most work site.
Oxygen is required for a heat source to cause a fuel to become a fire. According to The Fire Safety Management Handbook (Della-Gaustein, 2003), it only takes air containing 16% oxygen to cause a fire. The air around is made up of 21% oxygen. There are also substances called oxidizers that can produce their own oxygen.
When trying to create a plan to prevent fire from starting, always remember that you need to keep one item of the fire triangle from coming into contact with the other two. Since there is not anything that can be done to keep oxygen levels low enough to prevent a fire, you need to isolate heat sources and fuels. Fuels should be kept in specially designed cabinets that will prevent sparks or heat from coming into contact with them. These cabinets are sealed and locked so that the sparks can’t come into contact with them. Rags soaked with oil or other flammable substances should be stored in properly sealed containers as well. Buildings can also be constructed to prevent fires from starting by having storage rooms for the chemicals made or concrete and using flash proof lighting and other equipment (even fire alarm pull stations) to prevent sparks.
Policies can also help in preventing fire. Hot work plans should be created so that if you need to do any welding or similar work, the sparks will not come into contact any material that could burst into flames. No smoking policies around fuel tanks have been around for years. Now we have cellular phones being banned at gas tanks for similar reasons. Material storage policies also exist, preventing workers from keeping materials near heaters, boilers or other hot surfaces.
Routine maintenance can also help prevent fire. Electrical systems checked to make sure they are not sparking, or at risk of an arc flash and machinery checked to make sure that there is no chance of friction or sparks. Fuel lines checked to ensure there are no leaks. Lightning rods should be in place to prevent strikes on tall buildings and grounding straps worn to prevent a static charge when pouring liquids into a container.
Conclusion Part 1
We always say “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. By preventing fires from starting in the first place you can keep your work place safe and not have to worry about property damage. You need to have other policies in place, however, in case a fire does break out. We will cover these over the next couple of week. Fire safety planning part 1: prevention is just that, a section of a much larger area of concern that safety professionals should be aware of in carrying out their duties. Fire safety is should be reviewed as often as fall protection and other policies. Remember, plan to stay safe.