Fire Hazards Around the Workplace


Fire Hazards Around the Workplace

Fire is one of the major causes of property damage in the UK and the United States. A structural fire is reported every minute of the day and results in almost $12 billion in property loss annually. Planning ahead can help you avoid becoming one of these statistics.

Fire protection systems like sprinklers and fire alarms are essential to keep the work environment safe, but training workers or employees is another huge part of fire prevention. Most workplace fire hazards are due to employees being uninformed or careless with proper fire prevention.

Continue reading to learn about common workplace fire hazards and some effective ways to prevent them.

Electrical hazards

Working with electricity at a job site can be safe when workers are able to control and identify hazards. But, lack of experience, inadequate training and failure to recognize obvious electrical hazard can cause a fire.

Technology has given us so much. There is now high tech work equipment that can help workers get more done in less time. For most equipment to function they have to be plugged into an electrical outlet. With that requirement, comes a great risk. Whether you are the boss or an employee, it is your duty to minimize the risk associated with the use of electrical appliances.

Over the last couple of years, the amount of fires that resulted from a discarded cigarette butt in work environment has gradually reduced. Today, fires in offices are mostly caused by electrical equipment. This may likely be that new technologies have become an important facet of our life.

This is particularly true in business organizations that use a lot of gadget and equipment for work-related activities. Many have forgotten that technology is like a time bomb that can go off when neglected or misused.

If businesses organizations are able to have a firm grasp of the risk associated with the use of technology, they will ensure that the equipment they use is up to standard and have an American, European or British safety mark on it. Also, employees will be educated in the use of electricity-powered equipment and gadgets.

Having safety measures in a work environment, like hiring a trained fireman or warden to educate staffs about the various categories of a fire sign, ensures that if something were to go wrong or if a fire breaks out, people will know the right things to do and escape in an orderly manner.

How common are electrical fires?

A report from the ESC (Electrical safety council) shows that fires resulting from electrical appliances misuse have increased by more than 20% since 2009. The director of the council stated that “most people they surveyed unknowingly put themselves at risk”.

The fire statistics published by the department of local and community government revealed the following.

Electrical distribution is the main source of ignition

This accounted for more than one-fifth of accidental fires

The main cause of non-domestic fires was as a result of faulty appliances

This led to about 2,700 fires

Another cause of electrical related fires is the misuse of electrical equipment and appliances.

This led to more than 2000 fires

What cause electrical fires?

Electrical fires are one of the five major causes of fires in warehouses and manufacturing plants. Below is a list of common electrical hazards.

  • Overloaded outlets
  • Static discharge
  • Extension cords
  • Wiring that isn’t up to standard or that it exposed

The damages caused by electrical fires can intensify when there are combustible materials like flammable liquids and combustible dust is in the area.

How to prevent and minimize electrical hazards in your workplace

  • It is your legal obligation and that of your employees to make sure that electricity is used safely and appropriately. You also need to be aware of common fire risks associated with the use of electrical equipment and how to minimize them. Below are some effective ways to reduce fire hazards in your place of work.
  • Buy electrical equipment from a trusted source.
  • Don’t try to charge a ruptured or damaged battery.
  • Before buying any equipment, check if it has a European or a British safety mark.
  • Always use the recommended cables and chargers for equipment and devices.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter when using a piece of equipment or a device.
  • Replace damaged and worn out cables completely- don’t use tapes to patch them up.
  • Carry out risk assessments test from time to time and ensure that your staff or employees can safely carry out a pre-use check of gadgets and equipment.
  • Remove faulty equipment from your work area. Label it so that someone doesn’t use it and make arrangement for it to be inspected and repaired by a competent person.
  • Be on the lookout for blown fuses, circuit-breakers that trip regularly for no apparent reason and for flickering lights.
  • Keep an eye for stains around sockets and burn marks which suggest overheating.
  • Protect machines that are regularly used and exposed to the elements.
  • Only allow trained staff to address electrical related issues.
  • Don’t allow large appliances like a fridge to run overnight.
  • Don’t overload sockets.
  • Don’t leave charging appliances unsupervised for long periods.
  • Don’t cover items that are charging because they emit heat. Keep them far ways from combustible materials.

Add fire safety to your daily operations

Don’t let the list of possible fire hazards in a work environment intimidate you. Fire safety is usually a matter of setting up procedures and policies and ensuring that they are implemented in your facility. Below are some ways you can build fire safety into your operations.

Maintain your systems and equipment

Keeping your systems and equipment in an excellent working condition will make your operation more efficient and enhance safety. This may include testing and inspecting your fire prevention systems like your sprinklers, smoke detector, fire alarms, and fire extinguishers.

Fire hazard analysis

Conduct regular hazard analysis of your work area to discover fire-prone areas and take steps to address them. Carefully reanalyze work related operation from time to time.

Safety training

Safety training is something you must never overlook as an employer. Provide both job-specific and general fire safety training for employees that are working in a fire-prone or hazardous environment.

Housekeeping routine

With heavy-duty machinery running, sometime for 12 to 24 hours daily, static discharge and sparks may be difficult to avoid. By implementing a housekeeping routine, you can decrease the odds of a small fire tuning into a large-scale disaster.

Following these prevention tips and other electrical safety advice will ensure that gadgets and equipment are properly used and does not put your business organization at the risk.

Combustible dust fire hazard

Combustible dust is one of the main causes of fire in chemical manufacturing, woodworking, food manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, metalworking and every other industry you know. The obvious reason for this is that materials like dyes, metals, and chemical can become combustible in dust form.

Combustible dust related fires are very difficult to contain. In a typical incident, a fire will spring up when combustible items like paper, rubber or cotton come in contact with an ignition source. This may be a dust explosion or not. In fact, it could be any other types of explosion. However, the small explosion that occurs isn’t really a problem. The problem is what happens after the explosion. You see, if there is dust in the area, the first explosion will make the dust become airborne. The thick dust cloud can easily be ignited, causing a secondary explosion that is much more powerful and dangerous than the primary or the first explosion. If enough dust has accumulated, the secondary explosion can bring a structure to the ground, claiming lives and causing immense damage.

Preventing combustible dust incidents

As you probably know, the key ingredient in combustible dust explosions and fires is dust. While it may be difficult to completely remove the dust in a building or structure, you can make sure that it doesn’t accumulate by following a housekeeping regime.

Flammable gasses and liquids fires

These fires, which usually occur at chemical storage plants, can cause large-scale damage. To get a picture of how disastrous it can be please check out this post. It showcases videos from 5 chemical plant explosions that resulted from the explosion of flammable liquids like acrylic acid, rocket fuel, and crude oil.

The fire plant explosion that occurred in Middletown, CT which claimed six lives and injured more than 60 people can also be traced to combustible gasses. The subsequent investigation that was carried out in the site revealed a lot of safety violations. The OSHA deemed these violations as willful. The agency fined the businesses involved almost seventeen million dollars.

Preventing gas and flammable liquid incidents

There is always a level of danger in any work involving the use of flammable gasses and liquids. Safety precautions should be taken to avoid the risks listed below.

Ignition sources

Keep ignition source far away from them.

Become abreast with the hazards

One of the main components of fire prevention is knowing the safety information for every gas and liquid on your work area. This information is usually on the material safety sheet that comes with such products.

Protective equipment

This is a must in all types of fire hazards but especially when flammable gasses and liquids are in question.

Equipment and machinery fire hazard

Faulty equipment and machinery malfunction are also major causes of work-related fires.

Hot work and heating equipment are the main problems here- to be specific, furnaces that are poorly installed, maintained and operated. Any mechanical equipment can become a dangerous fire hazard because of continuous friction between moving parts. These risks can be mitigated by following recommended maintenance and cleaning procedures.

It might surprise you to know that innocuous equipment can be a hazard in certain circumstances. In many cases, the tool or equipment that are least likely to be considered as fire-prone turnout to be the biggest fire threat. This sometimes happens because companies and business owners did not take into account the risk involved with the use of certain equipment and take necessary precautions.

How to prevent machinery and equipment related fires

The strategies for averting fires caused by machinery or equipment malfunction fall into 3 distinct categories

  • Maintenance
  • Awareness
  • Cleaning

Maintenance

Follow the manufacturer’s maintenance procedures for all the machinery and equipment in your work area to the letter. In addition to reducing fire outbreak by preventing overheating, maintenance will go a long way in keeping work equipment in an excellent condition.

Awareness

It will be difficult or impossible for you and your employees to prevent risks you know nothing about. Provide a comprehensive awareness training so that all your employees can know the main risks to watch out for and steps to take if they find one.

Cleaning

Keep your equipment and the area surrounding it clean at all times. Electrical equipment that is covered with dirt can pose a huge risk. If you are able to keep your machinery and equipment in perfect condition, the chances of a fire breaking out will be very slim.

Hot work fire hazard

Hot work is one of the major causes of industrial fires in most industries.

Most times, hot work is equated with touch, cutting, and welding. But there are many other activities like burning, soldering, heating, and brazing that can pose a dangerous fire hazard. This is because the molten materials and sparks can reach a temperature greater than 1000 degree Fahrenheit.

Below are a few catastrophes that resulted from hot work.

  • In 2014, a pier fire in California destroyed properties worth over 100 million dollars when it caused the collapse of a warehouse floor.
  • In 2010, a worker died in an explosion while welding on a Ten thousand gallon slurry tank.
  • In 2012, 3 workers died while disassembling a crude oil tank. The sparks generated while they were wielding ignited the vapor inside the tank, causing a large explosion.

In one incident in Carolina, 3 welders were seriously burned when sparks ignited the dust in the silo they were repairing. Investigation later found the cause of the problem: the silo had not been cleaned of accumulated dust before the work began. Even more, no fire prevention plan was in place and no hot work permit was issued.

How to prevent hot work-related incidents

Hot work disasters can be prevented by following proper safety procedures.

Closely supervise the work

Especially if you are using hired contractors, ensure that a safety expert is on the ground to supervise their work.

Avoid hot work if possible

Granted, this is not a feasible solution, but if there is an alternative, please take it.

Written permit system

  • Use a written permit system for hot work-related projects.
  • Make sure that the area is clear of combustible liquids and materials.

Final note

With the right precautions and education, nearly all fires can be prevented. Unfortunately, abuse of electrical appliances in work environment can lead to a fire outbreak, accumulation of combustible dust and malfunction of heavy-duty equipment in factories and can result in devastating explosions that can damage properties and claim lives.

The most effective ways to protect your business against fires is by educating your employees about the causes of fire and encourage them to report potential fire hazards so that they can be dealt with quickly.

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