Virtually every facility has at least the basic fire safety systems in place. In most cases, they are required by law in order to operate. This will typically consist of a sprinkler system, fire and smoke detecting devices and fire extinguishers placed throughout the facility. While these are all extremely important, they don’t go far enough. Facilities need to improve the way they react to fires, as well as implement procedures that will help to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
If your facility only has the minimum required fire suppression systems in place, you are exposing yourself to considerable risk. Even a small fire can cause extensive damage, and require significant down time to repair. Sprinkler systems may put the fire out quickly, but that water may cause a lot of damage to the machinery, and the smoke can be troublesome too. For true fire safety in your facility, you need to look at how to prevent fires, how to react to them when they do occur, and also how you can improve any fire suppression systems you have in place already.
The following quote from “Warehouse Fire Safety” really sums this up well:
Fire codes are designed to achieve a minimum level of safety; even though the level of detail in the codes is extensive they can’t possibly cover every hazard or combinations of hazards. To use traffic laws as an analogy, just because you are obeying traffic laws does not mean that you will not get into an accident. The same is true of fire codes; they are designed to reduce the opportunities for fires to start, reduce the opportunities for fires to spread, provide for evacuation of occupants, and provide access for fire fighters to extinguish the fire.
Warehouse Fire Safety by Dave Piasecki
The best way a facility can improve their fire safety situation is to focus heavily on how to prevent fires. Fires can be caused by many different things in a facility, which is why it is important for the fire or safety manager in the facility to take a holistic look at where the biggest risks are in the facility, and take action to minimize those risks. The following are some of the key areas that should be thought of when it comes to fire prevention:
- Heat Producing Machinery – Many machines produce a lot of heat when they are in action. This heat is completely safe for the machine, as that was how it was designed. If, however, people put any flammable material near the machine, it can quickly cause a fire. Since the machine may not be hot all the time, it is important to put up safety signs letting everyone know that the machine gives off heat, and showing how large of an area must be kept clear. Using safety floor tape or other materials can help to keep flammable materials a safe distance away.
- Welding – Welding obviously uses extremely high temperatures to weld items together. While it may seem obvious to keep flammable things away from the welding equipment, that is not always enough. Alerting people to the potential of extremely high temperatures in the area is also important, and this can be done with custom safety signs (like this custom welding sign).
- Sawdust – In facilities that work with wood, it is essential to keep the sawdust away from any source of heat or flame. Sawdust can often be blown into the air and travel some distance. If it comes into contact with high heat or flame, it can quickly ignite and cause a large fire in a very short period of time. Containing the sawdust is essential, and placing any wood cutting machines well away from heat sources will also be a good idea.
- Other Flammable Materials – Other flammable materials such as gasoline, oil, and paper products also need to be well cared for. Before putting them into storage or using them in production, it is essential to consider what fire risks may be nearby.
This is, of course, just a small list of different things to consider for fire safety and fire prevention. Each facility will have a wide range of different risks that should be identified and minimized. While the safety manager will have the primary responsibility of identifying these risks, they also need to work with all the other employees who work in the facility to ensure they know how to minimize the risk of fire.
Fire safety training is absolutely essential in any warehouse, or other facility. This doesn’t just mean having the occasional fire drill either. True fire safety training will help employees to learn to identify where a potential risk of a fire is, how to see the earliest indicators that a fire is starting and, of course, how to respond to these situations. Fire safety training doesn’t have to take very much time, but if it helps to prevent even one fire, it will be well worth any time and energy it took to create the program and give it to the employees.
Responding to a Fire
While fire prevention is the best option, it is not always going to be effective. No matter how much focus on fire safety a facility has, there is always the risk that a fire could occur. When this happens, it is essential to have good policies on how everyone will respond to a fire, as well as having good fire suppression systems in place. This will help to minimize the damage that is caused, and also keep employees as safe as possible.
The first thing to do is make sure employees know how to keep themselves safe during a fire. The most common thing to do is evacuate, and that should be the first thing employees learn when they begin working for a facility. They should know where all the exits are, and how to get to them. While this may seem obvious, far too many facilities neglect this type of training, which puts everyone at great risk.
Employees should also know where fire suppression tools such as fire extinguishers are, and how to use them. While it is not always appropriate to have employees attempt to put out a fire, it is a good idea to ensure they know how to locate and use these types of things. In some cases, it may be the only way they are able to escape safely.
Finally, the facilities fire suppression system should be looked at closely to see if it is the right option for the situation. Many facilities have a simple sprinkler system that will spray out water when activated. Depending on the type of facility that you are running, this might cause a lot of damage to the machinery and inventory. Facilities should consider using advanced suppression systems that are tailor made for their facility. Some options that may be useful for your facility include:
- Non-Water Fire Suppression – There are many fire suppression options out there, some of which won’t damage machinery or inventory. Using halon or other chemicals to quickly put out fires might be a good option. Learn about these options, and see which one is right for your situation.
- Location Specific Sprinklers – Make sure you sprinkler system (whether it uses water or something else) can be activated only in specific areas. If a fire is detected in one corner of the facility, for example, it doesn’t make sense to activate all the sprinklers throughout the area. Location specific sprinklers will put out the fire, without damaging the rest of the facility.
- Automatic Fire Department Notification – Whenever a fire is detected, the fire suppression system should automatically notify the nearest fire department station, so they can quickly dispatch firemen to the facility. This can often save a lot of time compared to waiting for a person to call, and during fires, every second counts.
Fire safety is essential for every type of facility, and it needs to be taken very seriously. Take some time to evaluate your facility and see what types of improvements need to be made in order to ensure the safety or your employees as well as your facility.
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