Fire Fighters – Four tips to tackle common fire risks on the manufacturing floor

October 4th is recognized as Manufacturing Day, offering a great opportunity to raise awareness about Canada’s manufacturing sector and its skilled employees. This annual event can also serve as a reminder to review safety practices and systems which keep employees safe and reduce losses on shop or production floors.

In a recent report by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, there were 24 recorded injuries per 1,000 manufacturing workers in one year. This was second only to the construction industry, and more than double the numbers in mining and quarrying.

With that in mind, consider these four tips that will help to tackle common fire risks in your facility:

1.   Commit to good housekeeping

Metalworking Fluids (MWF), oils and grease are used to reduce friction in a number of work processes, but they can also leave unwanted residue on machines. Regular cleaning will remove the substances before they fuel the flames of a flashover.

Clutter deserves attention of its own. Aisles, stairwells and doors need to be kept clear of tripping hazards, so they can provide a safe escape if a fire alarm sounds. Want to ensure everything returns to its proper place?

Consider painting marks on the floor that show where waste containers, carts and tools should be parked when not being used.

2.   Create a protective dome around hot work

With high heats and open flames, hot work such as welding, brazing and cutting represents a clear fire hazard. It’s why manufacturers establish dedicated areas for the tasks, creating a protective dome that stretches 35 feet in every direction around a torch. It’s an area where employees know to remove flammable liquids, dust and oil deposits; clean the floors and remove trash; and use welding pads, blankets, curtains, and fire-resistant tarpaulins to cover combustible materials or any openings in the wall or floor.

There are times when cuts and welds need to be completed in other areas, but workplaces that require supervisors to sign formal Hot Work Permits will ensure that the commitment to safety is repeated in these temporary settings. As in a dedicated area, welders need to confirm that working sprinklers, hoses and fire extinguishers are nearby. Personnel are dedicated to “fire watches” which continue for a half hour after a job is completed, to ensure nothing is ignited by scattered sparks or slag. Surrounding material handling systems such as conveyors are also shut down to ensure that hazards are contained.

The formal document even gives everyone a chance to consider alternatives that would eliminate fire hazards altogether. Material might instead by cut with manual hydraulic shears or pipe cutters, while connections could be made with mechanical fasteners.

3.   Maintain the sprinklers

There’s plenty of fuel for a potential fire in a manufacturing operation. It might come in the form of combustible hydraulic fluid that streams from a nearby stamping press, accumulated paper dust in a printing plant’s dust collection system, or bulk fluid supplies.

One of the best lines of defence against any fire that ignites will come in the form of a well-maintained fire suppression system.

Sprinklers can fail for a number of reasons. Hidden problems include the scale plugging a branch line or damage from Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC), while painted sprinkler heads or metal racks with solid shelves can also block water from reaching where it is needed most.

Ongoing inspections will tackle these challenges. Thorough programs review control valves, air pressure and water pressure at least once a week, and look at fire department connections and tamper switches at least once per month. Annual inspections explore potential issues further, testing open sprinklers, pre-action and deluge systems, and trip-testing dry pipe valves.

4.   Maintain the paint booths

Paint booths and the surrounding areas include several checks and measures to protect against potential fires. Work teams limit flammable and combustible liquids to one-day supplies, solvent-soaked rags that could spontaneously combust are safely stored in purpose-designed cans, and any overspray is removed to prevent the build-up of combustible residues. Those who want to speed up the cleanup process may even consider lining the booth in thin paper sheets that are replaced at least once a day.

Every business faces unique risks, but strategies like these will keep them under control. Contact your broker to arrange a full risk assessment of your facility by Northbridge Insurance’s Risk Services team.