Four tips to control fire risks in the manufacturing industry

5 minute read

Can you count the risks on a manufacturing floor? There’s a lot of them, and some can spark, kindle, and fuel a potentially devastating fire in a blink of an eye.

Statistics show that 87% of reported fire deaths in recent years occurred in structural fires. Now think about an industrial or factory setting: with a variety of potential fire risks and a sizable workforce on site, an outdated (or non-existent) fire prevention plan can have huge consequences. It’s worth taking the time to brush up on your workplace fire safety and establish some smart prevention strategies in your workplace.     

Why is fire safety in manufacturing important?

The short answer is that there’s a lot on the line, and all it takes is a single blaze to threaten the future of your business. Significant injuries to workers and costly damage are two major consequences your fire safety plan may help your manufacturing business avoid.

So, how can we prevent industrial fires? There are a few excellent ways to help keep hazards at bay, and with a collective commitment to improving fire safety in your workplace, you may drastically reduce your risk of industrial fires in the future. Here are four tips to get you started.

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, too. You need to keep aisles, stairwells, and doors clear of tripping hazards so they continue to provide a safe escape route if a fire alarm sounds.

87% of reported fire deaths in recent years occurred in structural fires. tweet

How can you make it easier to keep everything in its proper place? Consider painting marks on the floor that show where things like waste containers, carts, and tools should be parked while not in use.

2.   Create a protective area around hot work

With high heat and open flames, hot work like welding, brazing, and cutting presents a clear fire hazard. This is why manufacturers establish dedicated areas for the tasks, creating a protective area that stretches 50 feet in every direction around hot work.

Within this area, 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. For manufacturing risks, production-related hot work areas are usually established with curtain and shields that allow for a reduction of “clear space”, where 50 feet is not feasible.

There are times when cuts and welds need to be completed in other areas, but fire safety also applies in these temporary settings; enlisting supervisors to sign formal Hot Work Permits will help. Welders need to confirm that sprinklers are in working order and that fire hoses and fire extinguishers are nearby, just as they would in a dedicated hot work area.

Personnel can also be assigned to “fire watches”, which continue during the work and for 60 minutes after a job is completed, to ensure nothing is ignited by scattered sparks or slag. During this time, surrounding material handling systems, like conveyors, are also shut down to help contain hazards.

There’s also an opportunity to consider alternatives that would eliminate fire hazards altogether. For instance, instead of using heat sources, material might be cut with manual hydraulic shears or pipe cutters and connections could be made with mechanical fasteners.

3.   Maintain the sprinklers

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

One of the best lines of defence against fire is a well-maintained fire suppression system. Sprinklers can fail for a number of reasons: there could be hidden problems, like the scale plugging a branch line or damage from Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC), or painted sprinkler heads or metal racks with solid shelves can block water from reaching the source of the flames.

In other cases, inadequate design for the hazard or occupancy can spell trouble. Ensuring the sprinkler system has been properly designed is integral to the performance of fire sprinklers for manufacturing occupancies.

Ongoing inspections can tackle these challenges. Plan to 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 a month. Your annual inspection through a qualified fire protection contractor can explore potential issues more deeply by testing open sprinklers, testing pre-action and deluge systems, and trip-testing dry pipe valves.

4.   Monitor the paint booths

Paint booths and surrounding areas call for some checks and measures to help protect against potential fires:

  • Work teams should limit flammable and combustible liquids to one-day supplies.
  • Solvent-soaked rags that could spontaneously combust should be stored in purpose-designed ULC listed cans.
  • Any overspray should be removed to prevent the buildup of combustible residues.
  • Paint booths should be protected with a suitable fixed fire suppression system.

If you want to speed up the cleanup process, you could even consider lining the booth with thin paper sheets to be replaced at least once a day.

What’s your emergency response plan?

Things can go wrong suddenly – you should be able to respond just as quickly. A thorough and updated emergency contact list can be an extremely valuable asset, and it won’t take long compile when you use our helpful template. Take some time now to build a string fire risk mitigation strategy and put a plan in place in case flames break out.