By Fred Workley
Too often businesses that have a fire with substantial damage never reopen. Fires not only cause property damage, but also often cause great personnel hardship. It's important to remember that fire prevention is everyone's responsibility. You need to have a safe living and working environment. Protect yourself and others against fires by using caution when you work around fire hazards.
Keep in mind the fire triangle. 1. Fuel (paper, wood, oil, etc.) 2. Oxygen (present in the air) and 3. Heat (from flame, electricity, or chemical reaction). Fire prevention is never letting the three mix. Let's look at some specific fire hazards that you find in the workplace.
Electrical equipment and wiring is the No. 1 cause of workplace fires. They are often the result of: overloaded fuses, circuits, motors, or outlets; frayed or worn insulation on wiring; loose ground connections; and lights or machinery coming in contact with combustible materials. There are several keys to protection. 1. Never use wiring with frayed or worn insulation. Report it so it can be replaced. 2. Check that ground connections are sound. That will keep electrical appliances safe. 3. Do not overload fuses, circuits, motors, or outlets. 4. Do not keep any materials that could catch fire near a heat source. 5. Use the correct fuse for the job. 6. Avoid using temporary wiring or extension cords in lieu of permanent wiring. Ensure extensions cords and wall plugs are in good repair.
Flammable liquids like gasoline, kerosene, oil, solvents, and many chemicals are fire hazards mainly because of their invisible flammable vapors. When the ignition source comes in contact with the flammable vapors there could be a flash fire. Protect yourself: 1. Only use flammable liquids in areas with plenty of ventilation. 2. Check the material safety data sheets and container to determine if a liquid is flammable before you use it. 3. Don't use flammable liquids near heat, fire, cigarettes, sparking tools, or anything that could ignite them. 4. Store flammable liquids in approved, airtight metal containers, away from all ignition sources. 5. Keep containers closed when not in use and take out only what you need for the job. 6. Clean up all leaks and spills immediately.
Space heaters are another fire source, usually due to improper use. Use space heaters with these precautions: Use in well-ventilated areas. Use only the fuel specifically for the heater. Place the heater so that no combustible materials are near it.
Welding and cutting/grinding operations are fire hazards because of the flames and sparks that they may create. Remember the following: 1. Try to conduct these operations in a separate room with a fire-resistant floor or, at worst, a clean dry floor covered with a material that won't burn. 2. Use a welding screen around the operation. 3. Keep welding as far away as possible from flammable liquids, vapors or dusts. 4. Check any containers for flammable residue before welding near them.
Spontaneous combustion is another cause of fire. A slow buildup of heat in flammable materials may eventually erupt into a fire. It might occur in rags or waste saturated with flammable materials. Prevention is through: 1. Disposal of flammable wastes in closed, airtight metal containers, and emptying the containers regularly. 2. Keep flammable waste that can't be put in containers in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area, and dispose of it frequently.
Chemicals that are not a fire hazard by themselves may become flammable when mixed with an incompatible substance - air, water, heat, or another chemical. This is known as reactivity.
Smoking is another cause of fire. Lit or smoldering cigarettes or matches can possibly ignite anything capable of burning. This is easy to prevent. As long as "No Smoking" signs are obeyed there is no fire source. Even if there is no sign, don't smoke where there is something that could burn. Cigarettes and matches should be carefully and properly put out and disposed of in proper receptacles.
First line of defense
1. Describe the nature of the fire or
2. Be specific as to the location, i.e., room and floor.
3. Provide as much specific information as you can on the extent and possible cause of the fire.
4. Describe any hazardous materials that may be involved in the incident.
5. State whether or not all personnel are
Fire extinguishers save lives and property by putting out or containing small fires until the fire department arrives. But extinguishers are only useful under certain conditions.
The operator must be familiar with the extinguishers. There is no time to read instructions during an emergency. Fire extinguishers must be within easy reach, in working order, fully charged, and kept near exits. The extinguisher must match the type of fire that you are fighting and be large enough to put out the fire. Most portable extinguishers discharge completely in as few as eight seconds. The user needs to have an escape route that won't be blocked by fire.
Fire extinguishers are available in different types to meet specific needs. Type A: For fires involving combustibles like wood, paper, or cloth. Type B: For flammable liquids and gas. Type C: For electrical wiring and equipment. Type ABC: For combination fires. Type D: For combustible metals like magnesium or sodium.
Operate the extinguisher
A sign or a red arrow marks the location of the extinguisher. Before using the extinguisher, make sure your back is to an exit. Stand at least 6 to 8 feet from the fire.
Use the acronym "PASS": Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep.
Pull the pin: Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you and pull out the pin located below the handle. This unlocks the operating lever and allows you to discharge the extinguisher.
Aim low: Aim nozzle at the base of the fire.
Squeeze the lever: Squeeze slowly and evenly to release the extinguisher.
Sweep from side to side: Move carefully closer to the fire until the flames are out. And watch the fire to ensure that it doesn't reignite.
Use of fire exits and evacuation plans
Exits are a continuous and unobstructed means of egress to an assembly area and include doors, doorways, corridors, and stairways. Each exit should have an exit sign. Lighted signs should have standby batteries and lights should be checked periodically.
It's extremely important that everyone be familiar with the posted Fire Evacuation Plan for each work area in case of fire and/or smoky conditions. Evacuation plans showing exit routes will be posted and maintained in all appropriate areas. Everyone needs to know a primary and alternate exit route from their work area. Primary routes are usually drawn using a solid line. Alternate routes are drawn with broken lines. The plan should have an emergency phone number listed.
New employees should get training and everyone needs periodic recurrent training. Evacuation drills are a good idea. Training needs to include all phases of fire reporting procedures, evacuation plan to include emergency phone numbers, evacuation routes, and assembly area to account for all employees. Training should also include the use of extinguishers. All training needs to be documented.
When you are working with flammable substances, electricity, welding or cutting tools, or in any area that contains something that could burn, be on the alert. There is often a situation that has a potential as a source for fire; your task is to reduce this through fire prevention.
Fire can be a fearsome thing. It can take less than three minutes for a free-burning fire to reach temperatures over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This gives you little time to react. You need to be continually alert, cautious, and follow proper procedures.
Keep 'em Safe from Fire, Keep 'em Flying.
Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. in Benton City, WA, and Indianapolis, IN.