Loss Control Insights
Don’t Overlook These 5 Fire Hazards
“There is nearly an unlimited number of ways that fires can start,” David Whisman, EMC Regional Risk Improvement Director, says. Fire hazards are in every area of a business, and causes are diverse—ranging from faulty wiring or machinery to dust, chemicals, hot work and even poor housekeeping. Since fires are so devastating to property and lives, it’s one concern that should keep managers and employees on constant alert.
Even though there are countless ways a fire can start, David focuses on five areas that you may not realize are severe risks.
1. Hot work, including welding, cutting and brazing
Any time sparks fly, there is a danger of nearby combustible materials catching on fire. And if these jobs aren’t performed often, it can become easy to forget to remove materials that may cause a fire.
Additionally, one of the largest fires in David’s region involved a cutting torch used outside that started a wildfire. David says, “Workers forget that when setting up a job outside, they must position the work area far enough from the building so sparks don’t catch the building on fire or cause damage in other ways. Just because you’re outside doesn’t mean the work area is safer than inside.”
2. Electrical distribution and lighting
You probably already know carelessness can lead to overloaded outlets, incorrect use of extension cords and blocked electrical panels. A lesser-known danger comes from metal-halide tungsten halogen light bulb burnouts, especially in warehouses or supply closets with stacks of cardboard boxes.
David explains, “In older industrial lights, there is a larger tungsten component. When it burns out, that piece of hot metal can fall from the ceiling onto cardboard boxes.” The tungsten is hot enough to catch the cardboard on fire within minutes, and if your smoke and sprinkler systems aren’t working correctly, you could have a large fire on your hands. Stay safe by making sure you maintain bulbs and check your fire safety system as required by the manufacturer.
3. Waste containers
Leaving containers open or using the wrong type of container is a fire hazard. An EMC policyholder had a large loss from using the wrong type of container to store greasy and oily rags. The flammable vapors caused spontaneous combustion. Leaving the cover open just a crack can allow in enough oxygen for combustion. Tightly covering the container prevents spontaneous fires from starting as the closed cover keeps the ratio of fuel to oxygen at a level that dampens fire risk.
4. Defective detectors, including smoke, gas and carbon monoxide detectors
All detectors have a limited life span. Look at the labels, typically located on the bottom of the unit, to find the expiration dates. David says, “Some units reach end-of-life in as little as 5 to 10 years. And if a business moves into an existing building with detectors already in place, checking their dates is generally not a priority. They could be expired, and you wouldn’t know unless you check.”
5. Kitchen safety
Kitchens, especially those in restaurants, are full of potential dangers. David points out three common problems: inadvertently disabling the fire protection system for grill, fryer and vent functions; not cleaning grease filters regularly; and installing the incorrect type of fire extinguishers in the wrong places.
The fire protection system for the cooking area is engineered for the way cooking surfaces are originally set up. This will include nozzles close to the fryers and an extinguishing agent right above the grill or the fryers. If the cooking equipment gets moved but the protection system isn’t reconfigured to fit, the entire system is in danger.
Because fires can start in the ductwork, cleaning grease filters in the hood is a critical task. Even though it is not as visible as other kitchen areas, cleaning grease filters should be part of your routine inspection and preventive maintenance tasks.
Fire Extinguisher Types
Fire extinguishers can be tricky to get right. You need to have the correct kind of extinguishers for your kitchen, and you need to know which class to use for different types of fires. You might need several types–or extinguishers that cover several classes in one extinguisher. Extinguisher class options are as follows:
- A for wood and paper fires
- B for flammable liquids like grease
- C for electrical fires
- D for flammable metals
- K for cooking oil
Fire extinguishers must be available and working when you need them. All extinguishers must be inspected regularly to ensure they are accessible, in the right location and pressurized. They should be located as close as possible to where they are needed. Find more details about extinguishers in OSHA’s e-tool and regulations.