Factory and warehousing environments pose a number of health and safety risks, but fire can be one of the most damaging.
The size of the site, materials and machinery all mean that fire safety must be taken very seriously, and risk assessments must take place regularly.
Identification of Fire Hazards
While it’s not possible to pinpoint every ignition source with certainty, since it differs from premises to premises, the list below highlights some of the most common ignition sources in warehousing, factory and manufacturing environments:
- Cigarettes, cigars and lighters – Around 5% of all fires in these settings are caused by discarded cigarettes, cigars and lighters.
- Exposed flames – naked flames are a common part of the manufacturing process, which poses an obvious risk.
- Sparks – another common practice in manufacturing and its easy to imagine how sparks could ignite nearby flammable materials.
- Extractor fans – the equipment that is designed to extract dust and minuscule debris, could be the very thing that causes a blaze, should it become clogged or hot.
- Heating – although AC units, radiators and heaters are used in everyday situations, they could easily pose a severe danger if there are covered or blocked.
- Friction heat and static – moving objects and machinery can create friction – particularly if they aren’t maintained correctly – thereby creating heat, which can pose a risk to nearby materials. This especially so in logistics and distribution environments, where conveyors are used.
- Faulty equipment – machinery that is faulty or isn’t maintained can cause electrical fires.
- Arson – although it’s not pleasant to think about, arson is actually the most common reason for fire in a warehouse with up to 18% of fires in this setting set on purpose.
The most common accelerants in a warehousing facility are:
- Flammable solvents and liquids – Petrol, spirits, lighters and vape pens are the most common sources, but oils, paint, varnish and adhesives can also pose just as significant a fire hazard.
- Waste and debris – waste including shavings, paper, dust and other flammable materials can accumulate quickly, which is why regular cleaning schedules are required.
- Gas – LPG and refrigerants are commonplace in warehouses that store and transport perishable goods and are incredibly flammable.
- Storage – pallet racks and other kinds of storage can present a substantial fire risk, depending on the storage method, contents and how they are packed.
People at Risk
Although it sounds self-explanatory, during your fire risk assessment, you must consider where all employees and visitors are likely to be stationed in the event of a fire. And as such, how they will exit the building safely and efficiently.
Of course, this should also consider what your employees are likely to be doing, how well they know your fire safety protocols and their ability to find a clear pathway to the exits.
All individuals should be given regular refresher training to ensure there is no ambiguity in the processes. Plans should be drawn up to ensure there is protocol in place for all foreseeable fire scenarios.
Those at Elevated Risk
Unique accommodation must be extended to individuals or parties who may be at heightened risk should a blaze break out. These include, but are not limited to:
- Vulnerable people – those with disabilities and impairments.
- Isolated and lone workers – those that work alone, such as maintenance and cleaning personnel, for example.
- Those with language barriers – in instances where English is not the first language.
- Visitors – this is especially important as visitors to the site are unlikely to be aware of specific fire action plans.
How to Review Your Warehousing Fire Safety
Fire safety reviews should be broken down into three crucial steps:
Understanding the Risks of Fire
Fires within a warehousing environment will usually occur by accident (or sheer accident as it is known in the industry), by negligence or deliberately. Only with an uncompromising blend of training, incident reporting, and identifying risk factors can you decrease the risks posed in these three situations.
Assessing the Outcomes of Fire
No matter how prepared you are for the chances that a fire may break out, you must also make peace with the fact that you will never truly eradicate every risk, particularly in a busy warehousing or logistics operation.
Consequently, you need to consider precisely how the premises and the people within could be put a risk in such a scenario.
Assuming that you’ve taken all the precautions, so such a thing could never happen is the very definition of placing people in harm’s way.
Firstly, a fire modelling programme should be undertaken to understand where flames and smoke will naturally travel. This way, you can put together a fire stopping scheme to find ways to block the path if the flames and the resulting smoke.
By doing this, you have a good chance of preventing flames from travelling from one location to another, thereby allowing all personnel to safely exit the premises.
Record & Inform
An area where many fire safety plans fall down is the lack of a paper trail. Without correctly documenting and reporting where risk factors lay, it becomes impossible to create a collaborative process in which mistakes are learned and changes made.
Every significant fire safety risk that you find within your warehouse must be documented, along with the relevant actions that you’ve taken to address them. This helps to ensure legal and moral compliance and ensures that any future employees are informed of what measures have been taken previously.
As we mentioned briefly, training is absolutely crucial when it comes to ensuring your employees are prepared. Should any fire responsibilities be delegated among the staff, it is up to them and any higher management to instill a culture of strict adherence to safety and communication.
Evaluate & Revise
It’s important to remember that, just because you’ve carried out a fire safety audit and formulated a response to any dangers, it’s not just a one and done thing. Your initial assessment will serve as a model for everything you do in this vein in the future.
This means that you must carry this out regularly, and also if there are any substantial changes to the premises, such as new equipment, structural changes or anything of that nature.
In this case, it’s up to you and the relevant personnel to decide whether a comprehensive audit or a simple spot fix is necessary. Either way, you should aim to evaluate and revise your policy whenever necessary.