Jennifer A. MacFarlane is a Safety Engineering Technologist at Workplace Safety & Prevention Services as a Senior Account Manager. E-mail Jennifer.
A recent fire in a manufacturer’s facility set off alarm bells for warehouses and distribution centres across Canada. After a spark from a welding torch ignited insulation, all 150 employees were evacuated safely but the building and product inventory were destroyed and nearby homeowners were also evacuated. At considerable cost, the company had to rebuild the business from the ground up.
Your best protection against a similar occurrence is a comprehensive ﬁre safety plan.
Statistical research conducted by the U.S. Fire Protection Research Foundation has identiﬁed three leading causes of ﬁres that produce the most property damage:
• Electrical distribution and lighting (10 percent);
• Intentional (10 percent);
• Heating equipment (six percent).
All remaining causes of ﬁre account for less than six per cent each. Among them are vehicles, smoking materials, torches, burners or soldering irons, and chemical reactions.
The research also identiﬁes warehouse locations where the most property damage occurs in a ﬁre.
• Storage areas (34 percent)
• Shipping/receiving or loading docks (13 percent)
• Processing or manufacturing areas (eight percent)
• Storage rooms, tanks and bins (seven percent)
These four locations together account for 62 percent of warehouse ﬁre property damage. According to “Fire Detection in Warehouse Facilities” published by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, smaller amounts of ﬁre damage occur in exterior walls, structural areas, ofﬁces, roofs and other areas.*
Many factors may contribute to the risk of ﬁre in your warehouse, but the 12 preventive measures suggested below can help you minimize this risk.
1. Understand and apply laws and standards governing ﬁre protection in warehouses. Fire safety is governed by a number of laws and codes, including occupational health and safety legislation and regulations, the Canadian Electrical Code, the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS 2015), CSA Standard Z1600 Essentials of Emergency Management & Business Continuity, and local building and ﬁre codes. For instance, the Ontario Fire Code covers such topics as sprinkler systems, aisle width, storage heights, distances between racks, egress, type of ﬁre extinguishers, and more.
2. Carry out a risk assessment. What are your ﬁre hazards (e.g., hot work, electrical, charging stations, arson, etc.)? Who is at risk and how can you control these risks? For example, hot work requires a permit and a hazard analysis before work can proceed. If the conﬁguration of your racking systems and aisles changes frequently, update risk assessments regularly.
3. Eliminate dead-end aisles if possible. During an emergency, these aisles can seriously delay workers from reaching an exit. If you can’t eliminate dead end aisles completely, ensure they are no longer than the maximum length speciﬁed in your building code.
4. Know what types of products you are carrying, and advise your local ﬁre department. If you’re storing chemicals, provide the ﬁre department with safety data sheets.
5. Store products properly. Different chemicals require different types of storage units. Understand your obligations under the WHMIS 2015 legislation.
6. Develop and post a ﬁre safety plan. Include an evacuation plan, location of exits, gathering areas and ﬁre extinguishers, frequency of evacuation drills, and emergency contacts. Review the plan regularly, updating as needed.
7. Build ﬁre safety into joint health and safety committee inspections. Properly trained committee members are an invaluable resource.
8. Train all employees on your safety procedures, including when and how to use ﬁre extinguishers. If you employ temporary workers, make sure they understand what to do.
9. Practice good housekeeping. Keep aisles and exits clear, and have a designated area for storing unused pallets and crates.
10. Don’t use electrical heaters or temporary cords, and be sure to maintain your electrical system.
11. Regularly check that detection systems (e.g., smoke, heat and ﬁre detectors) and ﬁre suppression systems (e.g., sprinkler systems, hydrants) are working properly. Thinking of upgrading? Optical beam smoke detectors span larger distances across open spaces. Deluge style automatic ﬁre sprinklers deliver the most water at the fastest speed.
12. Enforce no-smoking rules. Careless smoking is a common cause of ﬁres.