How many of you have seen reports of a fire at a business broadcast on the evening news? What did you think when you saw the fire? I would bet you stopped and thought about the employees and how they’re going to make a living now that their company has been destroyed. A fire could move through your place of business quickly, destroying your equipment, your livelihoods and perhaps injuring or killing employees. Clearly, fire safety is a critical step on your company’s path to safety.  

There are two key elements to a successful fire safety program. The first element is prevention of fire and the second is the response to a fire that occurs. The goal of both is to prevent a fire if possible but if one should break out, contain the fire and preserve life.   

In order for a fire to occur, three elements are required: oxygen to sustain combustion, heat to raise the material to its ignition temperature, and fuel or combustible materials. These elements are frequently shown as the “fire triangle.” All sides of the triangle must come together before a fire can occur. The goal of a fire safety program is to keep these elements apart.    

Oxygen generally is present in the industrial environment although on a small scale we can eliminate it. For example, oxygen is controlled by placing combustible scraps, debris or waste such as oily rags into airtight containers for either disposal or storage.   

Heat can be controlled by such measures as providing containers to extinguish smoking materials; scheduled preventive maintenance on the electrical system, machines and equipment; regular inspection of electrical cords; specific procedures for performing hot work with thorough training of involved personnel; and ensuring that lights are mounted so that combustible materials cannot come into contact with them.  

Fuel or combustible materials are more of a problem for most of us since a vast majority of our buildings and products are composed of combustible materials. There are some combustible materials that we can control such as storing pallets outside and away from the building; emptying trash containers regularly; disposing of shrink wrap so it does not get caught in machinery; and storing flammable liquids in fire lockers in closed containers.     

In the event of a fire, your facility’s emergency action plan will detail the specific steps your employees are expected to take. See the March 2010 ASA News article on this topic at the ASA Web site at www.asa.net www.asa.net.  

How would you “react” to a fire? Generally, the acronym of “REACT” is used to describe the steps employees should remember to take:  
    R – Remove persons from immediate danger  
    E – Ensure doors and windows are closed (smoke/fire spread prevention)  
    A – Activate the building alarm (inform the people)  
    C – Call the fire department  
    T – Treat all fires as dangerous. Do not delay in summoning help or notifying others.
 
Containment of the fire can come from physical barriers such as fire doors or from fire-fighting equipment such as portable fire extinguishers or automatic sprinkler systems. Containment systems require regular inspections to ensure they are functioning properly. The systems must be free from obstructions so they can operate or be reached in the event of a fire.  

If portable fire extinguishers are available in your workplace employees can use them if they have been trained. It is important to understand that the extinguisher is specific to the combustion source. It is critical that the appropriate type of extinguisher be available for use. Type (A) extinguisher is used for fires involving combustibles like wood or paper. Type (B) extinguisher is used for flammable liquids and gases. Type (C) extinguisher is used for fires where electricity may be present. Type (D) extinguisher is used for combustible metals like magnesium. Fire extinguishers are labeled for use on either a single class of fire (A) or (D), or for multiple-class fires (BC) or (ABC).    

Use the PASS method when using a fire extinguisher:  
    P – Pull the pin  
    A – Aim hose at the base of the fire   
    S – Squeeze the trigger  
    S – Sweep back and forth with the extinguisher
 
Two Toolbox Talks are available for your use relating to fire safety. They are available at the ASA Web site at www.asa.net.  

Fire safety is an important step on the path to an effective safety program that can positively impact your productivity, the health and well-being of your employees, and a better bottom line.

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