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5 Ways to Prevent Industrial Fires and Explosions

According to the NFPA, between 2011 to 2015, an average of 37,910 fires occurred at industrial and manufacturing facilities each year. These industrial fires resulted in 16 civilian deaths, 279 injuries and over $1 billion in direct property damage. While the fires occurred for many reasons, a key one was because managers and employees were not aware of the various risks within the facility. 

Fires are a serious issue, and prevention is key in avoiding injury, death and property damage. A major part of prevention is knowing the risks within your facility and how to manage them properly. Since fires and explosions are usually preventable, the consequences that facilities face for these incidents are severe. In one case, a worker was injured while working on a dust collector that caught fire, and OSHA fined the company nearly $150,000

Here are the common causes of fires and explosions within facilities — and how to avoid them.

Causes of Industrial Fires and Explosions

1. Combustible Dust

The biggest cause of fires and explosions within industrial facilities is combustible dust. Combustible dust can be found in many industrial facilities, from food processing plants to chemical plants. It is defined by OSHA as a solid material composed of particles that can present a fire or explosion hazard. The dust, when combined with oxygen and an ignition source, can result in a fire. 

If the dust is dispersed in an enclosed area, then there is also the potential for an explosion — which is difficult to contain and can lead to secondary, larger explosions. 

2. Hot Work

Traditionally, hot work is thought of as welding and torch cutting. However, it also includes other procedures, like brazing, burning, heating and soldering, which all create the potential for industrial fires. 

The risks occur due to the sparks that hot work equipment creates, and molten materials that can reach beyond 1,000ºF and travel more than 35 ft. The sparks and heat from hot work, combined with combustible dust, leads to many industrial fires and explosions. 

3. Flammable Products

Another common way for an industrial fire to occur is because of flammable liquids and gasses. These types of fire usually happen in chemical plants, as they work with highly flammable products such as fuel, acrylic acid and crude oil. 

When these products come into contact with an ignition source like electrical plugs, hot work and sparking equipment, it results in fire or combustion — and these are some of the most dangerous fires and explosions. 

In 2010, an explosion at Kleen Energy Systems power plant in Middletown, CT, was caused by natural gas, resulting in 6 deaths and 50 injuries. As a result of this massive explosion, OSHA proposed $16.6 million in penalties for an alleged 370 workplace safety violations.

4. Faulty Equipment and Machinery

Another threat to fire safety that industrial facilities face is from faulty equipment and machinery. Any equipment used to heat products or perform hot work can lead to an industrial fire, especially if the equipment doesn’t work properly. Furnaces are an especially big culprit for causing fires and explosions. 

When equipment is not installed or operated correctly, or properly maintained, it becomes a serious risk to industrial fire safety. Equipment with moving parts pose an extra risk as those parts can lead to friction and sparking, which can create a fire or explosion, especially if combined with combustible dust.

5. Electrical Hazards

Electrical hazards that can lead to industrial fires include things like:

  • Exposed wiring
  • Wiring that isn’t up to code
  • Overloading outlets and circuits
  • The use of extension cords
  • The presence of static discharge. 

Any of these hazards can result in sparking, which can become an ignition source for things like combustible dust and other flammable products. Any damage you can experience from electrical hazards can compound quickly, especially if more than one hazard is present at a time.

How to Prevent Fires and Explosions 

1. Conduct a Hazard Analysis

A Dust Hazard Analysis (DHA) is one requirement of NFPA 652, known as the Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust. It is a tool meant to help improve industrial plant safety by determining combustible dust hazards, so that facility owners and managers can improve their industrial fire safety. 

While it is a standard specified for NFPA 652, a DHA is useful for inspecting the entire facility for hazards. It will help to pinpoint what areas of the facility pose the greatest risks in safety, and help determine how to improve and eliminate those risks which will allow you to make your facility safer and help avoid serious fines and penalties from OSHA.

2. Train Employees in Fire Safety

Training, in general, is critical for employee safety, and especially to help avoid industrial fires. Industrial fire safety training should include general and job-specific safety. Employees should be educated in: 

  • Causes of fires and explosions
  • How they spread 
  • Spotting hazards
  • Handling and storing flammable materials. 
  • How to prevent fires 

Fire prevention should also cover the proper cleaning techniques to ensure that materials like combustible dust do not linger where they can pose a danger. Fire safety training should also include what to do in case of a fire, from extinguishing to safe evacuation of all personnel. 

3. Practice Good Housekeeping

The fire safety industry also states that good housekeeping is essential in preventing fires and explosions. OSHA has Good Housekeeping Guidelines that facilities are required to follow by law. These guidelines are for maintaining a clean, safe and sanitary facility. They include:

  • Keeping paper and other flammable goods away from electrical and heat sources.
  • Keeping flammable products safely contained.
  • Reporting problems or issues with equipment as soon as possible.

The use of the correct certified cleaning equipment is also a critical part of OSHA Guidelines. While there are different types of equipment, industrial vacuums are essential to keeping facilities clean, and HafcoVac offers high-quality, certified industrial vacuums ideal for preventing fires and explosions. 

Since housekeeping guidelines are mandatory, failure to comply can result in serious fines. 

4. Establish a Fire Prevention Plan and Emergency Procedures

It is critical to have a fire prevention plan and emergency fire procedures in place. An industrial fire safety plan needs to cover everything fire-related, and all employees must be educated in the prevention and emergency plans. 

It should include a detailed evacuation plan that explains what employees should do and where they should go in case of an industrial fire. The plan should be accessible to everyone, and it should be practiced so that employees can better understand what they should do in such situations. 

It is also vital to keep these plans and procedures up-to-date and always update employees on the procedures. 

5. Inspect and Maintain Your Equipment and Facility

Poorly maintained equipment is a large factor in industrial fires and explosions. A major part of what the fire safety industry calls for is inspecting and maintaining all equipment within the facility. 

Regularly scheduled checks and maintenance need to be done to ensure the equipment works properly and efficiently. Any motors or moving parts should be lubricated to ensure there is no friction that can lead to sparking and fires. 

Inspections should be done at least twice a year — or more, for frequently used equipment — and it should cover all parts of the facility, including sprinklers and fire extinguishers. Any needed repairs should be done immediately. 

Preventing Industrial Fires and Explosions

While industrial fires and explosions are unfortunately very common, they are usually entirely preventable. There are many potential risks, and when combined, like hot work and combustible dust, those risks become more serious. Preventing fires is critical to fire safety for industrial facilities. It helps to prevent serious incidents within the facility and also avoids fines and penalties from OSHA. 

The steps above are some of the most critical preventive measures you need to take in order to meet the standards of OSHA and keep your facility safe.

To help keep your facility clean and up to code, get in touch with HafcoVac for more information on explosion-proof vacuums.