Knowing Causes of Fires Is Key to Education Effort
Industrial Fire Safety
We know from statistics approximately how many fires occur each year and in which category they fall. See our column last September, “Losses Show Nation Needs Fire Prevention Education.” It is reasonable to state, however, that the causes of fire are of much greater importance, as we need to know where and to whom fire prevention education must be directed.
From the latest available sources, we list the causes of fire in the following tables. Table A is a general record for all classifications, residential, industrial, commercial, etc., as compiled by the National Fire Protection Association.
Table B covers only industrial fires, as reported by Associated Factory Mutual Fire Insurance Companies.
Table C is a comparison of the previous two tables.
There is no intent in table C to have figures equal 100 percent but only to show that electrical fires lead the parade in all categories, with smoking and open flames either second or third. One of the most interesting percentages assigned to fire losses is the miscellaneous item. We have a mystery total of 29 percent for miscellaneous and unknown in table A and 1 percent for table B.
Based upon these figures, we readily agree with the NFPA that a more detailed and comprehensive method of fire reporting, as now planned through Project First, must be forthcoming if statistics are to be of full value in assigning causes of fire and making recommendations for reducing fire losses.
We feel it is not so important to know how many losses occur in which category but rather why they occur.
Causes, examples and recommendations could cover many pages, but they can be condensed to a meaningful few:
- Cause: Omission of proper planning for installations by designers and manufacturers. Example: Insufficient thought to the future needs for power, heat and light, resulting in overloading of equipment, systems and processes. Recommendation: This situation dictates a need for planning any structure, equipment or process prior to final layouts by designers, architects, fire protection engineers, users, insurance companies, etc.
- Cause: Improper installations. Example: Installing a lacquer paint spray booth without the electrical system being explosion-proof, as required by the National Electrical Code. Recommendation: This is tied directly into No. 1, but bears a closer look as such high hazards call for the consideration of all pertinent standards and codes during their installation.
- Cause: Improper use of equipment. Example: Opening drums of unvented or ungrounded red label flammable liquids with ordinary steel tools.
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Recommendation: Provide an educational program on the need for drum vents, grounding equipment and the use of non-ferrous work tools. This educational program must include all employees so they will understand what they are using and why. They must know how to be fire-safe. It does not come automatically. It must be presented and continually repeated.
- 4. Cause: Lack of preventive maintenance programs. Example: Lack of inspections on a periodic basis. These inspections include looking for spotworn or broken wiring, parts, welding hoses, gears, conveyors and the like which need repairs or replacement to remove an ignition source and prevent a fire loss. Recommendation: Weekly inspections of all plant areas to spot hazards prior to a fire. See Fire Engineering, “Industrial Fire Safety,” August 1967, “Management Support Is Vital to Weekly Plant Inspections.” Everyone everywhere has a responsibility to curb fires, it is not a one-person job.
- 5. Cause: Poor housekeeping. Example: Piles of useless combustible waste collected and kept in areas of process machines, boiler rooms, loading docks and open yard areas. Recommendation: Remove from the premises the combustible waste materials not needed in processes. Remove excess sources of ignition. We must live and use combustibles in our daily lives and manufacturing, but there is no need to compound the problem with useless masses of fire possibility.
In conclusion, people are the key to the preventing of fires. Therefore, until mandatory educational programs are formulated for all walks of life, setting forth the reasons for hostile fires, the dangers of everyday equipment and makeup of raw materials and finished products, we shall have little success in reducing fire losses.