Risk Insider: George Browne

Control of Ignition Sources

By: | March 23, 2016

George Browne, CFPS, has a B.S. in Fire Protection. He is Manager of Training Services for Global Risk Consultants. He manages fire protection services, and develops and delivers training programs for clients on an individual basis. He can be reached at [email protected].

Many of you may be familiar with the “Fire Triangle” and its three sides labelled: Heat, Fuel, and Oxygen. When all three sides come together, in the proper quantity, the result is a combustion reaction we call fire.

Knowing about this dynamic allows us to prevent combustion by maintaining the separation of at least one side of the triangle from the other two sides.

The air you breathe as you walk through your own facility contains enough oxygen to support combustion. This leg of the triangle can’t be removed.

Leading causes of fire continue to be hot work and smoking. Hot work includes using heat for cutting, welding, and brazing.

As you continue your walk, you might also notice products and packaging, furniture, wood or plastic pallets, and other combustible materials typical to your operations. Eliminating these potential fuels is not practical as they are necessary to your business.

The only choice left to control is the heat side of the fire triangle.

A heat source needs only to be hot enough to ignite the fuel. Based on the types of fuels in your facility, the ignition temperature of the fuel may not be very high.

Common heat sources include:

  • Open flames
  • Electrical wiring and equipment
  • Hot work
  • Smoking

Less recognized, but still significant ignition sources include:

  • Hot surfaces
  • Friction
  • Static electricity
  • Chemical reactions

Safely controlling heat sources requires identifying all ignition scenarios based on the heat sources and potential fuels involved. The controls you apply will consist of human element programs (teach people about the hazard and control/prevention methods), engineered solutions (maintain separation of the ignition source and fuel), or a combination of both.

Leading causes of fire continue to be hot work and smoking. Hot work includes using heat for cutting, welding, and brazing.

It also includes using cartridge operated tools, improvised heating sources, or other work that brings a heat source in proximity to fuels. Using a written program and hot work permits, these fires are 100 percent preventable.

Careless smoking continues to be a significant ignition source despite smoking controls in the workplace. In fact, smoking continues to be a leading cause of home fire deaths in the United States. To be effective, no-smoking policies in the workplace need to be enforced and smoking cessation programs may be needed to help your employees quit smoking.

The hazards of electrical and friction heat sources can be easily controlled by keeping combustible materials away from the equipment and with proper maintenance. The use of Infrared Thermography is very effective at quantifying the hazards created by overheating equipment.

While static electricity is often not recognized as an ignition source until after it has become a problem, it can be controlled with proper bonding and grounding of the containers. However, there is a critical human element component to controlling static electricity.

People must be trained on the hazard, how to bond and ground to control the hazard, and how failure to use the equipment properly can defeat the safety features in place.

To successfully prevent a fire and protect your business, assess all of your potential ignition sources and identify ways to control them.

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