Industrial Combustion

In a 2007 incident in Colorado, vapors from a sealant applied to a concrete floor exploded when they came into contact with the pilot light from a gas-fired water heater in a nearby utility room. Fortunately, no injuries were reported, and a wet-pipe sprinkler system limited damage to $8,000 to the building and its contents.

One of the most important ways to reduce the risk of fire in the workplace is to prevent combustion. Proper handling and storage of materials, controlling vapors and ignition sources and paying attention to workplace housekeeping are a few of the steps that can reduce the risk of combustion.

Hot work operations such as welding, cutting or hot riveting is a leading cause of industrial fires, and the risk can be compounded if hot work is performed too close to combustible liquids. Removing such liquids from a hot work area is a common precaution, as is wetting combustible floors, covering wall and floor openings and inspecting hot work areas after the work is completed.

Controlling vapors is another critical step in preventing combustion. Although many people think some liquids are flammable or combustible, the vapors emitted by those liquids represent the true danger. Uncontrolled vapors can travel substantial distances along surfaces, down stairs, under doors, through air ducts or via other openings to reach an ignition source.

Static electricity can be another common ignition source if steps aren’t taken to prevent it. Rotating belts, mixing operations or the improper transfer of combustible or flammable liquids are just a few ways static electricity can build up and ignite flammable vapors.

To reduce the risk, containers used to dispense combustible or flammable liquids should be grounded (connected to a ground pipe or metal post with a conductive wire) or bonded (connected to the container materials are being dispensed into with a conductive wire).

Reducing Sources

Another important safety step is reducing the quantities of combustible materials used in production. No more than one shift’s worth of materials should be available on the production floor, and those materials should be stored in approved safety cans with spring-loaded lids. Flammable and combustible liquids should be dispensed from safety cans with a laboratory-tested hand pump designed to reduce the chance of spills and leaks.

Workplace housekeeping is another important way to reduce the combustion risk. Failure to remove waste or scraps from the production environment can increase the amount of flammable fuel in the workplace. Similarly, improper storage or disposal of rags soaked with flammable liquids is one of the leading causes of spontaneous combustion in production facilities. Petroleum-based combustible liquids leaking from hydraulic equipment can also present a strong fire hazard. Pressurized oils can produce a fine mist that is ignited easily, and fluids leaking from valves, gaskets or fittings can also lead to fires.

To reduce this risk, hydraulic equipment should be inspected regularly to identify and correct leaks or other potential hazards.

Paying attention to the use and storage of potentially combustible materials, as well as emphasizing that workplace housekeeping involves more than tidying up occasionally, can help reduce the considerable risks associated with combustible materials and vapors.

To learn more:

Next: Sprinkler Installation