Industrial fires and explosions are a major risk at worksites across the country. Warehouses, processing plants, mills and the like are fraught with fire hazards. Although detailed safety regulations are designed to prevent tragic fires, they still happen with unfortunate regularity. Nationwide, there are more than 35,000 industrial fires each year, causing injuries, deaths and millions of dollars in property damage.
What contributes to industrial fires? The biggest factors include:
- Sparks: Welding, soldering, brazing and other work involving extreme temperatures can throw sparks great distances, igniting nearby fumes or other flammable substances.
- Combustible dust: Dust is a common byproduct of industrial work. This dust can be highly flammable, especially if not properly stored and disposed of. What’s more, fires involving combustible dust often trigger not just one, but two fires: the initial blaze and a secondary explosion when the dust cloud thrown up by the first fire ignites.
- Electrical hazards: Industrial worksites often house a fleet of heavy-duty machinery with significant power draws. Improper wiring, degrading circuitry and other electrical hazards can lead to smoldering fires that soon erupt into devastating infernos.
- Defective equipment: The machinery itself can also pose a serious fire hazard. Industrial equipment often produces significant heat. When something goes wrong with the cooling systems or other vital components, a fire can quickly take off.
- Other flammable substances: Industrial worksites are full of flammable substances: gas, fumes, linseed oil, solvents and countless other materials. Even the smallest missteps in handling these materials can have drastic consequences.
While some industrial fires are due to factors outside human control, for the most part, these fires are preventable. The risk is greatly reduced when everyone at these worksites – workers, supervisors and management alike – makes safety their No. 1 priority.