Safety & HCM Post

Stop Fires Before They Start

The best way to fight a fire is to prevent it from starting.

Fire needs four things to burn – fuel, oxygen, a source of ignition and a chemical reaction. If you remove any of these four things, there will be no fire. This model, to explain how fire occurs, is called a fire pyramid -because a pyramid has four sides counting the base.

– Fuel is any combustible material, whether solid, liquid or gas. You can make fuel unavailable by keeping materials and litter from accumulating. It is also important to correctly handle and store any flammable liquids so that spills do not occur and vapors do not accumulate.

– Oxygen is part of the air that we breathe. You can put out a fire by smothering it – removing the source of oxygen.

– Ignition is the source of heat which sets off the fire. This ignition may come from lighting a match, setting off a friction spark, or contacting hot metal, for example. Certain substances have an auto-ignition point at which the surrounding temperature is sufficient to start a fire. There are some materials which will auto-ignite at normal room temperatures.

– The fourth component of a fire is a chemical reaction. This reaction can happen when the fuel, ignition and air are present in the correct amounts and under the right conditions. Fires occur when this chemical reaction takes place.

If you remove any one of these four things, the fire cannot start, or it will be extinguished if it has already begun. To stop a fire, therefore, you must:

– Remove the heat. Do this by cooling the burning materials. In some fires, you would do this with water. But remember that water must not be used on fires including flammable liquids, electricity and certain chemicals.

– Remove the oxygen by smothering it. An example would be blanketing the fire with a chemical substance such as foam from a fire extinguisher to shut out the oxygen.

– Remove the fuel by pulling combustibles away or shutting off a fuel valve.

– Halt the chemical reaction. This could be accomplished by using a dry chemical fire extinguisher on certain types of fires.

Fire prevention means keeping the four components of a fire from getting together. Here are some practical ways to do so in your workplace:

– Keep clutter cleaned up. Remove scrap, trash and other accumulations of combustible materials. Place oily rags in designated and approved containers.

– Store flammable liquids safely to reduce fire hazards. Keep them in approved containers or cabinets in a well ventilated area.

– Safely store chemicals according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Take care to separate incompatible materials.

– Pay attention to electrical equipment to make sure circuits do not become overloaded. Treat electrical equipment carefully so it does not become damaged. Short circuits and overheated wires are responsible for many fires.

– Maintain and operate mechanical equipment correctly so it does not become overheated and start a fire. Stop all leaks of flammable or combustible material such as gas, oil or grease.

– Safely dispose of any smoking materials, and smoke only in designated areas. Never empty cigarette butts into the trash until you are positive they are cold.

These are just a few of the ways to keep your workplace fire safe – by keeping the four sides of the fire pyramid from getting together.

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