Written by Alan Johnson, for TecTorque Autumn 2014
Ask anyone who has ever been involved with a major fire, whether at their home or at their workplace, it’s one of the most frightening experiences they will ever encounter.
The consequences of a major fire can have a devastating effect on those burnt and precautions should be always be taken, especially in the workplace.
Employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of everyone in their workplace, which includes employees, contractors, visitors and customers. This is especially important during emergencies such as a fire.
It is important companies are prepared to ensure everyone can evacuate quickly and safely.
Worksafe Victoria says it is vital companies place fire equipment, including fire extinguishers, hoses and blankets, where it can be accessed quickly if needed.
It is also important that the fire equipment is placed away from heat sources and is regularly maintained.
Employers should also ensure that the fire equipment available is suitable for the risks specific to the workplace, for example foam or dry powder type extinguishers for fires that involve flammable liquids (see below for more information on different types of equipment). Employers should also install signage so people can find fire equipment quickly and identify what type of fire it can be used on.
Companies should also make sure emergency exits are unlocked, not blocked and exit signs are illuminated. If the company has battery backup for illuminated exits signs, the battery power should be tested regularly.
If unsure about what is needed, TecTorque readers are advised to contact their local fire authority or fire equipment supplier for advice. Worksafe says it is also important that employers train their employees in how to use fire equipment and know what type of fire extinguishers to use for different types of fires.
Companies should also ensure fire equipment is tested by their local fire authority or fire equipment supplier to make sure it operates correctly, and to contact them for advice on how frequently fire equipment needs to be tested (usually every six months).
Employers are also need to write an emergency evacuation plan of how people should evacuate the workplace and where they should assemble if there is an emergency.
The emergency evacuation plan diagram should be displayed where everyone can see it and practice the plan with employees at regular intervals, for example, every six months. Each poster should clearly indicate where the person is in the building, where the exits are and where the assembly area is.
It is a legislative requirement for employers to provide for their employees safety during both normal work times and during emergencies in the workplace.
Employers should appoint personnel to act as Fire Wardens in the workplace to marshal staff, contractors and visitors to safe places in the event of an emergency.
Training should be nationally recognised and take into account the requirements listed in Australian Standard 3745-2002 Emergency Control Organisations for buildings, structures and workplaces. This training should be based upon the unit of competency PUAWER005B Operate as part of an Emergency Control Organisation.
Mobile Plant Fires
Worksafe Victoria has also identified a growing number of incidents involving fire on mobile plant, especially on mine sites, both underground and open cut mines.
Typical causes of fire include component failure and/or inadequate maintenance.
Worksafe Victoria says the most common contributing factors were failure to maintain the integrity of pressurised hydraulic hoses, not keeping hydraulic lines clear of heated surfaces (inadequate clearance or insulation) and oil leaking onto hot engine components.
Other factors included hose type, transmission coolers and power train components not to manufacturer’s requirements, a build-up of material between hoses and heated surfaces, allowing thermal conduction and ignition, and frayed electrical connections.
To prevent fires occurring on mobile plant Worksafe Victoria recommends companies ensure all hydraulic components are ‘like for like’ and considered suitable for use; and always consult the plant manufacturer before making changes.
Companies should also ensure any contractor installations/design modifications that are undertaken off-site are verified on-site by the employer before use and are equivalent to manufacturer’s standards and design.
They should also implement quality checks by manufacturer-authorised service providers periodically as a cross check for internal maintenance, and evaluate potential alternative higher flash point manufacturer-approved hydraulic oils, which contain Polyol Ester based fluids, phosphate esters or water glycol and emulsions. Such fluids must be compatible to the existing in situ components such as seals/fittings.
Regarding inspection and maintenance, Worksafe Victoria recommends companies complete pre-start checks for locating and acting on oil leaks, sprays and stains.
Companies should also ensure the maintenance work order system includes the correct selection integrity and testing of control measures, and that thermal imaging equipment is used to detect hot spots and high temperature areas of plant during maintenance programs. As well as ensuring high current wiring is not in close contact with hydraulic hoses, companies should routinely wash, clean and check hoses for any sources of rubbing, oily mist or leaks, and carry out periodic checks on hydraulic braking systems to ensure sound operation, including bearings brake drums, rotor and calipers.
Companies should also routinely check electrical wiring including insulation, and check solenoid connections for corrosion and replace/check at set engine hours or as per manufacturer recommendations.
On plant that is used in high risk zones, companies should install fire detection and automatic fire suppression devices and install engine auto-shutdown systems that operate when the fire suppression system is discharged.
For more information, companies should refer to Australian Standard 5062–2006 - Fire protection for mobile and transportable equipment , which has useful and practical information on fire management including: fire types, ignition sources, potential fire hazard locations, and fire analysis and fire protection systems.
Types of Fire Equipment
Robert Hall, CEO of Fireworld, says it is very important that companies understand the different types of fire equipment available, and what fires they are suitable for.
“And probably more important is that they know what they are NOT suitable for, and that they are recharged after use to Australian Standards. “TecTorque readers should take note of the information below,” Hall said.
He also explained that companies only purchase fire extinguishers and fire blankets that have been approved by SAI Global and have the SAI Global five tick standards mark sticker.
“This sticker has the individual SAI Global reference number and is a sign that the person has purchased a SAI Global approved product,” Hall said.
Wet Chemical Fire Extinguishers
Wet chemical fire extinguishers are a red cylinder marked by oatmeal coloured band and are effective against fires involving cooking oils and fats.
The wet chemical reacts with burning cooking oil or fat to form a suds-like blanket across the fuel surface, cutting off the fire’s air supply and preventing the release of flammable vapours.
The wet chemical fire extinguishers are available in two sizes. The 7.0L is ideal for large cooking and food processing applications, and the 2.0L is ideal for smaller restaurant kitchens.
The wet chemical fire extinguishers are suitable for Class A – Paper, textiles, wood and Class F – Cooking oils or fats types of fires.
Air Water Fire Extinguishers
Air water fire extinguishers are red with no coloured band and discharge a stream of water onto the fire, lowering the temperature of the burning material to below ignition point. Air Water options are available in a 9.0L size.
Air Water Fire Extinguishers are suitable for Class A – Paper, textiles, wood, most plastics & rubber types of fires.
Dry Chemical Powder ABE Fire Extinguishers
Dry Chemical Powder ABE Fire Extinguisher s are a red cylinder with a white coloured band around the top of the cylinder and are an all-round type of fire extinguisher suited for fires occurring in the industrial, home, marine, mining, car or caravan type areas.
The fire extinguisher discharges a fine powder that absorbs fuel molecules, depriving the fire of a fuel source. Powder fire extinguishers are available in a range of sizes for domestic and industrial situations including 1kg, 2.5kg, 4.5kg and 9.0kg models.
Powder fire extinguishers ABE are suitable for Class A – Paper, textiles, wood, most plastics & rubber; Class B – Flammable liquids; Class C – Combustible gases; and Class E – Electrically energised equipment types of fire.
Dry Chemical BE Fire Extinguishers
The dry chemical BE fire extinguishers are distinguished by a white coloured band around the top of the cylinder and are suitable for flammable liquid and electrical fires in industrial home, marine, mining, car or caravan type areas.
Dry chemical BE fire extinguishers are available in a range of sizes, from a compact 4.5kg model to a 9kg model suitable for industrial applications.
Powder Fire Extinguishers BE are suitable for Class B – Flammable liquids; and Class E – Electrically energised equipment types of fires.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Fire Extinguishers
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) fire extinguishers are identified by a black coloured band around the top of the red cylinder.
Carbon dioxide is a non-conductive and non-corrosive gas used to reduce the amount of oxygen available to the fire. Carbon dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere and stored at high pressure in the liquid state within a fire extinguisher.
The range of CO2 type fire extinguishers consist of 2kg, 3.5kg and 5kg models.
Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are suitable for Class B – Flammable liquids; and Class E – Electrically energised equipment types of fires.
AFFF (Foam) Fire Extinguishers
AFFF (Foam) fire extinguishers are distinguished with a blue band on a red cylinder and work by covering a burning flammable liquid with a blanket of foam, cutting off the fire’s air supply and preventing the release of flammable vapours.
Foam fire extinguishers are available in a 9.0L sizes and are suitable for Class A – Paper, textiles, wood, most plastics & rubber; and Class B – Flammable liquids types of fires.
Galvanised Zinc Fire Extinguishers
Fireworld now supply the 4.5kg dry chemical ABE 80BE galvanised zinc fire extinguishers which are designed for use in heavy aggressive environments such as mining, marine, transport or anywhere a heavy duty fire extinguisher is required.
The Pulvex ABC Royal, 90% dry chemical ABE powder that is used in the fire extinguisher is manufactured by Orchidée Germany GmbH. This high grade fire fighting powder is a key to the fire power of the 80BE rating on the 4.5kg ABE fire extinguisher.
The painting process involves pickling the steel cylinder with a phosphorous coating, drying then spraying a zinc coating which is passed through the powder coating kiln. The units are then sent through the powder coating for the final red powder coating finish.
Manufactured by Resil of Brazil, the company has been manufacturing products for over 55 years and first listed the Resil fire extinguishers with the Australian Standards kite mark way back in the 1975.
Fire Blankets are ideal for residential and commercial settings where small class F cooking oil fires are a risk.
The sizes available are 1m x 1m, 1.2m x 1.2m, 1.2m x 1.9m and 1.8m x 1.8m. The 1.8 x 1.8m fire blankets can also be used in situations where a person’s clothing has caught fire. The fire blanket can be wrapped around the person to smother the flames.
The Fireworld fire blanket is supplied in a PVC red Pouch and is designed to smoother cooking oil or fat fire, restricting oxygen and extinguishing the fire.
The red screen-printing has the word “fire blanket”, the instructions and other requirements to Australian Standards. There is no brand name on the fire blankets. The brand is fire blanket.
The Fireworld fire blanket is made using a fibreglass matting material, which is hemmed along each circumference. This is a superior finish to the standard fire blanket which is coated with glue (to hold the fibres) and just cut to length.
The fire blanket has SAI Global, Australian standards approval and has the 5 tick sticker and individual registration number on every fire blanket.