How to avoid industrial fires

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Are we complacent about fire hazards? These days, we power our boilers and machinery with nice clean electricity, or safely-enclosed gas, and hardly ever see a naked flame. But statistics prove this safety is an illusion: fires remain frighteningly common, and every year hundreds die and billions of pounds go up in smoke.

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Recent figures from the National Fire Protection Association indicate there are 37,000 fires at industrial premises globally per annum. In the UK last year there were 2,114 serious industrial fires and 13,000 more at other commercial premises. There were 248 deaths in 2017 and 425 in 2010.

There can be multiple causes of a given fire. For example, an everyday activity generates combustible waste, a fan disperses it, cleaning routines overlook it, an overheated machine ignites some, and nearby drums feed it. When circumstances build up in this way, it’s often hard to anticipate the disaster that is coming. However, a common intermediary is dust.

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Combustible dusts

Can we even distinguish between combustible and non-combustible dust? We rarely know what is in it, but most is potentially combustible. Materials impossible to ignite when intact can become explosive as dust. Dust is a major cause of fires in almost every industry you can think of.

One of the qualities that make dust dangerous is its capacity to hide out of sight. We usually find some we didn’t know about every time we stand on a chair. It has a tendency to congregate in precisely the places that are hard to reach or see; such as above suspended ceilings, on the top of roof girders, and under plant machinery.

Is your solution another hazard?

One of the most dangerous places for dust to accumulate is inside your dust extractors. The very equipment that was supposed to be removing the problem then becomes a way it can spread around the building. This is why most HVAC engineers these days recommend spiral duct (see – because its round profile maximises airflow and provides no sheltered corners for dust to settle.

Using brooms is another way to increase your risk exposure. The good intentions are there, but brooms just move it from where it can be seen to where it can’t. Invest in a professional duct extraction system and catch it at source.