Being cognizant of fire hazards is vital to protect your employees and facility. The first step in fire prevention is management support, says Jason Moats, associate director for the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service Emergency Services Training Institute.
“If the managers and the leaders of the company don’t take safety seriously, they’re not going to make the investments, they’re not going to give the top-down support that’s needed, and their safety programs fail,” Moats says.
Here are eight tips to promote a culture of safety.
1 Isolate potential fuel loads from ignition sources. Idle wooden pallets would easily burn if a fire started, says Ben Peetz, volunteer firefighter and agribusiness risk control consultant for FCCI Insurance Group. Wherever possible, move combustibles away from equipment, electrical systems or other places where a fire could start.
2 Install fire extinguishers and automatic sprinkler systems.
Follow guidelines from the National Fire Protection Association to ensure adequate number and spacing. Train employees how to use them.
“Aside from the requirements, I like to know that in any spot I’m standing, there’s a fire extinguisher within relatively close reach,” Peetz says.
3 Monitor your facility to detect problems early. Use smoke and heat detection systems to catch issues before they get out of hand.
“Detection is anything you can do to find out something is going wrong,” Peetz says. “The quicker you can address it, the quicker you can make sure it gets under control before it becomes something larger.”
4 Keep your facilities clean.
A lack of cleanliness is often the cause for the start and spread of fires in agricultural facilities.
“If you get an accumulation of cobwebs or grain dust, it just adds to your fuel load if a fire does occur,” Peetz adds. “Figure out the best approach for your operation, whether it’s sweeping or vacuuming—or even washing areas down periodically. It’s a never-ending job, but keeping things under control can keep a small hot spot from quickly becoming a big fire.”
5 Perform preventative maintenance on electrical systems and equipment.
Ensure electrical boxes are closed and sealed. Regularly maintain motors, bearings, grinders, fork lifts and other equipment that could provide an ignition source for a fire.
“If those motors are allowed to accumulate a lot of dust where they’re insulated and kept hot, they can eventually build up enough heat to where the dust that’s accumulated will begin to burn,” Peetz says. “That can quickly spread in a facility that’s not very clean.”
In addition, check and clean electrical boxes regularly. Peetz points out the warmth of electrical boxes can attract rodents in cold weather. If the boxes aren’t properly sealed, then rodents may build nests inside and carry in combustibles that can build up heat and catch fire.
6 Have an employee list and a sign-in sheet for visitors. Keep a record of who is in your facility at any given time, so everyone can be accounted for in an emergency.
“That way when the fire department arrives, they know if they need to go in and search for someone in particular, or you can confirm to them if the building is clear and secure,” Peetz says.
7 Train employees on fire response and evacuation routes. All too often, people may try to save expensive equipment at their own risk, Moats says. Remind your employees how important it is to evacuate if a fire occurs.
“We can replace equipment, but we can’t replace our people,” Moats says. “In the long run, putting people’s lives in jeopardy is more costly than anything else.”
8 Communicate with your local fire department. Invite them to come in and tour your facility, especially if you move your storage areas around, Moats says. If they know how your facility is laid out, then they’ll be better able to respond if a fire occurs. When it comes to the specifics of your facility, they can help you be better prepared.