Industrial settings are high-risk environments in general, but the risk of fire in these locations is always a concern because of the human lives at stake, the reputational damage that can result from a fire even if the company met all the required protection standards, and financial costs that may result from damaged machinery and downtime (not to mention legal costs).
To be sure, the risks to people from fire, smoke and related threats is the greatest concern, but the potential danger to equipment and production as a result of fire and even the suppression technologies used to stop the fire from spreading is also top of mind for industrial concerns.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to Brett Birch, general manager of Technoswitch, to find out more about fire safety in industrial settings. Technoswitch is an ISO 9001:2015 certified South African company that designs, manufactures, imports and sells fire detection, suppression and control equipment.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Given the range of equipment and flammable substances in industrial settings, how should these environments go about planning for fire protection (detection and suppression) solutions?
Birch: The list of fire hazards in industrial environments is formidable, but this should not prevent effective fire protection systems from being installed and having fire protection policies and procedures in place to mitigate these risks. There are a number of international resources such as NFPA, ISO and BSI which can be used for guidance when planning fire protection for industrial environments. In general, most of these resources will recommend a formal approach to fire protection covering the following steps.
1. Conduct a risk analysis
Conduct a risk analysis of your entire facility to discover exactly where your greatest hazards lie and what you can do to address them. According to international data, the main causes of fire in industrial environments are:
• Combustible dust.
• Hot work.
• Flammable liquids and gases.
• Equipment and machinery.
• Electrical hazards.
Continually re-analyse your operations and associated risks regularly, for example, every time you install a new piece of equipment on your production line.
2. Install appropriate fire protection systems
Ensure that the fire protection systems chosen are those proven to be effective in detecting and suppressing the risks identified during the risk/hazard analysis.
3. Provide fire safety training
It is essential that job-specific training is provided to the personnel responsible for the installed fire protection systems. In addition, general fire safety training should be provided for everyone working in a potentially hazardous environment. All training should be done on an ongoing basis and not just once and then forgotten.
4. Inspect and maintain your equipment and systems regularly
Regular inspection and maintenance of all production equipment and systems will enhance safety and make operations more efficient. This should also include inspecting and testing all fire protection systems installed.
5. Establish fire prevention and emergency procedures
Make sure that policies and procedures are in place that cover everything from smoking to personal protective equipment to an emergency evacuation plan. Ensure everyone has access to these documents at all times.
6. Implement a regular housekeeping routine
In industrial environments, equipment and machinery is running for extended periods, sometimes 24 hours a day. As a result, sparks and static discharge may be hard to avoid entirely. However, a regular housekeeping routine can significantly decrease the chances of a small spark turning into a huge disaster.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What are the best solutions or technologies for use in these environments?
Birch: In general, the solutions and technologies used need to be ones proven to be most effective in tackling the risks identified during the risk/hazard analysis. Broadly, these solutions can be categorised as fire detection, gas detection and suppression systems. The available technologies within these broad categories are numerous, which can be overwhelming when trying to decide on the best solution. However, the questions below should be able to help narrow the potential solutions/systems down to those which are most appropriate for the risks and environment:
• Does the potential solution have a proven track record protecting the identified risks? Are these references verifiable?
• Has the product being proposed been tested and certified by an independent, third-party listing agency such as BSI or FM? These certifications demonstrate the system has been tested to the relevant international standards such as EN54 or UL.
• How is the product/solution being supported locally? Does the manufacturer/distributor have a proven after-sales track record with good availability of spares?
A further consideration is that these systems typically operate separately in most facilities today. This results in frequent maintenance issues or even false alarms as they are not designed to work together. Integrating these systems will simplify plant operations, reduce maintenance and allow a faster response to potential incidents.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: While a company will obviously want to provide protection to its employees in the event of a fire, how can it do this while also protecting expensive equipment and getting the environment up and running as quickly as possible?
Birch: During the risk analysis, the possible threat to life based on the hazards present in the environment would also be clearly identified. The fire prevention solution normally has a primary goal (i.e., protection of life, business continuity, etc.) and a secondary goal (containment, reducing damage to equipment). In certain cases, the hazard may not pose a great threat to life if detection and suppression can be addressed early, for example, a highly automated process with minimum personnel present.
In other cases, loss of life may be substantial; for example, an explosion occurring in a manpower intensive operation. By understanding the primary and secondary goals of the fire prevention solution for each of the risks identified, it is possible to combine the requirements of protecting employees and ensuring business continuity.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Are fire protection solutions available today able to be integrated into a central security management platform or will they have their own central control application and infrastructure?
Birch: Most solutions nowadays are able to operate both on their own control infrastructure, yet at the same time provide a means of integrating into the central reporting platform used by the end user. A typical example of this is to have the fire prevention system report to a dedicated PC in the control room of the industrial plant, while at the same time providing Modbus signals into the plant’s building management system. By combining reporting in this manner one also has the advantage of redundancy, which is an important consideration for business continuity.
Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What solutions does your company offer to the industrial market?
Birch: Technoswitch has an extensive product portfolio for oil and gas, chemical and petrochemical, power generation, automotive and other industrial manufacturing facilities. These range from:
• Intelligent fire control panels with Modbus integration capability plus full redundancy and hot swapability, minimising system downtime.
• Flame detectors for hazards such as flammable and combustible liquid storage tanks, electrostatic spray booths, battery charging facilities, generators, and ammunition facilities.
• Gas detection for explosive/hazardous gas environments such as refineries to detect gas and vapour leaks from crude desalting and catalytic cracking or toxic gases such as hydrogen sulphide found in wastewater.
• A variety of linear heat detection (LHD) solutions including Protectowire fibre-optic and analogue LHD, Securiton LIST electronic and pneumatic LHD. Some of these LHD offerings are able to provide real-time preventive temperature monitoring.
• Aspirating smoke detection for very early detection of fire in electrical cabinets, control equipment, and battery charging facilities to protect business continuity as well as for smoke detection in harsh environments with high levels of pollutants.
• Stat-X aerosol suppression for protection of dust collection apparatus, electrical cabinets, control rooms, CNC machines and flammable liquid storage.
• Rotarex COMPACT Line for protection of diesel generators.
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