Fire safety in warehousing

Issue 6 2021 Logistics (Industry), Fire & Safety

Warehouses are generally large spaces with high ceilings, making them difficult to effectively protect from fire risks, especially when one wants to identify a fire in its initial stages and stop it before damages are incurred. In addition to this challenge, many warehouses can store items that would be damaged with traditional water suppression systems, so what one uses after the fire or some smouldering substance is discovered, is also important.


Brett Birch.

To find out more about fire detection and suppression solutions for warehouses, Hi-Tech Security Solutions asked Brett Birch, general manager for local manufacturer Technoswitch Fire Detection & Suppression, for some insights.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What solutions would you suggest a warehouse operation should consider when it comes to fire prevention?

Birch: Warehousing or distribution centres are one of the fastest growing market segments at the moment. This segment was already experiencing significant growth pre-Covid, but the growth is now exponential, driven by the boom in e-commerce. The density of combustible materials in modern warehouses further increases the fire risk.

Although the number of warehouse fires is currently relatively low, the high growth in the number of warehouses coupled with the density of combustible materials in modern warehouses is bound to increase the number of fires in the future.

The need for effective fire detection and suppression solutions for warehouses will therefore become more critical. However, detecting fires in warehouses is challenging due to high ceilings, which result in smoke stratification and dilution. In addition, the density of shelving and packaging further complicates the detection of fire and the suppression thereof. In specialist warehouses such as automated high-bay warehouses, cold storage warehouses and chemical storage warehouses, one has additional factors to consider.

Part of the selection process for effective fire detection and suppression solutions should therefore consider the following:

• Operating temperature – can the equipment operate effectively in temperatures below zero?

• Material being stored – i.e., chemicals and other hazardous materials.

• Business continuity – the impact on the business following a fire.

• Installation cost – product cost is not everything.

• Maintenance cost – a hidden cost often overlooked and critical in warehouses where it becomes exceptionally difficult to maintain the systems due to the high ceilings and dense racking.

• Reliability – the cost implication of false alarms.

As per SANS 10139, only aspirating smoke detection (ASD) and optical beam detection are recommended for use at the ceiling heights typically found in warehouses. Of these, ASD will provide the better detection performance, but at a higher cost; as a result, optical beams are used for more cost-sensitive applications. An alternative detection technology that can be considered is linear heat detection (LHD), which can be mounted within the racks.

Cold storage warehouses with operating temperatures below zero limit the fire detection options even further, and here either ASD or LHD is typically considered.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Water may not be the ideal firefighting solution for warehouses due to the damage it could cause; what alternatives do you suggest?

Birch: Fire suppression in warehouses is difficult due to the high ceilings and open areas, which in general prevents the use of gaseous suppression systems. In addition, SANS 10400-T and SANS 10287 make the use of fire sprinklers mandatory in most warehouse applications; the use of alternatives is therefore not always possible. However, where warehouses are compartmentalised one can consider using sprinklers in the large open areas and gas suppression systems, such as Inergen, in the enclosed areas.

For warehouses storing flammable or combustible liquids, foam-based suppression systems may be more appropriate.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: Video surveillance cameras can be used to detect smoke and fire in their early stages. Have you found video to be a reliable fire protection technology – specifically in the warehousing context?

Birch: There have been significant technological improvements that have allowed video to be considered for detecting smoke and fire. These systems are commonly referred to as Video Smoke Detection (VSD) systems. However, there are currently no product performance standards for these types of systems. As a result, it is not possible to assess the performance of these systems for both sensitivity to fires and avoidance of false alarms.

Other factors to be kept in mind when considering using VSD are:

• Camera line-of-sight is vital, and in warehouse applications, the unpredictable nature of the shelving layout and packaging will be problematic.

• The ambient lighting level may either be too low or too high to obtain a satisfactory response from the camera when required.

Hi-Tech Security Solutions: What fire safety solutions does your company supply that would be applicable in the warehousing context?

Birch: Technoswitch supplies the following products which have been used successfully in numerous warehouse applications internationally and locally:

• Xtralis Vesda aspirating smoke detection systems.

• Securiton SecuriSmoke aspirating smoke detection systems.

• OSID optical beam detection.

• The Fire Beam optical beam detection.

• ILIA optical beam detection.

• Protectowire linear heat detection (including fibre-optic LHD).


Credit(s)





Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page



Further reading:

SMART and secure estates in Cape Town
Technews Publishing Axis Communications SA Gallagher DeepAlert Nemtek Electric Fencing Products Editor's Choice
In February 2024, SMART Security Solutions emigrated to the Western Cape to host its first SMART Estate Security Conference in the region in many years. For the day, we took over the prestigious D’Aria Wine Estate.

Read more...
Integrated, mobile access control
SA Technologies Entry Pro Technews Publishing Access Control & Identity Management
SMART Security Solutions spoke to SA Technologies to learn more about what is happening in the estate access world and what the company offers the residential estate market.

Read more...
New ransomware using BitLocker to encrypt data
Technews Publishing Information Security Residential Estate (Industry)
Kaspersky has identified ransomware attacks using Microsoft’s BitLocker to attempt encryption of corporate files. It can detect specific Windows versions and enable BitLocker according to those versions.

Read more...
SMART Estate Security returns to KZN
Nemtek Electric Fencing Products Technews Publishing Axis Communications SA OneSpace Editor's Choice News & Events Integrated Solutions IoT & Automation
The second SMART Estate Security Conference of 2024 was held in May in KwaZulu-Natal at the Mount Edgecombe Estate Conference Centre, which is located on the Estate’s pristine golf course.

Read more...
Creating employment through entrepreneurship
Technews Publishing Marathon Consulting Editor's Choice Integrated Solutions Residential Estate (Industry)
Eduardo Takacs’s journey is a testament to bona fide entrepreneurial resilience, making him stand out in a country desperate for resilient businesses in the small and medium enterprise space that can create employment opportunities.

Read more...
From the editor's desk: Just gooi a cable
Technews Publishing News & Events
      Welcome to the 2024 edition of the SMART Estate Security Handbook. We focus on a host of topics, and this year’s issue also has a larger-than-normal Product Showcase section. Perhaps the vendors are ...

Read more...
Kaspersky finds 24 vulnerabilities in biometric access systems
Technews Publishing Information Security
Customers urged to update firmware. Kaspersky has identified numerous flaws in the hybrid biometric terminal produced by international manufacturer ZKTeco, allowing a nefarious actor to bypass the verification process and gain unauthorised access.

Read more...
From the editor's desk: AI and events
Technews Publishing News & Events
      Welcome to the 2024 edition of the SMART Surveillance Handbook. Reading through this issue will demonstrate that AI has undoubtedly made its mark on the surveillance industry. Like ‘traditional’ video ...

Read more...
The TCO of cloud surveillance
DeepAlert Verifier Technews Publishing Surveillance Infrastructure
SMART Security Solutions asked two successful, home-grown cloud surveillance operators for their take on the benefits of cloud surveillance to the local market. Does cloud do everything, or are there areas where onsite solutions are preferable?

Read more...
Surveillance on the edge
Axis Communications SA Guardian Eye Technews Publishing Surveillance
Edge processing, a practical solution that has been available for some time, has proven its utility in various scenarios, tailored to the unique requirements of each user.

Read more...