Topic: Industrial Hazards

Ladder on a fire truck
Warehouse

Seeking input on ignition sources in warehouses for Fire Protection Research Foundation project

Oxygen reduction (or hypoxic) systems (ORS) are being used in warehouse facilities as an alternative to sprinkler protection. The basic principle of operation is to displace the ambient oxygen in an enclosed environment with one or more nitrogen generators.  Recently, the Fire Protection Research Foundation completed a project to review literature on the topic and identify research needs.  The research revealed that the test methods may not be sufficient for real-scale scenarios and may result in oxygen concentrations too high to prevent ignition. More research is needed on ORS test methods with a specific focus on: Data on real-world scenarios with the systems including information on reliability and maintenance issues Full- or real-scale validation of test methods that considers multiple types of ignition sources such as radiative and electrical high energy arc Data on ignition potential based on material type and storage arrangement for different O2 concentrations. Further research on the required oxygen concentration for specific fuels and applications. Therefore, the Foundation is conducting a second phase of "Review of Oxygen Reduction Systems for Warehouse Storage Applications" to develop both a prescriptive and performance-based design approach to select design oxygen concentrations for oxygen reduction system installations in warehouse applications. To do so, the project team is investigating ignition sources present in warehouses in order to evaluate and propose test methods for determining required oxygen levels for fire prevention purposes. As part of that effort, we have a questionnaire about ignition sources in warehouses to gather input from experts and stakeholders in the field. If you have any incident insights that you can share, please fill in the survey here. Information is collected anonymously unless you opt to provide contact information. Thank you in advance for your participation! 
Man in a warehouse

Unique Fire Protection Challenges Found in Warehouse/Distribution Centers

NFPA research shows that warehouse fires happen at a frequent rate with an average of 1,410 warehouse fires, two deaths, 20 injuries, and an estimated $159.4 million in direct property damage annually. To avoid becoming part of these statistics it is essential that a fire protection system is correctly designed, installed, inspected, maintained, and tested. Warehouse environments require additional considerations for sprinkler system design. This is due to the nature of how warehouses are designed and used. This blog will look at a handful of unique fire protection challenges found in warehouses and other distribution centers. For more specific information on how to design a sprinkler system see NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems. Commodity classification The most obvious unique characteristic of a warehouse is that the purpose of the building is to store a large number of goods and products. This can increase the fire load by a significant amount. This is why it is essential, when designing an automatic sprinkler system for a warehouse, that the items being stored are assigned the proper commodity classification. When determining the commodity classification, it is important to include not only the product itself but also the packing material as well as the container and pallet. The different commodity classifications are as follows: Class I – a noncombustible product that is either stored in single layer cardboard boxes or shrink wrapped or paper wrapped. The product can either be stored with or without wooden pallets. Class II – A noncombustible product stored in either wooden crates or multiple-layered cardboard boxes. The product can either be stored with or without wooden pallets. Class III – A product made from wood, paper, natural fibers, or Group C plastics. This can be stored with or without wooden crates and pallets. Class IV – A product that can be made from a mixture of Group B plastics with wood, paper, natural fibers or Class C plastics. The product is allowed to be made from a small percentage of Group A Plastics Group C Plastic – Certain plastics such as PVC. This is treated the same as a Class III Commodity Group B Plastic – Certain plastic rubbers such as silicone. This is treated the same as a Class IV commodity. Group A Plastic -   The most flammable plastics and natural rubbers. This group is further subdivided into expanded or nonexpanded plastics. This is treated differently from all other commodity classifications. In rack sprinklers Warehouses are the only location where you will find sprinklers both at the ceiling level as well as in racks closer to ground level. This is a unique way to get water in the racks and applied to a fire before it is able to grow beyond the capabilities of the sprinkler system. Some higher hazard commodities will require in-rack sprinklers while other commodities have the option to include rack sprinklers and decrease the robustness of the ceiling sprinklers. Prewetting Most sprinkler systems rely on the concept of prewetting as a critical component in controlling a developing fire. Prewetting is when the sprinkler system activates and wets the fuel in front of the fires path, slowing down the fire growth. The issue with warehouses is that they can contain encapsulated products, which are impervious to prewetting (think of something that is wrapped in plastic on all sides). Due to this challenge the sprinkler system would have to be designed to be robust enough to be able to control a fire without prewetting. Obstructions In warehouses there is the potential for Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinklers to be used. ESFR sprinklers rely on getting water to the fire quickly, this means both activating earlier than normal sprinklers and discharging water at a higher velocity. Because of this unique design feature, it makes it even more important to ensure that these sprinklers are clear of obstructions. If the sprinklers were prevented from reaching the fire during the early stages of fire growth the sprinkler could be ineffective. Change management Warehouses are likely to have items with varying commodity classifications being stored. Sprinkler design can account for this by either designing to the highest hazard commodity or by creating separate zones for higher and lower hazard commodities. Either way, when warehouses change what they are storing it is essential that the new products do not exceed the hazard level that the sprinklers were designed for. Flammable liquids and gasses Another unique fire protection challenge for warehouses is that there might be large quantities of hazardous materials such as flammable liquids and gasses. These types of materials typically fall outside of the scope of NFPA 13 and into other NFPA documents such as NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, NFPA 55, Compressed Gases and Cryogenic Fluids Code, NFPA 52, Vehicular Natural Gas Fuel Systems Code or NFPA 58, Liquified Petroleum Gas Code. These codes contain requirements on the specific containers, building construction, and/or sprinkler design required for the storage of these more hazardous materials. These are just some of the many unique fire protection challenges for warehouse and other similar distribution centers. For more information check out our Warehouse Fact Sheet. Also, come check out NFPA’s 125th Anniversary Conference series on November 16, which will feature presentations on automatic warehouse storage and retrieval systems, the importance of water supply assessment, a review of the changes to the 2022 edition of NFPA 13, and other relevant systems, storage, and suppression topics.

Hazardous Materials Identification

There are boundless amounts of hazardous materials that present increased risks to people exposed to them, whether building occupants, people in nearby structures, or first responders. These materials vary greatly in their composition and physical states. The risks, or hazards, associated with these materials are even more varied and must be assessed for a particular material in the state and manner in which it will be stored or handled. With such a wide range of materials and hazards there is also great diversity in construction requirements, fire protection systems, handling and operations, and response tactics associated with these materials. Here we will focus on the system of markings that provides a general idea of how hazardous materials need to be identified. What is a Hazardous Material? Before discussing the specifics of hazardous materials identification, it can be beneficial to know what is considered a hazardous material. Hazardous materials are defined in NFPA codes and standards as chemicals or substances that are classified as a physical hazard or a health hazard. Physical hazard materials are those classified as an explosive, flammable cryogen, flammable gas, flammable solid, ignitible liquid, organic peroxide, oxidizer, oxidizing cryogen, pyrophoric, unstable (reactive), or water-reactive material. Health hazard materials are those classified as a toxic, highly toxic, or corrosive material. How do hazardous materials need to be identified? NFPA 704, Standard System for the Identification of the Hazards of Materials for Emergency Response, specifies the identification requirements for these materials. NFPA 704 applies when another Federal, state or local regulation or code requires its use. NFPA 704 does not specify when a container, tank or facility must be labeled rather it specifies how to label when another code, standard or an AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction, such as the local fire department) requires such labeling. The standard applies to industrial, commercial, and institutional facilities that manufacture, process, use, or store hazardous materials. It does not apply to transportation, use by the general public, and a few other specific uses. The purpose of the standard is to provide a simple, readily recognized, and easily understood system of markings that provides a general idea of the hazards of a material and the severity of the hazards as they relate to emergency response. The identification system specified in NFPA 704 is intended to enable first responders to easily decide whether to evacuate the area or to commence emergency control procedures and to also provide information to assist in selecting firefighting tactics and emergency procedures. The NFPA 704 hazard identification system is characterized by a diamond which is more precisely defined as a “square-on-point” shape. It identifies the degree of severity of the health, flammability, and instability hazards. Hazard severity is indicated by a numerical rating that ranges from zero (0) indicating a minimal hazard, to four (4) indicating a severe hazard. The hazards are arranged spatially such that health hazards are indicated in the nine o’clock position, flammability at the twelve o’clock position, and instability at the three o’clock position. The six o’clock position on the symbol represents special hazards and has a white background; it is not always filled. W Water reactivity (avoid the use of water) OX Oxidizer SA Simple asphyxiant (nitrogen, helium, neon, krypton, or xenon)   As an example, the following would be used for propane gas which has a moderate health hazard, a severe flammability hazard, is normally stable, and does not require any special labeling. Another example is for liquid oxygen which can present a serious health hazard under emergency conditions, is not flammable, is stable, and is an oxidizer.\       Where do signs need to be located? The placard is meant to provide quick hazard information for emergency responders. It should be visible in case of an emergency where the responders are likely to enter. If there are numerous areas where the responders could enter the facility, there should be numerous placards. The placement and quantity should be decided using a facility’s best judgment coupled with the advice from your AHJ. At a minimum the placard should be posted on the two exterior walls of a facility or building, each access to a room or area, or each principal means of access to an exterior storage area. Other Considerations As mentioned at the start of this discussion there are many additional considerations regarding hazardous materials. Even within this topic of identification there is a lot more to it than what has been simplified in this blog. Check out this collection of NFPA 704 frequently asked questions for more information. Beyond that there are construction, maximum allowable quantities, fire protection system, and worker exposure requirements just to name a few. Additionally, each of these will vary based on the nature of the material(s) being stored or used. If you want more detail on identification or any of the other topics around hazardous materials, let us know in the comments.
Transformer

Transformer Fire Protection

While superheroes and the big box office may have everything thinking about robots when we talk about transformers, they are actually a much more important device that is essential for the transmission, distribution, and utilization of alternating current electric power. What are transformers and what do they do? In basic terms a transformer is a device that transfers electric energy from one AC circuit to another, either increasing or reducing the voltage. This is done for several reasons, but two main purposes are to reduce the voltage of conventional power circuits to operate low-voltage devices and to raise the voltage from electric generators so that electric power can be transmitted over long distances. They have been in use for a long time and are an essential piece of our electrical infrastructure. The most common transformer that people often see are located on telephone poles. Why are transformers hazardous? Transformers are often times filled with oil for insulation, to prevent electrical arcing and to serve as a coolant. This oil is similar to mineral oil and very flammable. When a transformer fails it can lead to an intense fire and violent explosion (feel free to check out one of the many videos online on exploding transformers). Transformers can hold anywhere between a few gallons to thousands of gallons. Transformers can be installed indoors or outdoors, but indoor transformers typically are not filled with oil while outdoor transformers often are. Oil insulated transformer protection methods Some of the main considerations when talking about transformer fire protection are fire walls & separation, water based fire protection systems, containment, drainage and lightning protection. Fire Wall & Separation Ideally, we want to prevent transformers from catching fire, but in the event one does catch fire or explode we want to limit the damage and potential spread of fire. This can be done by several means, the most common being physical separation and fire walls. NFPA 850, Recommended Practice for Fire Protection for Electric Generating Plants and High Voltage Direct Current Converter Stations,  recommends that transformers with more than 500 gallons (1900 L) of oil be protected by a fire wall rated for 2 hours that is extended 1ft (300 mm) vertically and 2ft (600 mm) horizontally beyond the transformer. In lieu of a fire wall, physical separation is recommended anywhere from 5 to 25 ft (1.5 to 15 m) based on the oil capacity of the transformer. Fire Protection Systems NFPA 15, Standard for Water Spray Fixed Systems for Fire Protection, contains requirement on how transformers should be protected using a water spray system. If requires  0.25 gpm/ft2 [10.2 (L/min)/m2] of water to be discharged onto the envelope of the transformer itself and 0.15 gpm/ft2 [6.1 (L/min)/m2]  on the surrounding area for exposure protection. The water supply for such a system needs to be able to keep up with the designed flow rate of the system as well as 250 gpm (946 L/min) for a hose for the duration of 1 hour. Another important protection feature is a containment pit and drainage system to help retain any spilt transformer oil or discharge from a fixed water spray system. If a containment area is designated, then the fire wall should at least extend to the edge of that area. Since lightning is a potential ignition source for a transformer fire lightning protection should also be provided. For more information on how lightning protection works see NFPA 780, Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems. Transformer failures can be extremely dangerous but with the right precautions in place fires can be controlled to limit damage to the surrounding components, minimize plant downtime and improve survivability of plant staff. There is a lot more that goes into panning and designing a safe transformer installation, but this addresses the main concepts and ideas. For more information on fire protection recommendation for power generating plants check out NFPA 850, Recommended Practice for Fire Protection for Electric Generating Plants and High Voltage Direct Current Converter Stations.

Don’t let combustible dust wreak havoc on your facility and operations – take advantage of new NFPA training and other relevant resources

NFPA has released a new three-part NFPA 652 Combustible Dust (2019) Online Training Series to help different professionals understand, access, and address potential industrial hazards onsite at their facilities. The new learning solution is based on the latest edition of NFPA 652, Standard on the Fundamentals of Combustible Dust (2019). NFPA 652 requires a dust hazard analysis (DHA) to be completed in existing processes and compartments where combustible dust may be present and calls for the DHA to be reviewed and updated every five years. Both new and seasoned professionals charged with overseeing manufacturing operations in mining, power generation, wood products, automotive, metalworking, agriculture, food production, and other sectors will find value in the new educational series. The objective of the training is to inform those responsible for safety in industrial settings about different forms of dust, preventative maintenance, and facility compliance.  Three separate one-hour courses - Combustible Dust Safety Awareness, Combustible Dust Hazard Evaluation, and Combustible Dust Controls and Safeguards have been developed. Newer engineers, designers, plant process workers and operators, distributors, investigators, facilities managers, insurers, and code enforcers will benefit from the first course; while more seasoned engineers, designers, health and safety leaders, loss control/facility risk/safety specialists, facilities managers, insurers, inspectors, and code enforcers will value the second and third training courses. Those that finish the training and score at least 70% on final assessment exams, will earn .1 continuing education units (CEUs) for each learning hour. The staff liaison for NFPA 652, Fire Protection Engineer Alex Ing, recently appeared on Dr. Chris Cloney’s Dust Safety Science podcast to discuss the standard and important safety benchmarks. Cloney will return the favor, when he conducts a session on combustible dust during the Keeping Hazardous Environments Safe conference on October 5 as part of the yearlong NFPA 125th Anniversary Conference Series. The Fire Protection Research Foundation, the research affiliate of NFPA, also released a Variables Impacting the Probability and Severity of Dust explosions in Dust Collectors report about nine months ago so that practitioners are making concerted efforts to monitor dust collectors where fires and explosions potentially could take place. Interested in learning more about combustible dust? NFPA has you covered. Find out more about the training here Listen to the podcast with Alex Ing, NFPA 652 staff liaison Attend the Keeping Hazardous Environments Conference on October 5 (or register for on-demand access for one year) Download the most recent combustible dust research report
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