Topic: Industrial Hazards

Hot work incidents and statistics remind us of the importance of pre-incident planning and a dedicated fire watch in chemical, industrial, and manufacturing settings

Nearly 14 months after the explosion in the Port of Beirut, many questions remain about the catastrophic disaster but one thing we know is that hot work acted as the ignition source for the epic chain of events. And, in its wake, 218 were killed, more than 7,000 were injured, over 70,000 apartments were impacted, and at least 300,000 residents were forced to look for housing. One little spark created devastation to the tune of 3.8-4.6 billion, per the World Bank. On August 8, welding contractors went to hangar 12 in the Beirut port to repair a broken door and a hole in an exterior wall where Lebanese officials had stored 2,750 tons of confiscated ammonium nitrate and a large supply of fireworks. Sparks from their hot work set the nearby firework supply on fire and prompted the ammonium nitrate to explode in a manner that shocked the world. An event of that magnitude is rare and stands as a fascinating case study for the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, but the incident and its aftermath prove that hot work can result in some very real, costly, and heartbreaking outcomes. Hot work includes cutting, welding, brazing, soldering, grinding, drilling, chipping, blasting, heat-treating, thawing pipes, roof application, or making repairs with tar pots and kettles. NFPA research estimates that, in the United States alone, fire departments respond to an average of 4,580 structure fires involving hot work each year with 57% of incidents occurring in non-residential settings. Beyond the associated costs related to property loss, business continuity, and displaced occupants – there is also the human toll. In the U.S., an average of 22 civilian deaths, 171 civilian injuries, and $484 million in property damage is incurred per year from hot work. Nearly 60 years ago, NFPA released its hot work standard - NFPA 51B, Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work and OSHA valued the benchmarks within the standard so much that they incorporated it into general industry regulations for welding, cutting, and brazing (29 CFR 1910.252). Hazard recognition is the first hot work safety implementation step regardless of the environment. The process of identifying hazards begins with an understanding of the work being done and a commitment to avoid hot work-caused fire. Managing the job site during hot work is the responsibility of the fire watch, who is charged with monitoring conditions; noting any deviations from those initially permitted; and stopping work. The fire watch is responsible for completing incident reports too. With the adoption of the 2019 edition of NFPA 51B, the fire watch must also remain for at least 60 minutes following the completion of hot work to ensure optimal safety. For hot work activities when construction/alteration/demolition operations are present, the fire watch should also be interacting with the Fire Prevention Program Manager, or FPPM. The FPPM has multiple responsibilities, including the supervision of permits for hot work operations (see NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration and Demolition Operations). On October 5, two of NFPA’s resident experts on hot work and facility safety will present a session entitled Hot Work in Industrial Facilities as part of the Keeping Hazardous Environments Safe program, an all-day education conference for those interested in chemical, industrial, and occupational safety, as well as emerging tech issues. Given that hot work is a common occurrence in manufacturing and other facilities charged with food processing, pulp and paper manufacturing, oil production, fuel storage, and waste treatment – it should be a perennial top-of-mind topic. Are you up to speed? The conference series can be attended virtually on the scheduled date or registrants can choose to watch the 11 sessions via on-demand anytime in the next year. Presenters Laura Moreno and Kevin Carr will cover hot work definitions, case studies, best practices, and potential risks, and emphasize the important roles that the fire watch and pre-incident planning play in reducing risk especially during construction, alteration, or demolition projects. If you work in an industrial, chemical, or manufacturing setting – register for the Keeping Hazardous Environments Safe conference – or share this blog with those you know who do. Find out more about 11 NFPA topically driven virtual conference events that began in May and will run through March 2022.

Impressive lineup on tap for October 5 NFPA conference centered around industrial, chemical, and emerging tech issues

Well-known industry experts and NFPA technical staff are set to discuss energy storage systems (ESS), natural gases, flammable liquids, fuel gases, petroleum, combustible dust, hot work, and other topics during a one-day virtual NFPA conference on Tuesday, October 5.   The forward-thinking Keeping Hazardous Environments Safe program is designed for those that work in industrial settings, the chemical and petrochemical sectors, emergency management, plant operations, occupational health and safety, code enforcement, the fire service, and the energy field. Lessons learned, prescriptive approaches, and workplace challenges will be shared during educational sessions, industry roundtable discussions, networking opportunities, live chat exchanges, and sponsor demonstrations.   The Keeping Hazardous Environments Safe conference boasts an impressive lineup of NFPA staff, guest speakers, and industry panelists. It is the 5th program in the virtual 125th Anniversary Conference Series which replaced the traditional in-person 2021 NFPA Conference & Expo. Here is a snapshot of the day’s agenda (more detailed session information can be found on the conference registration site):   Hot Work in Industrial Facilities - Laura Moreno, NFPA Standards Lead, Industrial and Chemical Safety and Kevin Carr, NFPA Specialist NFPA 30: The Risk Management Paradigm of Ignitible (Flammable and Combustible) Liquids and Your Facility - Mike Marando, NFPA Senior Engineer, NFPA 30 Staff Liaison and Alwin Kelly, Senior Engineer, Jensen Hughes, NFPA 30 Technical Committee Member NFPA 30: Revisiting Fire Risks of Composite IBCs; A Global View - Mike Snyder, DEKRA Process Safety and Nicolas Lochet, Allianz Global Risk Consulting NFPA 54, Working Safely with Fuel Gas - Guy Colonna, Principal Engineer, FSL Consulting LLC NFPA 58: An Ongoing History of Taming the Flame - Bruce Sweicicki, P.E., Senior Technical Advisor, NPGA Emergency Preparedness for Industrial Facilities Near Communities - Bernard W. Leong, PE, Chief Fire Protection Engineer, Chevron and Eric LaVergne, Williams Fire & Hazard Control/JCI Panel Discussion Part 1: Energy Storage Systems and Surprise, AZ - Bob Sullivan, NFPA Regional Director Southwest (Moderator), Brian O'Connor, P.E., Engineer, and other industry experts NFPA 652: Dust Hazard Analysis 101 - Chris Cloney, PhD, Managing Director and Lead Researcher, DustEx Research Panel Discussion Part 2: Energy Storage Systems, Preventing Disaster – Bob Sullivan, NFPA Regional Director Southwest (Moderator), Brian O'Connor, P.E., Engineer, and other industry experts NFPA 715: Combustible Gas Dispersion Detector Location Analysis - Noah L. Ryder, PhD, PE, MBA, Managing Partner, Fire & Risk Alliance, LLC, and Scott Davis, President and Principal Engineer, Gexcon Live! Industry Round Table: Putting it All On the Table - Jon Hart, NFPA Technical Lead, Principal Fire Protection Engineer (Moderator), Kirk M. Sander, Chief of Staff and Vice President, Safety and Standards, National Waste & Recycling Association, Bernard W. Leong, PE, Chief Fire Protection Engineer, Chevron, and Alwin Kelly, Senior Engineer, Jensen Hughes Dial in on October 5 to earn up to five credit hours (0.5 CEU), then earn an additional five credit hours later – for a total of 10 credit hours (1.0 CEU). Or access all content via on-demand at your leisure for up to a year beginning on October 5. Either way – register today in the interest of safety!

Congressional Fire Service approves resolution calling for electric vehicle, energy storage system, and flammable refrigerants training and resources

A resolution proposed by NFPA and others regarding emerging technologies, such as electrical vehicles (EVs), received unanimous approval during a Congressional Fire Services Institute Board (CFSI) National Advisory Committee. The CFSI resolution supports federal legislation, as well as funding and policies that educate responders and promote the use and enforcement of the most current consensus-based codes and standards that address new technologies. Put forth by NFPA, the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and the International Code Council (ICC), the resolution explains that, by every measure, technology is changing and improving at the fastest rate in history. It stresses the importance of educating and equipping first responders so that they can safely and successfully deal with potential challenges, and references support and strategies from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The resolution zeroes in on: EVs, hybrid, propane, hydrogen fuel cell, and natural gas vehicles Distributed energy systems including microgrids, solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations, and energy storage systems (ESS) Environmentally friendly refrigerants that have a lower Global Warming Potential (GWP) but can pose flammability and toxicity risks when involved in fire events The Biden Administration has a progressive sustainability agenda and tragic incidents involving EVs and ESS have caught the attention of the press, public, and policy makers recently. NFPA has been developing emerging technologies training, resources, and research for the nation’s 1.1 million career and volunteer firefighters for more than a decade, in the interest of safety. But, as the resolution points out, only 20 percent of the firefighters in the US have participated in available EV and ESS training to date (let alone newer training related to lesser-known flammable refrigerant hazards). Fire departments train on a frequent basis, usually in-house, and will find helpful online training solutions, research, codes, and standards, and more on the following microsites: www.nfpa.org/ev www.nfpa.org/ess www.nfpa.org/refrigerants We can’t let innovation outpace safety. That is why NFPA is continuously looking at what’s next. Last fall, the Association received a DOE award entitled, “NFPA Spurs the Safe Adoption of Electric Vehicles through Education and Outreach” and is currently working on a three-year effort with the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Vehicle Technologies Office’s Clean Cities Coalitions (CCC) network. The project goes beyond first responders and will help communities evaluate their EV infrastructure, training programs, incentives, and code compliance readiness, and will provide guidance for formulating plans that will raise awareness and speed the safe adoption of EVs across the country.  A second DOE award will result in an NFPA Distributed Energy Resources Safety Training program and allow NFPA to update its current EV Safety classroom training for the fire service and develop an online immersive simulation for distributed energy resources including EVs, charging stations, ESS, and solar systems.

At least 52 dead in factory fire; Ecosystem failures continue in Bangladesh

Once again, a factory fire in Bangladesh has taken the lives of more than 50 workers and injured at least 20, underscoring catastrophic and systemic life safety challenges in that country. The latest incident is a prime example of a region that is and has been for quite some time, challenged by every component of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™. According to Reuters, the building featured two stairways, which were inaccessible during the fire. Some workers fled to the roof and were rescued, but many others were trapped or jumped out of windows. Associated Press quoted a fire official saying that the main exit was locked from the inside. This is not the first time we have heard this story from Bangladesh or from the United States, for that matter. Nearly fifteen years after NFPA was born, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire occurred in Greenwich Village (NY) on March 25, 1911. That horrific incident remains one of the deadliest industrial disasters in U.S. history with more than 146 garment workers killed – mostly from smoke inhalation or from jumping to their death due to locked stairwells and exits. Bangladesh has struggled with factory safety for quite some time. Back in 2014, NFPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (the Alliance) to work together to provide information, guidance, and access to resources in the interest of worker health and safety. NFPA and the Alliance recognized that cooperative and parallel efforts by the government and non-government organizations were important to achieving success. So, the Alliance identified a sample of 14 factories undergoing remediation at the time. A project team visited those sites, observed building operations, and interviewed key stakeholders from the fire and building professions, and then NFPA made recommendations for the Alliance, government officials, and others to explore or undertake. In 2016, NFPA released the Bangladesh Ready-Made Garment (RMG) Industry High-Level Assessment Report which included an appraisal and gap analysis of Bangladesh fire and building safety standards, protocols, inspection procedures, and training programs. The report referenced short-term and long-term recommendations for sustainable electrical, fire and life safety in Bangladesh manufacturing facilities. The gaps identified at that time and those that are coming into focus as this week’s story unfolds reminds us of the Ecosystem. For example: Authorities in Bangladesh need to have policies in place and practiced consistently throughout the country (Government Responsibility). Current codes need to be developed and used – just like NFPA building and fire codes which are developed and then maintained on a regular basis via a consensus process (Development and Use of Current Codes). As part of those current codes, there are a plethora of referenced standards, many from NFPA, that can be utilized so the fire safety wheel does not have to be reinvented (Referenced Standards). Businesses and the government must invest in safety. First steps were taken with the Alliance MOU and assessment report years ago, but did action follow? Safety requires the right decisions to be made by authorities (An Investment in Safety). Training is required for those that design, construct, and maintain factories (Skilled Workforce). Fire code inspections and enforcement are essential for ensuring that exits, doors, and stairwells are fully operational at all times (Code Compliance). First responders need resources to do their job – especially unimpeded access to incidents and water to suppress fires (Preparedness and Emergency Response). And the public, including workers, need to understand fire safety and escape strategies (Informed Public). Our hearts go out to the people of Bangladesh but it takes more than good thoughts to bring about change. By using the RMG report and the Ecosystem, officials in Bangladesh can and should connect the dots on safety.
A wildfire in the hills

Just the facts: fireworks pose special dangers this holiday season

Americans celebrate July 4 with many traditions, including fireworks, to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence by representatives of 13 British colonies to break away from England and form a new nation. We love and cherish our holiday traditions, but unfortunately, conditions in many states make our use of fireworks especially dangerous and deadly this year. Deaths and injuries from consumer fireworks occur every year, and so do brush, grass and forest fires. The challenge is clear. Hot, dry weather and ongoing drought in many states add up to an ominous outlook for wildfire ignitions this summer. As one of my favorite Founding Fathers once said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence." John Adams, first U.S. vice-president and second U.S. president, wasn’t referring to the statistics related to fireworks, but his words certainly apply when confronting our national wish to celebrate as usual in the face of overwhelming evidence of the risks to people, lands, and property. Did you know that the 4th and 5th of July are the peak days for wildfire incidents? Local fire departments respond to more than 7,000 wildfires on those days, on average. NFPA’s latest Brush, Grass, and Forest Fires report show annual averages for July 4 incidents at five times the daily average.  In addition, a recent fire science study on the impacts of human-ignited wildfires on U.S. homes notes the singularity of early July in terms of human-caused wildfire. The report concludes that, “People are starting almost all of the wildfires that threaten our homes.” In addition to wildfires that threaten lives, property, and challenge the ability of firefighters in drought-stricken regions to readily suppress them, fireworks do damage every year to people – one-third of whom are children. In 2018, U.S. hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 9,100 people for fireworks-related injuries. More than a third of those injuries were to the eye or other parts of the head. Sadly, in 2020, fireworks injuries sent an estimated 15,600 people to the hospital, with more injuries seen last year than in the previous 15 years. Many fire scientists and land managers are so dismayed by these facts and the severe current wildfire conditions that they are circulating a sign-on statement pleading with the public to forego fireworks this July 4th. NFPA’s position has long been that the use of consumer fireworks is inherently unsafe. Recent changes to laws which have loosened the restriction on sales of more powerful pyrotechnics to the public intensifies our view. Get the facts, as well as fun alternatives to fireworks to celebrate our nation’s birthday this coming week on NFPA’s Fireworks page. Help your family enjoy the celebration while staying out of the emergency room and keeping your neighbors safer from accidental wildfire ignitions.

Massachusetts lawmakers still seeking reform on hot work after two Boston firefighters died in tragic Back Bay fire caused by welders

Lawmakers, fire service leaders, fire prevention professionals, and NFPA representatives participated in a legislative hearing last week seeking reforms for hot work, cutting, and welding after two Boston firefighters were killed in a fast-moving fire in a Back Bay brownstone in 2014. The proposed bill will better protect people, property, and first responders by ensuring that those who perform hot work have met necessary qualifications and those who have not participated in this program are appropriately penalized.  S.1381 An Act implementing the recommendations of the Walsh-Kennedy Report was initially proposed by Senator Nick Collins (S1554) of Boston. Collins is seeking implementation of the recommendations that were made by a special commission in 2015 after welders prompted a fatal fire in a building next door that killed Lieutenant Edward Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy. The commission was charged with determining whether the current state fire code provides adequate protection when it comes to trade workers in the Bay State performing hot work or any work that involves sparks or fires. According to WWLP News, Boston Fire Department (BFD) Commissioner John Dempsey said at the hearing that current fines and penalties for violating cutting, welding, or hot work regulations are “not even a slap on the wrist.” Dempsey said the state needs to implement an initial fine that gets the attention of violators and then institute increasing penalties for second or third offenses. “The fines are so minimal that smaller companies, if they roll the dice, the fine is so little, if they get caught it’s cheaper to pay the fine than it is to hire a fire watch or maybe even pull a permit,” he said. “So, I believe by increasing the fines, this will get their attention.” NFPA research shows that US fire departments responded to an average of 4,580 structure fires involving hot work per year in 2014-2018. These fires caused an average of 22 civilian deaths, 171 civilian injuries, and $484 million in direct property damage per year. Shortly after the Back Bay fire, NFPA worked with the City of Boston and others to create a custom training model based on NFPA 51B Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and other Hot Work, a well-known standard within the fire prevention community. The training was developed with input from those who would be responsible for implementing and enforcing the new ordinance and features specific content so that the training is relevant, targeted, and applicable in the workplace. Trade workers earn a NFPA Hot Work Safety Certificate after successfully learning about hazards and safeguards that can be applied to limit ignition potential from any planned hot work. Workers’ can then apply their understanding and knowledge when reviewing project plans that include hot work. The model has since become a statewide requirement and can be adjusted for other jurisdictions seeking to collaborate with NFPA on safer hot work practices. Nearly 35,000 individuals in Massachusetts have taken the NFPA hot work classroom training and more than 8,000 have met the requirements via an online program. For more on hot work resources, visit nfpa.org/hotwork. Jurisdictions and businesses interested in better protecting people and property from hot work through an initiative similar to those in place in Boston and the state of Massachusetts, can contact Monique Manning.
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