Fire Safety Programs Require More Than Occasional Drills

Michi Trota |

RICHMOND, Ky. – A good fire safety protection and training program for your laundry should go beyond merely having fire extinguishers on hand and conducting the occasional fire drill, advises Bobby Spurlock, a 20-year veteran of fire safety and education in applying Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.
“A comprehensive fire protection plan includes several major components,” says Spurlock, the program administrator for Eastern Kentucky University’s OSHA Training Institute. “It should cover types of fires, proper use and storage of fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, standpipe systems, fixed extinguishing systems, fire detection and, if it’s part of your program, fire brigade training.”
Spurlock schooled participants in the Association for Linen Management’s (ALM) Laundry and Fire Safety audio conference in proper extinguisher storage, sprinkler system maintenance and employee training.
He says OSHA most frequently cites companies for fire extinguisher use and storage violations.
“Between 2004 and 2006, the number of OSHA extinguisher-related citations has stayed virtually the same,” says Spurlock. “This is the area you need to concentrate on.”KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DEALING WITH
The first step is to know how to deal with individual types of fires correctly. Fires are classified as one of four class types:
• Type A, involving ordinary combustible materials like paper, wood, plastics and cloth.
• Type B, involving flammable or combustible liquids, gases or greases.
• Type C, involving electrical equipment.
• Type D, involving combustible metals such as magnesium, sodium or potassium.
OSHA requires that you have the right kind of fire extinguisher since each type of fire can react differently depending on the method used to extinguish it.
“You might be able to put out a Type A fire with water, but what happens if you throw water on a hot, liquid metal, Type D fire? You get an explosion,” cautions Spurlock. “Know which type of fire you’re likely to encounter and plan accordingly.”
The most common type of extinguisher is what’s called a combination A-B-C extinguisher, usable on all fires except Type D. Since this type of extinguisher is messy and can damage electronic equipment, Spurlock advises keeping a Type C fire extinguisher that uses CO2 in areas with expensive electronic equipment.
“Also, any plant that has a break room with a working kitchen should be aware that a kitchen fire has its own class type, Type K,” says Spurlock. “A special fire extinguisher is available for this type of fire.”
Spurlock stresses the need for reliable quality fire extinguishers with metal gauges in the workplace.
“It’s worth the extra expense because the plastic gauges on cheaper extinguishers can leak over time. Metal-gauge extinguishers will last much longer.”STORAGE AND MAINTENANCE
Proper storage of extinguishers is essential, Spurlock says. OSHA requires that extinguishers be kept in an easily visible and accessible spot. In a warehouse or plant, this means that an employee should have to travel no more than 75 feet in any direction to reach a fire extinguisher. There should also be visible signage indicating the presence of an extinguisher.
“There should be nothing blocking the extinguisher or sign,” says Spurlock. “OSHA also requires that extinguishers be hung at least 18 inches off the ground since the metal containers could rust if water collects underneath.”
Extinguishers must always be fully maintained, charged and operational. Make sure to visually inspect your extinguishers at least once every month, Spurlock says, with maintenance checks annually. And it’s never a bad idea to have a few spares on hand.
“The general rule is to keep 10% spare extinguishers in your plant,” says Spurlock. “If you have 100 extinguishers hanging in your plant, have another 10 kept in a safe storage space.”P-A-S-S THE TEST
“If you want your employees to use extinguishers in a fire outbreak, you must train them when they’re first hired, then test them annually,” says Spurlock.
When learning how to use an extinguisher, employees should be taught the PASS System:
1. Pull the pin
2. Aim at the base of the fire
3. Squeeze the handle
4. Sweep side to side
“You can’t assume all of your employees know this,” says Spurlock. “At one training session, a guy kept squeezing the handle so hard that he bent it, but nothing came out. Turns out he forgot to pull the pin.”ADDITIONAL MEASURES
Make sure that automatic sprinkler systems provide the necessary discharge and water flow for complete coverage. Every system must have at least one automatic water supply that provides flow for 30 minutes.
“The sprinklers must be at least 18 inches above the material below,” reminds Spurlock.
If your plant has an employee fire brigade, make sure that those employees are physically capable of fighting interior fires. Provide them with the qualified instructors from the local fire department or State Fire Marshal’s office with annual training for all members and quarterly training for those expected to perform interior structural firefighting. Those employees in particular will need protective clothing and respiratory equipment.AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
When putting together a fire protection plan, don’t forget about preventative measures. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
“A big ‘no-no’ is storing flammable material close to a heat source,” reminds Spurlock. “You’ll get cited and you’re running a big risk.”
Also, keep an eye out for potentially hazardous situations. Spurlock notes that he’s seen fires caused by mop heads that spontaneously combusted after being thrown into a bin straight from the dryer.
“Mop heads can be hot coming from the dryer and when they’re thrown into a bin and covered with a sheet, they can smolder enough to catch fire,” says Spurlock. “The best thing to do is separate them and hang them until they cool.”
Lint and dryer fires are also an issue. These can be prevented by regular housecleaning and inspections, which will keep the amount of lint accumulation down.
OSHA discourages repairing electrical cords or equipment with duct tape, Spurlock says. Any repair to an electrical cord has to bring it back to its original state, with something like shrink wrap.
Remember to turn off any unused electrical equipment, especially before the weekend.
“I’ve seen fires that started because someone left the office fan or their computer monitor on,” says Spurlock. “You’d be surprised how easily a fire can spark.”
Test and maintain all smoke detectors.
Finally, train your employees to react properly in a fire situation.
It’s not uncommon for OSHA to conduct a fire drill during an inspection. Make sure your employees know when to use an extinguisher and when to give up and get to safety. They should know how to report a fire and to whom to report it. Exit routes should always be clearly marked. Establish a safe meeting point and head-count procedure in the event of an evacuation.
“Keep in mind that OSHA could care less if your building burns down. They’re worried about protecting your employees,” reminds Spurlock. “Your employees’ safety should always be your first concern."

About the author

Michi Trota

American Drycleaner

Editorial Assistant


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