You may be thinking: “Another article about fire safety and prevention?” But statistics show that this information bears repeating.
On average there are more than 200 workplace fires every day in the United States. These fires kill about 200 workers, injure an additional 5,000 and cost businesses well over $2 billion annually. The causes of these fires are varied but more often than not they could have been prevented if more attention had been paid to basic fire prevention concepts. Here are some true/false statements to test your fire safety knowledge:
Flammable and combustible liquids are the same thing.
False. They are different, and the difference is based on flash point. The flash point is the minimum temperature where a liquid will form a vapor above its surface that can be ignited. The flash point for flammable liquids is less than 100°F and for combustible liquids is above 100°F.
High temperatures don’t affect the hazards of flammable and combustible liquids.
False. It’s the vapors of these liquids that burn, not the liquids themselves. These liquids produce more vapors as the ambient temperature increases. The more vapors produced, the higher the hazards of the liquid due to the higher risk of ignition.
Vapors produced by flammable and combustible liquids are heavier than air.
True. These vapors will settle and collect in low areas (close to the floor, ditches and basements) and spread from the source liquid. This trail, the vapor trail, can catch fire, and the fire will burn back to the source of the vapor and cause a potentially catastrophic fire or even an explosion. However, keep in mind that there are exceptions to the rule: Some gases, like acetylene, are lighter than air and may rise.
Oily rags should be thrown away in a metal container, ideally one with a lid.
True. Oily rags should be considered flammable materials. They need to be disposed of properly; this means put into metal containers, with lids if at all possible. This helps to decrease the likelihood that they’ll come in contact with an ignition source. It’s also important that these containers be removed or properly emptied on a regular basis.
It isn’t necessary to be familiar with fire or emergency exits; you safely leave the job site every day.
False. Although you enter and exit the site each day, it may not be an approved emergency fire exit. Also, what would happen if there is a fire blocking your normal exit path? In order to safely exit the site, you’ll need another exit route.
Smoking in chemical storage areas is a good idea; it’s out of the way of your coworkers.
False. If you must smoke at the job site, never do so in store rooms or chemical storage areas. Smoke only in approved, designated areas, and always be certain to completely put out smoking materials before throwing them away.
If space is tight to store materials, it isn’t a problem to stack materials so that they block sprinklers, fire fighting equipment, alarms or exits, as long as it’s only for a short time.
False. Any time materials are blocking fire safety equipment is too long! There is no way to plan or schedule a fire emergency, so there needs to be unimpeded access to this equipment every minute of every day.
There’s no reason to learn how to use a fire extinguisher because there is a trained fire company where I live.
False. While it’s important to only fight a fire if you’re comfortable doing so, there may be a situation where you have no other option. By knowing how and when to correctly use a fire extinguisher, you may be able to keep yourself safe until the fire department gets to your location.
Any type of container can be used for gasoline as long as it’s less than a gallon and will be used immediately.
False. There is never a time or situation when gasoline should be put or kept in anything other than an approved, self-closing safety can. Gas in an unapproved container is a fire or explosion waiting to happen. Although it may take more time and effort to find and use the right container, your safety and well-being must always be your first concern.
Using any type of fire extinguisher is safer than no fire extinguisher at all.
False. Using the wrong type of extinguisher on a fire can worsen the fire and the overall situation. For example, if a fire on the job site (or at home) has an electrical source, using a Class A extinguisher that is water based will obviously make the situation much worse. It’s normal to feel panicky when faced with a fire, but staying calm so good decisions can be made may be the difference between life and death.
If your clothes catch fire, it’s best to run to the outside to prevent the building from catching on fire as well.
False. Fires need oxygen to burn, and running anywhere will simply “fan the flames,” causing it to burn more quickly and intensely. Ideally you should wrap yourself in a blanket to smother the flames. If one is not available, remember: “Stop, Drop and Roll.” Rolling slowly on the ground will help to smother the flames.
If you answered these questions correctly, you have a good handle on the basics. If not, you may want to brush up on your fire prevention and safety basics.
Diane Kelly is a safety specialist with INTEC, Waverly, Pa. INTEC is AWCI’s safety consultant.
For additional assistance with safety and OSHA compliance, take advantage of the resources available through AWCI and INTEC, Inc. Contact AWCI at (703) 538.1600 or visit www.awci.org. Additional technical information can be obtained by contacting INTEC’s Joe O’Connor at (607) 624.7159 or email@example.com.