A new era in fire safetyrumpus
Covid-19 has already proved to have an impact on the way we shop. As the safest way to get goods, online shopping continues to be preferred for most. Particularly when it comes to getting groceries and avoiding busy supermarkets.
This means that the production facilities and factories that underpin the e-commerce FMCG sector are more vital than ever before. Fires in these spaces have the potential to be even more detrimental. As well as posing a threat to life, fires can devastate business operations. They massively disrupt the supply chain and lead to the loss of jobs and productivity.
Luckily, there are many additional measures to improve fire safety and ensure your facility is protected.
What causes factory fires?
There are several common causes of fires. The most frequent cause is arson, though there are many other causes that can be preventable with the correct infrastructure:
- Electrical faults: Issues with electrical installations are the second largest cause of factory and warehouse fires.
- Heating equipment: Around 8% of industrial fires are caused by heating equipment. Poor placement and careless usage contribute to the danger.
- Exposure: Combustible materials are another common cause of fires. Facilities managers must review the risk category of goods stored and not overlook the nature of packaging materials. Common packaging materials – cardboard, plastic, and polystyrene are particularly flammable.
The lack of space and the age of existing facilities also means that often accessibility is impeded. In 12% of fires looked at by the FPA, fire and rescue services were obstructed in their ability to put out fires due to poor vehicle access to the front of a building.
Food Factory challenges
The Grenfell fire disaster has increased awareness of duty of care across all sectors. Both in terms of new competency, risk management and insurance requirements.
Food processing facilities, and their cold and chilled storage equipment, are especially impacted. This is due to the nature of materials used now being classified as a heightened fire risk. Polystyrene is a common core material within composite panels used for the walls and ceilings food safe environments. It is now largely outlawed by the insurance market. Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act- 1974, those in control of premises (landlords and tenants) are being challenged by both regulators and insurers to replace all such materials within their property portfolios, regardless of the expense.
One should also be mindful of the dry atmospheric conditions within many types of food factories and temperature-controlled spaces because the evaporative condensers used to sustain the low temperatures remove air moisture to very low levels of humidity which would accelerate the spread of flame too if there were to be a fire to break out.
There other anomalies concerning these spaces are the ceiling voids above the temperature-controlled boxes can become a random storage area for operators’ effects such as office filing, etc. Contractors undertaking works in voids should not use any form of “hot working”.
Smoke curtains in the ceiling voids are often cut through for new building services or processes below, compromising fire integrity and risk.
Fire doors and the integrity of smoke and fire seals often need regular inspection and replacement because of operational wear & tear. These and the aforementioned void space status and materials risk should be inspected as part of the regular fire risk audit process.
What can businesses do to prevent fires?
With all this said, there are plenty of additional precautions a business can implement to prevent fire hazards in the workplace and ensure the safety of all.
There are many things that businesses can be to minimise their risk of fires occurring or the implications of a fire spreading:
- Firewalls: The installation of firewalls, alongside these other considerations, is a very cost-effective solution to managing risk. Firewalls made to the highest specifications, allow you to control the uncontrollable and give yourself additional reassurance.
- Risk assessments: It’s a legal requirement to carry out a fire risk assessment under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. It is also worth having further independent audits by consultants and insurers who assist with fire strategy and associated mitigations. These audits include door and roof surveys. These can be carried out regularly to identify the fire integrity of existing doors throughout a site. This allows you to find faults for each door and fire escape route. This also applies to the structural integrity of roof void panels throughout sites.
- Automatic Fire Detection: Ensuring that detectors are installed across your warehouse facility, paying special attention to any areas that may be more vulnerable to a fire breaking out or more volatile goods stored. There are numerous types: Thermal Imaging; Flame Detection; Spark Detection; Ember Detection; Rate of Rise of Heat Detection; and Addressable Linear Detection.
The stakes are high for food factory businesses and logistics companies operating in FMCG e-commerce, particularly cold and chill storage. The impact of a fire or the loss of a site can have catastrophic impacts in terms of loss of life and business disruption.
Firms with better-protected assets are more likely to be compliant with the increased levels of compliance and will benefit from more favourable insurance premiums, be more resilient, and possess an advantage when negotiating new contracts with customers.
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