Reduce Your Risk, Create A Plan
Fires are commonplace in the auto recycling industry. Local news affiliates reported fires at facilities in Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma and Texas in February 2016 alone … and this list is far from complete. It’s not if a fire could happen, but when.
Sue Schauls, Executive Director of the Iowa Automotive Recyclers (IAR), said many fires start from cutting tools, like torches. These tools, used to melt or cut bolts and other hard-to-remove parts during the dismantling process, can spark and / or drop embers. These embers can quickly ignite any of the flammable materials in the dismantling bays.
“The rule is never use a torch after 4 p.m. if you close at 5 p.m.,” she said. “Embers can sitting there burning, without anyone knowing.”
There are cutting tools, like a Supershear, inductive heat and pneumatic, which don’t use fire, but can still spark from long or improper use. One solution, said Schauls, is to do a quick clean between dismantling jobs or use cutting torches outside, away from any flammable materials.
“Anyone can get a fire, no matter how clean they are,” she added. “But with good housekeeping and adequate fire extinguishers (and training) you can quickly control a fire and prevent it from spreading.”
Fire Prevention Plan
The key to minimizing damage is to create a fire prevention plan. It should be in writing, kept in the workplace and be made available for employees for review. However, Schauls’ plan notes that if there are 10 or fewer employees, the plan can be verbally relayed.
At minimum a fire prevention plan should include:
- A list of all major fire hazards (gasoline and diesel storage, used oil storage, etc.), proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials, potential ignition sources and their control (cutting torches), and the type of fire protection equipment necessary to control each major hazard (an ABC multipurpose fire extinguisher).
- Procedures to control accumulations of flammable and combustible waste materials (keep onsite fluid storage to a minimum by regular disposal or utilization of these products).
- Procedures for regular maintenance of safeguards installed on heat-producing equipment to prevent the accidental ignition of combustible materials (like the ARA Cutting Torch Protocol).
- The name or job title of employees responsible for maintaining equipment to prevent or control sources of ignition or fires.
- The name or job title of employees responsible for the control of fuel source hazards.
- An employer must inform employees upon initial assignment to a job of the fire hazards to which they are exposed. An employer must also review with each employee those parts of the fire prevention plan necessary for self-protection.
Fire Extinguisher Training
One of the best things a business can do to have multiple, well-maintained fire extinguishers around the facility. “You will go through every fire extinguisher in the place if you have a fire,” Schauls stressed.
Extinguishers should be visually-inspected monthly and be maintained annually by a professional. Stored pressure dry chemical extinguishers that require a 12-year hydrostatic test must be emptied and recharged every six years.
Another key to fire prevention is to train employees how to use fire extinguishers, like using the PASS system:
- Pull the pin
- Aim the extinguisher at the fire’s base
- Squeeze the handle
- Sweep the extinguisher back and forth
Schauls noted that if an employee has squeezed the trigger of an extinguisher, even once, they are far more likely to use it during a fire. Provide training when the employee is first hired and then once a year. Use fire extinguishers scheduled for recharging or those on recall lists for practice.
Lastly, always keep an exit at your back and know when to not fight a fire. For example, when you don’t know what’s burning, if it’s spreading rapidly beyond the spot where it started, without proper equipment, if there’s toxic smoke or if your instincts tell you not to.
“The first rule is,” said Schauls, “everything in the shop can burn, as long as everyone is safe.”