Hazard recognition and fire safety: What you don’t know can hurt you

As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and the scrap recycling industry is not immune from this truth.  I recently put the finishing touches on a report for the Institute of Scraping Recycling Industries (ISRI) on hazard recognition and fire safety. The intent is that the insights will help the organization move forward in developing education and training materials tailored to workers in these industries.

On the road on a fact-finding mission, I visited 49 sites over the course of four months. This included a wide variety of recycling, MRFs, and waste management facilities.  First, let me say it was refreshing to see the level of passion that survey participants carried for fire prevention and the interest they had in improving safety. I was also pleasantly surprised with the fact that many of them took action and wanted to report back to me after the assessment that they had taken action on the issues identified. 

Speaking of issues, the most common fire hazards across the study locations include:

  • Fire Protection System Maintenance
  • Fire Prevention and Emergency Action Planning
  • Fire Extinguisher Management
  • Smoking
  • Hot Work
  • Electrical Circuit Overloading
  • Flammable Liquid Management
  • Maintaining exits
  • General Housekeeping Issues

Each facility in this study was asked to provide information about fires that had occurred at that location during the past 12 months. I won’t go too much into the weeds, but it seems appropriate to mention the three leading causes of fires as reported by the respondents: 

  1. Process – Fires starting in a process caused by hot materials or flammable liquids 
  2. Inbound source control – Fires in incoming material absent any outside ignition source
  3. Hot work – Fires that started in the area of active / previous hot work

Obtaining this information was critical. That’s because to most effectively address fire hazards, fire cause should be considered in combination with prevalent fire hazards. Deficiencies that may contribute to the most common fire cause should be prioritized in training no matter how often the issue was identified during the site visits.

I’ll leave you with this final thought: What you don’t know about fire safety in your facility can hurt you. Do you know exactly where your fire risks lie? Are your employees engaged in the fire prevention process? Do you know how you can demonstrate that proficiency to your insurance underwriters? These are all important questions only you can answer. 

I am honored to help members of this industry see their workplace through the eyes of a fire chief.  Let me know how I might help you in any other way.

In safety,

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