Fire safety best practices for manufacturing facilities

Are lights, alarms, extinguishers and sprinklers inspected every year?

By Chad Connor April 13, 2021

An estimated 37,000 fires occur at industrial and manufacturing properties every year resulting in $1 billion in property damage, 279 injuries and 18 deaths, according to Occupational Health and Safety. As a professional fire safety inspector, the author has inspected hundreds of manufacturing properties. During inspections, there are overlooked areas when it comes to fire safety that need immediate attention. Identifying and correcting these issues will help ensure the safety of your tenants and property during a fire emergency.

Conducting regular inspections

A manufacturing facility should have its lights, alarms, extinguishers and sprinklers inspected every year (see Figures 1-3). Many companies neglect their annual services. Neglecting the fire safety system can cause the equipment to erode over time resulting in faulty equipment.

After a professional inspection, a facility will receive a report from the inspection company. The report will include the date of the inspection, name and address of the property, type of occupancy, any issues to address, contact details of the building owner and those interviewed during the inspection. Facilities are required to keep this on file for at least one year, but five years are recommended. Beyond the fire code standard of keeping records for one year, many insurance companies require longer timeframes for record keeping. Contact the insurance company to be aware of its requirements.

Placing signage

Maintain the exit lights in manufacturing facilities. During a fire, conditions can be chaotic and confusing. Smoke can obscure vision and make it difficult to navigate the facility. Illuminated exit signs make it easier for people to see where to go and how to get out of the building.

Exit signs are designed to switch to emergency power when they no longer receive electricity. These lighted signs need regular testing by the facility safety teams to ensure proper operation. Often, this involves pressing the test button on the side of the sign to ensure they correctly switch to the standby power source. If the signs do not switch to the standby power source, they must be replaced.

If the facility uses chemicals, the supervisors must make sure the outside of the building has the hazard communication sign indicating firefighters of what hazards may be inside. The hazard communication sign incorporates the NFPA 704-2022: Standard System for the Identification of the Hazards of Materials for Emergency Response fire diamond to communicate the hazard of short-term, acute exposures to chemicals that could occur as a result of a fire, spill or similar emergency. The fire diamond is color coded representing different risks: blue for health, red for fire and yellow for reactivity and instability. These hazards are ranked on a scale of 0 to 4 for severity of danger allowing fire firefighters to better understand the situation if they are called to fight a fire.

Communicating your emergency action plan

Manufacturing facility supervisors should provide written emergency action plans for employees to ensure everyone knows the exit routes and what fire emergency procedures are in place.

Emergency action plans should cover designated actions employers and employees need to take to ensure their safety during fire emergencies, according to OSHA. These actions include which equipment needs shutdown and when fire suppression efforts should take place. The supervisors need to ensure all employees understand fire suppression procedures and escape routes to be followed by each location in the facility.

Supervisors are required to review the emergency action plan with each employee at certain times including when the plan is developed, when an employee’s responsibilities change and when the plan changes.

Proper racking system placement

Manufacturing plant supervisors need to alert employees of any debris or racking systems blocking doorways and fire notification devices. Keep the notification devices areas clear.

Consider a printing facility with many boxes of paper placed in the racking systems on pallets. If the racking systems are placed directly against the wall, the notification devices, such as strobe lights, can’t do their job in alerting people of a fire.

Also, most of the manufacturing facility buildings were built as a shell to install manufacturing equipment. Having racking systems improperly placed against walls can prevent the water sprayed from sprinkler systems to reach the necessary places in case of a fire. Keep racking systems away from the walls and when adding racking systems, facilities will also need to install additional sprinkler systems so the water can reach all of the areas surrounding them.

Another observation is emergency exits blocked by debris. It is recommended that employees regularly inspect doorways for clear egress. Move any boxes, equipment or trash from doorways that can slow down the process of getting to safety quickly.

Placing fire extinguishers

Multipurpose extinguishers rated class A, B and C, capable of putting out small fires involving wood, paper, oils and gases are required in manufacturing buildings. Extinguishers need to be placed 75 feet apart throughout the building according to OSHA guidelines.

More specific classes of fire extinguishers are also needed in manufacturing facilities. Locations that contain Class B flammables such as workshops, garages and warehouses require that all employees have access to a Class B extinguisher. These extinguishers are capable of putting out fires involving flammable liquids such as glues, paints and other woodworking finishing chemicals. Class B extinguishers need to be within 50-feet of the working area according to OSHA guidelines.

Class C extinguishers are required when electrical equipment is being used. Unlike liquid based extinguishers, Class C extinguishers use a smothering agent allowing the fire to be put out without damaging any electrical equipment like computers and servers. Class C extinguishers need to be spaced out based on the size of the room. If the facility has a server room that is 20 feet long by 20 feet wide, it requires one Class C extinguisher placed by the door. In larger rooms, it is recommended these extinguishers are placed every 50 feet.

Class D extinguishers need to be present in areas where there are combustible metal, shavings or similarly sized materials are generated. Class D extinguishers especially need to be in areas where employees are working with titanium, magnesium or any other metal ending in –“ium.” These metals are highly flammable. Class D extinguishers need to be placed no more than 75 feet from the potential hazard.

Make sure fire extinguishers are at the proper weight or gauge limit. This information can be found on the label located on the side of the extinguisher. Replace or recharge extinguishers if they are not at the required levels and after every use.

Following these fire safety reminders will ensure the manufacturing facility will be safer in case of a fire emergency. If there are questions about fire safety systems and plan, contact the local fire marshal.

Author Bio: Chad Connor is the President of Affordable Fire & Safety located in Gilbert, Ariz. Affordable Fire & Safety conducts thousands of fire inspections each year.