Only You Can Prevent Fires

You may be thinking, “Really? Another column about fire safety and prevention?” But statistics show 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 more than $2 billion annually. The causes of these fires vary, but often they can be prevented if more attention is 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 that a liquid will form a vapor above its surface that can be ignited. The flash point is less than 100°F for flammable liquids and above 100°F for combustible liquids.

High temperatures don’t affect the hazards of flammable and combustible liquids.
. The vapors of these liquids burn, not the liquids themselves. These liquids produce more vapors as the ambient temperature increases. With more vapors comes a greater risk of ignition and a greater hazard.

Vapors produced by flammable or 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 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, there are exceptions to the rule. Some gases, such as acetylene, are lighter than air and could rise.

Oily rags should be thrown away in a metal container, ideally with a lid.
TRUE. Oily rags should be considered flammable materials. They need to be disposed of properly, and one way to do so is to put them into metal containers with lids. This helps decrease the likelihood that the rags will come in contact with an ignition source. It is also important that these containers be removed or properly emptied regularly.

It isn’t necessary to be familiar with fire or emergency exits, since you safely leave the job site every day.
FALSE. Although you enter and exit the site each day, you might not use an approved emergency fire exit. Also, what would happen if there were a fire blocking your normal exit path? In order to safely exit the site, you will need another exit route and should learn where that is located.

Smoking in chemical storage areas is a good idea; it’s out of the way of your co-workers.
FALSE. If you must smoke at the job site, never do so in storerooms or chemical storage areas. Smoke only in approved, designated areas, and always be certain to completely extinguish smoking materials before throwing them away.

If storage space is tight, it’s not a problem to stack materials so they block sprinklers, firefighting equipment, alarms or exits, as long as it is only for a short time.
FALSE. There is no way to plan or schedule a fire emergency, so there needs to be unimpeded access to fire safety equipment every minute of every day.

There’s no reason to learn how to use a fire extinguisher; there’s a trained fire company where I live and/or work.
FALSE. While it’s important to only fight a fire if you are 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 is less than a gallon and will be used immediately.
FALSE. Gasoline should be kept in 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, 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 can worsen the fire and the overall situation. For example, if a fire has an electrical source, using a water-based Class A extinguisher will make the situation much worse. It’s normal to feel panicky when faced with a fire, but staying calm—so you can make good decisions—may be the difference between life and death.

If your clothes catch fire, it is best to run 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 them to burn more quickly and intensely. Ideally, you should wrap yourself in a blanket to smother the flames. Remember stop, drop and roll. Rolling slowly on the ground will help to smother the flames.

If you knew the correct answer to these statements, you have a good handle on the basics. If not, brush up on your fire prevention and safety knowledge.

KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 and Joe O’Connor edited this article.

About the Author

Diane Kelly

Safety Columnist
Diane Kelly is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 or dkell...

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.