Fires and explosions are major contributors to loss of life and property in laboratories. Many businesses and schools maintain laboratories to oversee experiments on a regular basis. Students use laboratories to explore and learn. Businesses conduct research on new products and theories. There is a high risk of laboratory fires due to the ignitable and explosive materials used. Electrical equipment, wiring, and switches pose danger. Fumes and gases may be difficult to detect. Due to the increased risk of fires within a laboratory, it’s important for institutions to have a specialized laboratory fire safety plan in place.
A small study of one hundred significant laboratory fires by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found: 71% of fires originated in the laboratories; 56% of the laboratory fires originated between 6 PM and 6 AM; 67% of the fires were caused by the following:
- Electrical equipment 21%
- Misuse of flammable liquids 20%
- Explosions 13%
- Gas 7%
- Spontaneous ignition 6%
Two types of fires can occur within a laboratory. The first is planned fires. These include open flames from Bunsen burners, torches, and matches. Planned fires may also be electrical in nature. Some examples of electrical fires are ovens, hot plates, lamps, and overloaded wires. The second type of laboratory fire is unplanned or accidental. This occurs when laboratory staff loses control of materials and/or equipment or when procedures were followed incorrectly.
Keystone Fire Protection will help customize your laboratory fire safety plan. What type of fire prevention measures does a laboratory need?
Preventative Measures for Laboratory Fire Safety:
- Fire doors to contain the fire and smoke, allowing for a safe exit.
- Special cabinets, constructed of heavy steel, to store flammable liquids.
- Automatic sprinkler system.
- Fire suppression system.
- Heat detectors and fire alarms with pull stations.
- Fire extinguishers that are easily accessible.
- Fire blankets for clothing and flammable liquid spills.
- Ongoing maintenance of equipment, wiring, and switches.
- Approved containers to store flammable liquids, solvents, and materials.
Because of the unique nature of laboratory work and the materials used, staff must be educated and trained in laboratory fire safety processes.
What type of cautionary measures should people take when working in a laboratory?
Laboratory Fire Safety Cautionary Measures:
- Plan ahead. Be mentally aware and follow safety procedures.
- Limit the number of combustibles. Use the minimum quantities necessary.
- Keep flammables away when lighting flames.
- Ensure aisles and floors are clear of debris.
- Know where emergency exits, fire extinguishers, and fire alarm pull stations.
- Dispose of hazardous material only in approved containers.
- Take regular inventory of materials and remove outdated materials.
- Ban smoking in or near the lab.
- Keep laboratory work areas clean and free of clutter.
- Wear appropriate protective gear and clothing.
- Never work alone and have a procedural checklist.
It’s important for staff to understand what to do in the event that a fire does start. First, it is imperative that all individuals evacuate the area of the fire to safety. Supervising staff should quickly evaluate the severity of a fire. If a lab fire occurs, it may be possible to isolate it by lowering hoods and closing doors. Only if it’s safe to do so, a fire can be extinguished with a portable fire extinguisher. Water should not be used on flammable liquids, gases, oil, paint, and grease, or electrical equipment. For these hazards, use only dry chemical or carbon dioxide extinguishers. Laboratories that store and handle flammable metals must have a Class D powder extinguisher.
Make sure you’re prepared in the event of a laboratory fire and have a laboratory fire safety plan in place. There are not a “one-size fits all” with laboratory fire safety equipment. Keystone Fire Protection offers a full range of protection services and life safety solutions for commercial, educational, and industrial organizations of all sizes. We offer fire detection systems, fire suppression systems, fire sprinkler systems, safety inspections, and more. Contact us via our website or call 888-641-0100 to get the help you with your laboratory fire safety plan.