Managing fire safety in laboratories

Wormald

By Justin Morris, Technical Director
Friday, 04 October, 2019



Managing fire safety in laboratories

Fire can pose a serious and immediate fire risk in laboratory environments, making adequate fire protection crucial to the safety of technicians and workers.

The laboratory is home to hazardous non-infectious materials including chemicals; corrosive, flammable or toxic substances; and radioactive materials which must be properly stored, labelled and handled to protect the safety of lab workers and prevent possible burns or fire.

The risk of fire is particularly high in this environment, with the presence of elements that may lead to ignition and combustion, such as temperature-controlled instruments, flammable agents and chemicals.

Laboratory fires are one of the most devastating avoidable incidents. Not only can an unexpected fire pose a serious risk to the life and safety of workers, but may also result in extensive damage to extremely valuable equipment and property.

Fire in a laboratory can also have a devastating impact on production and outputs, with the potential to cause extensive damage or the loss of important assets, data, samples, results or research, affecting operations long after the emergency is over.

Managing fire risk in laboratories

Good safety practices and a safe working environment are essential to reduce injury and illness, or adverse effects on service delivery. When it comes to fire prevention, there are the obvious safety rules such as ensuring open flames are not left unattended and that no open flames should be used near flammable solvents.

To reduce the risk and impact of a laboratory fire, Wormald recommends implementing a comprehensive fire protection solution that is tailored for the specific needs of the facility, taking into consideration the nature of work carried out within the site. This should include highly specialised equipment to protect important industry-specific assets, such as fume cupboards, mitigating the risk of toxic by-products being released into the atmosphere by helping to suppress fires at the source.

Fire safety equipment specific to laboratories

Wormald is national distributor of the FireDETEC range, which features a sensor tube that is fitted directly inside or around compact equipment enclosures, including laboratory fume cupboards, to detect fire caused by flammable or reactive chemicals.

Many lab workers will have regular access to fume cupboards, a local exhaust ventilation system commonly found in the laboratory environment to control exposure to toxic or flammable vapours, gases and aerosols.

A properly functioning fume cupboard exhausts hazardous gases, dusts, mists and vapours from a confined location and helps protect workers from inhalation of chemicals into the body, where they can directly enter the bloodstream and lodge small particles in the lungs.

FireDETEC Fume can help laboratory technicians by suppressing fires quickly, reducing the risk of exposure to biological or infectious materials, while also protecting vital equipment. The pressurised sensor tubing is highly reactive to heat, meaning that in the event of a flame-up, the sensor tube bursts, releasing an extinguishing agent that quickly and effectively suppresses fire. Digital sensors monitor extinguishing cylinder levels in real time and alert the nominated safety officer if a leak is detected.

FireDETEC Fume can help laboratory technicians by suppressing fires quickly.

Advanced fire protective equipment is one important way to mitigate fire risk in a laboratory facility; however, Wormald also recommends regularly reviewing the following safety tips to ensure all the required elements of a comprehensive fire protection plan are in place.

Fire safety tips for laboratory managers

1. Conduct regular fire safety audits. This will help to highlight potential fire risks around the facility and determine the appropriate fire protection solution required.

2. Keep up to date with regulation and legislation. Laboratory managers must know their responsibilities when it comes to ethical and legal fire safety requirements, and develop an appropriate fire prevention plan in accordance with Australian Standard AS 3745:2010 ‘Planning for Emergencies in Facilities’.

3. Install adequate fire protection equipment. In laboratory environments, more advanced fire detection and suppression systems are recommended in addition to fire extinguishers, fire hose reels and fire doors, to suit the nature of work and type of equipment used.

4. Service and maintain. Successful fire protection requires installed systems and equipment perform to the standard to which they were originally designed and installed. Today’s technology can help to keep laboratories compliant and up to date, with Wormald providing an online portal that offers instant visibility of equipment maintenance and servicing in accordance with Australian Standard AS 1851.

5. Use appropriate signage. Include signage to identify all hazards, fire protection equipment and emergency exits. Additionally, all chemicals, corrosive, flammable or toxic substances, and radioactive materials must be properly stored, labelled and handled to protect the safety of laboratory workers and prevent possible burns.

6. Train and educate staff. A confident team that is trained to respond appropriately in the event of a fire is an invaluable investment and can substantially reduce the impact of a crisis.

Wormald can help to identify potential hazards and install an appropriate fire protection solution.

Justin Morris, Technical Director, Wormald.

Top image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/davit85

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