It takes more and more warehouse space to keep our economy running. Companies aren’t just building new warehouses (often in transport hubs or directly adjacent to motorway junctions); they’re also expanding their existing facilities. The greater quantity and variety of materials stored in warehouses – everything from electronics to raw materials for manufacturing – and the wider range of activities undertaken in these facilities (goods packaging, for instance, or electric vehicle charging) have created new fire risks. The modern warehouse needs a comprehensive and up-to-date fire safety management regime more than ever.
In terms of overall numbers of incidents, warehouse fires are rather rare. The sheer size of the facilities involved and the potential hazards of the materials being stored mean that when they do occur, warehouse fires are likely to be extremely destructive. Safely containing the fires is a challenge for fire and rescue services, and the amounts of property damage and business disruption caused by a warehouse fire can be extreme.
Many modern warehouses face special challenges because they store great varieties of different materials, and their contents can change rapidly. This can dramatically alter both the risk of fire and the steps needed to minimize that risk. Warehouses that experience constant shifts in contents need to have fire risk assessment going on as a constant process. Changes in fire risk need to be identified swiftly – in advance whenever possible – so that steps to alter the fire safety strategy may be taken promptly.
Fire safety and fire system maintenance for warehouses needs to address a few common points that nearly all such facilities share. These include:
a) Sprinklers and other fixed fire suppression systems as specified in applicable regulations need to be installed.
b) Warehouse facilities need to be physically separated from manufacturing facilities and any other on-site activities that might aggravate the risk of fire.
c) Warehouse staff need to be thoroughly trained in the actions they should take in a fire. These typically include safely shutting down any active equipment in the facility (e.g. conveyors) and evacuating the warehouse swiftly.
a) Warehouses need to be kept in a clean and orderly state whenever possible. Designated clear areas, such as aisles, should never be used for long-term storage of goods or waste materials.
b) Combustible waste materials, like discarded packaging, should not be allowed to pile up in the warehouse. Stored materials which present a known and high fire risk should be kept either in a separate building or a purpose-built fire compartment in the main warehouse facility.
a) Warehouse operators need to establish close ties with local fire and rescue services as early as possible, particularly when the storage of hazardous materials is being planned out well in advance. The fire service will, in many cases, need to visit the warehouse to inspect storage procedures and assess the basic fire-fighting resources and techniques they would need to use in the event of a fire. The fire service also needs the receive detailed specifications on the warehouse’s sprinkler system and any other automated fire suppression equipment.
b) A proper fire safety management regime should include effective and frequent staff training to ensure that everyone in the warehouse embraces proper fire safety procedures.
a) A consistent procedure for summoning fire and rescue services and raising an alarm in the case of fire should be incorporated into the staff training programme.
b) Staff members should be trained at induction in basic fire response procedures, including fire extinguisher use. Periodic refresher courses should be planned to keep this knowledge current.
Warehouse operations call for a variety of different lift trucks. These may be powered by petrol, diesel, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or batteries. Each type presents a fire hazard if used improperly. Staff members who operate lift trucks should be thoroughly trained in their safe operation and fire procedures.
Following the DSEAR assessment, all trucks need to be checked for safe usage in the warehouse’s known hazard zones.