by Christopher Brodnick and Jason Lange
It’s crucial to build a targeted, first-line of defense in advance. First, include fire prevention and readiness training and procedures in your overall safety plan. It’s just as important as wearing proper personal protection equipment, meeting OSHA standards and avoiding lost-time accidents.
Next, be sure to properly control welding and cutting processes with fume extraction systems, by capturing sparks and preforming proper equipment maintenance. You also can add an extra line of defense on the shop floor by specifying and installing a custom fire safety solution to reduce the risk of fire in extraction system filters. Featuring components that can prevent, detect and suppress fires in any metalworking facility, these systems can minimize fire hazards, limit system damage and help mitigate the risk of fire escalation and accumulation of smoke throughout the manufacturing environment.
What causes filter fires?
Three key elements – fuel, oxygen and heat – are necessary for a fire to start and to keep it burning. Fuel (any combustible substance) can accumulate as a mixture of particulates those that may be in welding fume and oil in the ductwork or in the filter itself. A source of oxygen, which is necessary to support a fire, enters the system through the extraction power of the fan. The heat component comes from such potential sources of ignition as sparks, smoldering or burning particles (which can include cigarette butts) or spontaneous combustion.
Simply put, anytime you have a spark, heat and oxygen near a filter system, you run the risk of a smoldering fire or spontaneous combustion within the system. Some welding and cutting applications, however, pose a higher risk of this than others. Contributing factors include the following:
- Amount of oil or other flammable materials on the work.
- High temperatures.
- Excessive spatter.
- Low flashpoint of oil or other involved substances.
Manual, robotic and automated welding of oily parts or products, in general, can present distinct fire hazards in any shop. It’s easy to underestimate fume extraction system maintenance in such applications. Oily welding fumes pose a serious risk by reducing filter life and causing increased maintenance costs. And, in these kinds of environments, fires can break out in fume extraction systems even years after installation.
In robotic welding of pressed, stamped or oily parts, such as in the automotive industry, the process can create welding fumes with a relatively low flashpoint. These fumes can be ignited by sparks or swelter in the dustbin or collection location causing spontaneous combustion.
Cutting tables also can be a culprit. The cutting process produces glowing materials that create possible fire risk. Another area that can present hazards is source extraction, which includes fume extraction arms, often known to be misused for cigarette ash and butt disposal.
Seeking a solution
Fire safety systems, which work in conjunction with existing fume extraction systems, can provide any manufacturing facility with fire detection, prevention and suppression capabilities. Every factory is different, so there’s no such thing as a cookie-cutter, off-the-shelf fire safety system that suits all manufacturing operations. The most effective systems are specified and designed to control fire risk in ways specific to each facilities’ processes and applications.
For example, the Guardian™ fire safety system from Lincoln Electric contains several components that can be combined to create a comprehensive solution. Each product in the line has its own unique role in a system, from reducing the risk of a fire to detecting possible fire starters on the shop floor. Other components can immediately suppress the start of fires, helping to keep system damage to a minimum.
Beyond fire prevention, these systems have ancillary roles in the overall efficient maintenance and operation of the entire fume extraction system. They can help minimize replacement, maintenance and filter downtime in case of fire and also increase the effectiveness and lifespan of the system.
When specifying a fire safety system for your application there are several key factors to consider:
Fires during welding applications in the metalworking and fabrication industry can be caused in various ways. When combined with proper training and awareness, today’s fire safety systems offer tailor-made protection for any facility.
These systems give manufacturers the ability to specify, design and install a fire safety solution for fume extraction systems that will keep fire risks under control for their specific facility. These tested and certified total system solutions reduce the risk of fire to a minimum, and in the event of a fire, ensure that resulting damage is limited.
Even existing weld fume control systems or larger filtration systems that aren’t typically covered by a standard range of control can be modified to benefit from fire prevention, detection and suppression solutions – designed specifically to meet any facility’s needs. And, in some cases, you might even enjoy insurance discounts or related benefits by having such a system in place. Check with your insurer to verify if they offer such an incentive program.
Don’t Wait For It To Happen To You
Fire is a real threat in any manufacturing facility, particularly in fume extraction system filters. In most cases, it’s not a matter if a fire is going to occur in a filter bank; it’s a matter of when will it occur – and if you are ready for it. A fire, no matter what size, is a serious issue and requires serious solutions for readiness and prevention.