A loading dock fire can be devastating for any company. Not only is inventory and motive power equipment at risk of being seriously damaged, but the safety of warehouse employees is also in jeopardy. Warehouse managers have the responsibility of following the necessary fire safety codes and maintaining proper warehouse dock safety solutions to prevent a loading dock fire from happening. Such a disaster has the potential to shut down your warehouse operations — not to mention costing your warehouse hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs and property damage.
Common Causes of Loading Dock Fires
Industrial fires can cost companies thousands of dollars in repair and replacement expenses while affecting everyone involved in the catastrophe. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found that between 2011 and 2015, municipal fire departments responded to an estimated average of 37,000 fires at industrial or manufacturing properties each year. It was also estimated that these fires were responsible for 16 civilian deaths and 273 civilian injuries annually, with over $1.2 billion in property damage.
To improve warehouse dock safety, it’s important to know some of the major causes of most loading dock fires.
- Combustible dust: Workers, forklifts, delivery trucks, and inventory made of different materials are constantly moving around a warehouse’s loading dock area, so it’s only natural that dust can quickly accumulate inside your warehouse. The issue is that combustible dust is an often-overlooked problem. Any type of industry — from food manufacturing to pharmaceuticals — uses dyes, food, chemicals, and other materials that have the potential to become combustible in dust form.
A small fire or explosion can break out if the dust comes in contact with an ignition source, but it’s what can happen after that creates even more concern. Once the primary fire or explosion causes dust to become airborne, the dust cloud can ignite and cause a secondary fire or explosion several times the size and severity of the initial warehouse dock fire.
- Equipment and machinery: Faulty equipment and machinery are also major causes for industrial fires — particularly with heating or hot work equipment. Mechanical equipment can also cause a fire from friction against other moving parts. The best strategy for preventing these kinds of industrial fires is to be aware of any mechanical issues and maintain all motive power equipment regularly to keep machinery working properly.
- Flammable liquids and gasses: Depending on your business, you may be storing flammable materials inside your warehouse, like aerosol, crude oil, and liquid propane. You must be extremely careful when receiving these deliveries at your loading dock. A chemical spill or damaged gas tank can create a dangerous situation and/or a chain reaction with other materials inside your warehouse.
OSHA fire safety guidelines for flammable liquids and material warehouse storage state that containers in piles must be separated by pallet racks and shall not be piled within three feet of the beams, and must be three feet below your warehouse’s sprinkler system. Check your local fire codes for guidelines on the correct way to handle flammable and hazardous materials.
- Electrical hazards: Fires that occur due to electrical system damage can escalate quickly. Specific electrical hazards include exposed wiring or wiring that is not up to code, overloaded outlets and circuits, and static discharge. Any of these hazards can create a spark that can serve as an ignition source for combustible dust and other flammable materials.
How to Prevent Loading Dock Fires
If you want to go above and beyond meeting fire safety guidelines, it’s worth establishing a fire protection program that fits your warehouse and loading dock needs. Here are some fire safety tips to consider to improve warehouse dock safety:
- Maintain an updated evacuation plan: Every warehouse building needs an evacuation plan in case of a loading dock fire or some other warehouse emergency. A fire protection engineer can help determine the easiest routes to all the exit locations and will assist in running drills with employees to ensure they know exactly what to do to help put out a loading dock fire.
- Offer fire extinguisher training: Your warehouse should have either a Class A, B, C, or D fire extinguisher if you don’t already have several of each type. Each one is responsible for putting out a different type of fire. A fire protection company will provide training for all the types of fire extinguishers so everyone in your warehouse knows how to safely and properly use them in the event of a loading dock fire.
- Provide adequate areas for trash disposal: Piling trash and old materials around your warehouse dock is unsafe and increases your dock safety risks. Cluttered warehouse aisles can block fire exits and create tripping hazards if employees need to escape a loading dock fire. Employees should remove all trash and waste materials at the end of the day and dispose of them in trash cans at least 30 feet from the warehouse building.
- Perform regular loading dock maintenance: Ongoing warehouse maintenance is key to keep operations running smoothly. It helps keep preventative maintenance strategies up-to-date, ensures all equipment is working efficiently, and helps keep warehouse inventory and assets organized. Be sure to check that your dock seals and shelters, dock doors, and other loading dock equipment is operating properly. Southern States Enterprises offers numerous warehouse dock services to help improve fire safety, including equipment replacement and safety surveys.
Loading Dock Fire Safety Tools
All buildings are required to have the proper fire safety tools to keep a fire from spreading until further emergency services arrive. Even if a loading dock fire is small, you should always be prepared to use the correct fire protection tools to help keep your employees, warehouse assets, and loading dock area safe.
OSHA requires every workplace to have a fire detection system and a fire prevention program that is readily available to employees, and should include:
- A list of all major fire hazards;
- The type of fire safety equipment needed to handle each hazard;
- The name or job title of employees responsible for maintaining equipment to prevent and control fire ignition sources; and
- The names of the employees responsible for controlling fuel source hazards.
OSHA also requires all fire extinguishers must be 75 ft. of travel distance between the employee and the source of the fire. A fire sprinkler system must always be installed and there should be 18 inches of space below each sprinkler head. It’s recommended that an in-rack sprinkler system is installed if warehouse storage exceeds 40 ft. in height.
Another fire safety tool to consider installing is a loading dock fire door. Fire doors are designed to automatically close in the event of a fire or other emergency. The NFPA Code 80 standard regulations require all fire doors to be tested and inspected annually. The Door & Access Systems Manufacturers Association (DASMA) recommends performing a visual inspection test and operational check and doing to drop tests by a trained fire door technician.
Dock levelers are also helpful to improve dock safety. Dock levelers create a bridge between a truck and your loading dock to help match the height of a truck for easier loading and unloading. This helps prevent truck beds from scraping against your warehouse dock and creating sparks that could ignite any nearby flammable materials.
A loading dock fire is a scary and damaging event, but they can easily be prevented when the right fire safety measures are followed. Southern States Enterprises will help inspect your warehouse and loading dock to ensure all dock equipment is working properly and that you are compliant with OSHA fire protection guidelines. We also sell fire doors and other warehouse dock equipment to help improve overall dock safety. Contact an SSE service technician for more information on our warehouse products and services.