Q&A on Mitigating Conveyor Explosions and Fires, Part I
What’s the Risk if I Don’t Have a Fire Mitigation System on my Conveyors?The Short Answer
Without fire mitigation on your conveyors, you risk 1) damage to your equipment, 2) damage to buildings, 3) downtime, 4) added insurance expense, 5) canceled insurance, 6) fines due to a failure to meet national fire codes, 7) forced shutdown.
The Long Answer
Fires and explosions are not uncommon. News agencies report them throughout the year across North America and Europe. Although you may be convinced you aren’t at risk of such an event, wishful thinking will not prevent the devastation that will occur when it does—and it won’t convince the fire marshal to allow you to continue operations or the insurance company to not cancel your coverage. If you handle dusty, combustible material like sawdust and your conveyors lack a fire mitigation system, you risk extensive, long-term financial damage.
You also risk extensive damage to your equipment. Fires can spread quickly, and because mills are often located in rural areas and (especially in the forest-product industry) are commonly older buildings that have been expanded and retrofitted over time, it can be difficult for firefighters to get to the fire in a timely manner and then, once there, easily access the fire. Thus, there is much potential for the fire to inflict massive damage before it’s extinguished.
Consider a fire our of our sales representatives witnessed at a particleboard manufacturer in Canada. There, a fire began in their screener, and because the mill did not have a good detection system and lacked a system to extinguish the fire, the fire spread quickly from the screener and through the conveyors to a third of the process equipment before being contained.
Your mill represents millions of dollars of investment. Is the cost you’d save in performing a dust hazard analysis and installing the required safety systems worth the risk of your mill burning to the ground? Or your employees being injured? Of course not. This is why it’s important to prepare for fires and explosions.
It’s not as if you have a choice. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) requires production companies handling combustible material in the United States to conduct a dust hazard analysis by September 2020 and come into compliance with updated codes. Neglecting to identify and address dust-related risks at your operation is no longer an option. You’ll still have to get it done if you want to stay in business.
The second issue you’ll face by lacking suppressions systems is with insurance. Insurance companies charge a high premium to cover operations that handle explosive and flammable materials. If your safety systems aren’t up to par, these companies will withdraw coverage or charge an exorbitant premium. Insurance companies have seen too many operations go up in flames, and with the new NFPA rules, they’ll be unwilling to take the risk any longer. You can be sure insurance companies will leverage the new NFPA regulations to their advantage.
What You Need to Do
You have no choice in the matter: by law (in the United States, at least), you must perform a dust hazard analysis and address the hazards you identify. Likely, this will mean you will have to retrofit conveyors and other material handling equipment at your operation with fire-suppression systems, deflagration suppression, and deflagration venting.
While we do not perform dust hazard analyses, we can help you analyze your systems for machinery-related compliance issues. We can also supply you with enclosed SMART Conveyors to help get your operation NFPA compliant. If you already own a SMART Conveyor™, we can retrofit it with bolt-on deluge system with spark detection and explosion ventilation.