Joe, we’re never gonna have a fire around here — nobody’s gonna get hurt. Our company’s way too good about stuff like that.” This was Willie’s typical “it will never happen to us” kind of thinking.

“You’re sure of that, huh?” Joe shot back.

Joe was more than ready to talk about fire protection — he wanted Willie to do a walk-around with him.

“I need to tell you a story, Willie.”

“A few years ago, we had a young maintenance worker. Don was stripping down a wall in the lobby of the main operations building. It was a hot summer evening — not much air or ventilation in the lobby. Don had a light switch cover off and was working with some low flash point solvents. He had a couple open containers — no plunger cans or safety cans — just open containers.

“There was a flash or two on the wall. I guess he brushed against the light switch. Don laughed off the flashes until a big one pushed him back and he jumped — knocking over one of the containers.

“He panicked and ran down the hallway. This just fanned the fire into some pretty big flames on his body. Fortunately, one of his co-workers ran after him, tackled him and put out the fire. Don was in the local burn unit for months. Almost lost his life — really bad burns over 70 percent of his body. He’s been damaged for life, physically and mentally.”

“Wow Joe, that sounds awful.”

Joe had Willie’s attention, and that’s exactly what he needed.

Checking for hazards

“Let’s look over the last walk-around checklist,” said Joe. “It will be a good refresher for me and a good review for you.”

“Alright with me” replied Willie.

“With our solvents and spray cans, we have to do a better job keeping them in their fire cabinets. And we really shouldn’t have more than 10 or 15 gallons of solvents out at one time. Even though we use safety cans they need to go back in their cabinets. That’s one of the reasons why we use the small squeeze bottles — to limit the amounts. And remember the squeeze bottles need to be labeled.”

“Got it” — Willie was on the same page.

“In the back of the first stage assembly area, we’ve been getting too much scrap built up. You know, paper, cardboard, and even the bubble wrap and peanuts for packaging. That’s why we have more dumpsters now and why we have more frequent pick-ups for recycling. That material can go up really fast. And we need to limit ignition sources nearby.”

“What do you mean by ignition sources?” asked Willie.

“Anything that can start the fire — you know, open flames, sparks from grinders, space heaters, power cords — here’s the list, see for yourself.

“With Don in that really bad accident I told you about — his group should have covered the light switch from moving or producing a spark or locked-out and tagged the power — maybe used some portable lighting that was OK for flammable environments. If he used safety containers or plunger cans he would have never slipped and fell in that mess.”

“Yep, even now I can think of more they should have done,” said Willie. “Weren’t you telling me about Recognize, Resolve and some other stuff like that?”

Joe needed to reinforce this point.

“Yep. I was talking about Recognize, Reduce, Substitute, Eliminate and Protect.

“We should always recognize the flammables we’re working with — liquids, gases like acetylene and propane. And if we’re using these kinds of products we need to recognize and protect — we need to keep ignition sources away or eliminate them.

“A good general rule of thumb is to protect by a distance of 25 feet — or use a good barrier made for that purpose. If we can, always substitute a less flammable product or don’t use one at all — that’s also part of elimination.”

“That sounds a little complicated, Joe.”

“It’s really not. Once you have an eye for it, you’ll get used to recognizing the fire hazards around here. Your eyes and mind get trained for it. And I have the inspection form to keep me focused so I don’t forget. Most of the form is in parts: Paper, Wood and ordinary Combustibles; Solvents and Flammable Liquids, Gases, and Ignition Sources — Fixed and Portable.”

“I see,” chimed Willie, “I guess all this becomes clearer and easier to see once you do it, right?”

“That’s right,” said Joe. “And the more people we get involved — like you, like a team, the better off we’ll be. It’s like having hundreds of eyes all helping out with fire safety! Let’s get started on the walk-through.”

SIDEBAR: Reducing your risks

  • Recognize the flammables you're working with — liquids, gases like acetylene and propane.

  • If you’re using these kinds of products you need to recognize and protect — keep ignition sources away or eliminate them.

  • Protect ignition sources by a distance of 25 feet — or use a good barrier made for that purpose.

  • Always substitute a less flammable product or don’t use one at all if possible — that’s also part of elimination.”