What you should know about fighting laboratory fires?

Classes of Fire Extinguishers

Laboratories hold potential risk of fire accidents due to presence of flammable materials. Fire hazards in the laboratory covers groupings of flammable liquids, solids and gases and also advocates need for fire insurance to recover losses due to fire accidents.

Understanding nature of Laboratory Fire Hazards

A majority of fire accidents in laboratories can be avoided through knowledge of nature of combustible materials and through proper planning. Safety guidelines generally cover:

  • Storage of bulk quantities of flammable solvents in separate well ventilated storage areas. Only minimal quantities should be kept inside the laboratories.
  • Naked flames should not be permitted in laboratories and hot plates or spark producing electrical machines should not be operated in the proximity of volatile flammable liquids.
  • Good housekeeping and planning are required to prevent accumulation of combustible materials such as empty cartons, wooden or thermocol packings in laboratory passages or corridors. It is a good practice to arrange for immediate disposal of such unwanted material.
  • Regularly inspect laboratory and instrument wiring for damage caused by normal wear or rodents. Such damage if left unattended can lead to short circuits and major fires.
  • Do not store incompatible chemicals in close vicinity of each other. A quick reference guide gives a reference to such common chemicals found in laboratories.

Fire Safety Equipment

Classes of Fire Extinguishers
Classes of Fire Extinguishers

It is a mandatory requirement of all laboratories to install fire extinguishers which are classified into four categories, namely, A, B, C and D. Such categories are based on the nature of combustible materials against which their use is recommended and the type of fire extinguishing material contained in them. A quick reference can be made through the first link in the article.

Important points to remember before using fire extinguishers

Before making use of the fire extinguisher ascertain that it is the right one for the type of fire. It may just happen that in the heat of the moment you can lay your hands on the wrong extinguisher which can result in greater damage. It is advisable to keep in mind the four categories of extinguishers

  • Wood, paper, cloth, plastics and trash fires require use of water extinguisher(class A). Such extinguisher should never be used in electrical fires or fires involving burning metals, metal hydrides, metal alkyls or organometallic substances
  • Fires resulting from flammable and combustible liquids or electrical fires (class B and class C) require the use of foam, dry powder or carbon dioxide extinguishers
  • Dry powder extinguishers are not recommended for use for fires involving delicate electronic or optical instruments due to possibility of subsequent cleanup damages
  • The gas stream or powder should not be directed towards the flame. Always aim towards the base of the fire so that it blankets the source of fire and keeps air away which supports combustion.
  • The gas pressure of the extinguisher should be directed carefully so that the burning items do not scatter on the floor and burning containers do not get tipped and result in further spreading of the burning contents.
  • Dry powder extinguisher (class D) should be used for combustible metal fires. In such cases water extinguisher should not be used

Every laboratory worker should be compulsorily given basic training on firefighting measures. It is equally important to clearly display location of fire extinguishers at prominent locations in the laboratory so that in case of emergencies little time gets wasted in locating them.

Prevention is always better than cure but proper training on firefighting activities which is provided and certified by local firefighting authorities is undoubtedly a desirable option. Proper action taken in the event of such mishaps can prevent major loses of life and property.

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