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Warehouse Fire Safety Tips

Posted on: May 27, 2011

Compliance with fire safety codes is important not only for keeping your building safe from fires, but also for avoiding potentially damaging fire marshal fines. If you operate a warehouse in Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, DC, the following are steps you need to take to make sure you are in line with all required codes.

Warehouse Fire Safety: Meeting Fire Safety Codes

  • Have working fire suppression systems – this is a requirement for any building, but having well installed and maintained fire suppression systems in your warehouse is the single most thing you can do in your building. Deluge fire sprinklers are commonly used in warehouses, along with in-rack fire suppression systems.
  • Maintain proper distance beneath sprinkler heads – you must have at least 18 inches of space below all sprinkler heads, as anything higher could block water flow and compromise your warehouse protection.
  • Allow for space between pallets – if you store things on pallets, make sure to keep three inches of transverse space on all sides of each pallet and six inches of longitudinal flue space between back-to-back rows.
  • If you store things using racked pallets, keep at least three inches of “transverse flue space” on either side of every rack. Transverse flue space refers to the space on either side of a racked pallet. Also, be sure to maintain six inches of longitudinal flue space, or space between rows of back-to-back rack.
    • Note: flue space is measured by the space between the loads, not between the pallets. This means that if you have a load that extends three inches off the side of the pallet, you’ll need to start measuring the flue space from there, not the end of the pallet.
    • If your warehouse meets the above requirements for flue space, you will probably not need to have an in-rack fire sprinkler system installed. However, if you rack using solid decking and shelves, if you use storage configurations that prevent maintaining flue spaces, if you store high hazard materials or if your storage reaches more than 40ft in height, in-rack fire sprinkler systems are strongly recommended.
    • Dead end aisles in your warehouse must be noted and cannot exceed 50ft in length.
    • In solid piled floor storage facilities, you must maintain aisle space at least every 100ft and, if the storage is up against a wall, within 50ft of said wall. Basically, this means that any place with solid piled floor storage must be within 50ft of an aisle.
    • If you restock your warehouse manually, make sure to keep a minimum unobstructed aisle width of 24 inches or half the aisle width – whichever is greater.
    • During mechanical restocking, maintain an unobstructed aisle of at least 44 inches.
    • Obviously, smoking should never be allowed in your warehouse. Post “No Smoking” signs throughout the facility.
    • Liquid propane fuel cylinders must be stored at least 20ft away from fire exits and are limited to 300lbs per storage facility. When counting propane tanks, consider empty cylinders to be full (just to be safe). If you need to store more fuel than this, make sure the storage locations are at least 300ft apart.
    • Check your local fire codes for guidelines pertaining to:
      • Automated material handling operations such as carousels and ASRS units
      • Battery charging areas
      • Plastics
      • Aerosols
      • Hazardous Materials

Warehouse Fire Safety: Beyond Compliance

Obviously, the above recommendations will protect you from fire marshal fines. However, even following those guidelines is not a guarantee that you will be fully protected in the event of a fire! There are many, many things that can affect your actual level of protection, and many things that a fire safety inspector would not know: changes in the composition of products stored, changes in the types of packaging used or changes in the storage configuration that could affect your level of fire protection.

If you want go beyond simply “meeting the guidelines” and provide your employees with serious fire protection, you should talk with a fire protection engineer who can design a fire protection plan that is custom tailored to fit your warehouse’s needs. To make sure your building is fully protected against fires, follow these warehouse fire safety tips:

  • Evacuation plans – obviously, every building needs an evacuation plan. A fire protection engineer will help you determine the easiest routes of access to all the exits in your building and will assist you in running fire drills so your employees know exactly what to do in the event of a fire. Also, since warehouse configurations change fairly frequently, make sure your employees know that going to an “assigned” exit is less important than calmly and efficiently going to the exit closest to them.
  • Fire extinguisher training – working in a warehouse, you will probably have Class ABC or Class D fire extinguishers. A fire protection company will be able to provide training for all types of fire extinguishers so everyone in your building will know how to respond quickly and effectively in the event of a fire.
  • Designating floor storage and staging areas – use tape to designate specific storage and staging areas. This will make it much easier to determine and enforce proper aisle space rules.
  • Trash accumulation – this is not something you need a fire protection company to help you with, but it’s still extremely important. Obviously, a space that is cluttered with trash is going to be at a higher risk for fire than one that is kept neat. Make sure you provide adequate trash cans and assign the task of emptying them as they fill up. In addition, you should have designated areas for storing unused pallets, crates, etc. As a general rule, you should stack unused pallets no more than six feet in height.

In order for your warehouse to be fully protected against fires, you need to go beyond the minimum standards set by the fire code. If you own a warehouse in Maryland, Virginia or Washington, DC and either need a fire sprinkler inspection, or want to find out how to maximize your existing level of fire protection with more warehouse fire safety tips, call Guardian Fire Protection today!

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