Assessing your fire risk

Is your facility at a high level of risk? Each year in Canada, over 1,500 industrial fires occur, causing approximately $140 million in property damage.

BY SIMON FRIDLYAND

During recent plant audits, I have noticed that a significant number of facilities do not comply with local fire code requirements. For example, flammable liquids are being stored in general warehousing facilities, dispensing is taking place in unauthorized areas, and there is a lack of low-level ventilation. These are just some examples of non-compliance I’ve seen.

In Ontario, Part 4 of Ontario Fire Code, Flammable and Combustible Liquids, was originally introduced in 1997 and reconfirmed in 2007. This section outlines requirements for storage, handling and processing of Flammable and combustible liquids. Also, Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act, under Regulation 851 for Industrial Establishments, stipulates Pre-Start Health and Safety Reviews (PSRs) be carried out where flammable liquids are involved.

Statistically, each year in Canada, over 1,500 industrial fires occur, causing approximately $140 million in property damage. Therefore, it is important to evaluate the risk associated with using flammable and combustible liquids in our factories.

An industrial occupancy (a factory) is defined as one for the assembling, fabricating, manufacturing, processing, repairing or storing of goods and materials. This category is divided into low-hazard (F3), medium-hazard (F2) and high-hazard (F1) based on the facility’s combustible content and the potential for rapid fire growth.

Industrial occupancies constitute a special fire hazard due to their high levels of combustible, flammable or explosive content and the possible presence of oxidizing chemicals and gases. Processing and other activities that involve various ignition sources often occur in these occupancies. Industrial fires generally involve large quantities of combustible materials and potentially result in large financial and human losses.

A fire risk assessment attempts to answer the following seven questions:
1. What could happen?
2. When could this happen?
3. Where could this happen?
4. Who could this happen to?
5. Why could this happen?
6. How likely is it to happen?
7. How bad would it be if it did happen?

While answering these questions, one needs to keep in mind the likelihood of these scenarios occurring and their subsequent consequences.

Risk is defined as a measure of the probability and consequence of an adverse effect to health, property, an organization, the environment or the community as a result of an event, activity or operation.

The probability or likelihood of a fire is often estimated based on the frequency of previous experiences. A review of past events may involve extracting relevant historical fire loss data. Professional judgments based on experience should also be exercised in combination with historical information to estimate probability levels. An evaluation of the probability of an event can be categorized into five levels of likelihood (see Table 1).

The consequences associated with a fire – the potential losses or negative outcomes – also can also be categorized into five levels, based on severity (see Table 2).

In order to establish an overall picture of the situation, the risk assessment is completed by assigning probability and consequence levels to potential adverse events or scenarios due to fire – and combining the two to arrive at an overall risk level. This process is called the Risk Analysis Matrix (see Table 3). The highest overall risk levels are located in the bottom right corner of the matrix and the lowest levels are at the top left corner. This tool also allows the analyst to rank and classify the scenarios for the purpose of prioritizing risk reduction measures.

The risk and priority levels are defined as follows:
L = Low Risk. Priority Level 1 (L1) means to manage by routine programs and procedures, and to maintain risk monitoring.
M = Moderate Risk. Priority Level 2 (L2) requires specific allocation of management responsibility, including monitoring and response procedures.
H = High Risk. Priority Level 3 (L3) means senior management attention is needed.
E = Extreme Risk. Priority Level 4 (L4) indicates a serious threat, where detailed research and management planning are required at senior levels.

It is hoped that this simple tool will allow you to evaluate the risk of fire in your facility and the potential consequences for your organization.

Table 1: Likelihood Levels

Description

Level

Specifics

Rare

1

- may occur in exceptional circumstances

- no incidents in the past 15 years

Unlikely

2

- could occur at some time, especially if circumstances change

- 5 to 15 years since last incident

Possible

3

- might occur under current circumstances

- 1 incident in the past 5 years

Likely

4

- will probably occur at some time under current circumstances

- multiple or recurring incidents in the past 5 years

Almost Certain

5

- expected to occur in most circumstances unless circumstances change

- multiple or recurring incidents in the past year

 

Table 2: Consequence Levels

Description

Level

Specifics

Insignificant

1

- no life safety issue

- limited valued or no property loss

- no effect on general living conditions.

Minor

2

- potential risk to life safety of occupants

- minor property loss

- minimal disruption to business activity and/or

- minimal impact on general living conditions.

Moderate>

3

- threat to life safety of occupants

- moderate property loss

- could pose threat to quality of the environment.

Major

4

- potential for a large loss of life

- would result in significant property damage

- impact to the environment would result in a short-term, partial evacuation of local residents and businesses.

Catastrophic

5

- significant loss of life

- multiple property damage to significant portion of the municipality

- long-term disruption of business

- environmental damage that would result in long-term evacuation of local residents and businesses.


Table 3: Risk Analysis Matrix

Level of Risk (Priority Level)

Probability

Consequence

1

Insignificant

2

Minor

3

Moderate

4

Major

5

Catastrophic

1

Rare

L (L1)

L (L1)

M (L2)

H (L3)

H (L3)

2

Unlikely

L (L1)

L (L1)

M (L2)

H (L3)

E (L4)

3

Possible

L (L1)

M (L2)

H (L3)

E (L4)

E (L4)

4

Likely

M (L2)

H (L3)

H (L3)

E (L4)

E (L4)

5

Almost Certain

H (L3)

H (L3)

E (L4)

E (L4)

E (L4)


Simon Fridlyand, P.Eng., of SAFE Engineering Inc., specializes in industrial health and safety concerns and PSR compliance. For more information, visit www.safeengineering.ca.

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