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Quick Facts About Equipment and Machinery Fire Hazards

Posted on August 17, 2016

This article is Part 4 of our “Quick Facts About Fire Hazards” series. Check out the other posts on combustible dust, hot work, and flammable and combustible liquids and gases. Stay tuned for a post on electrical hazards.

Whether you run processing machines 24/7 or industrial ovens for just a few hours a day, the equipment and machinery in your facility can pose significant hazards, especially if you don’t take care of it.

This article provides a brief look at the main fire risks associated with equipment and machinery.

What types of equipment pose the greatest fire risk?

Heating equipment is the leading cause of house fires in the United States. So, it should be no surprise that furnaces, boilers, and related heating equipment are responsible for a large portion of industrial fires as well.

According to NFPA statistics, heating equipment is responsible for 14% of structural fires in industrial or manufacturing facilities. Shop tools and industrial equipment are also responsible for 14%, while mechanical failure or malfunction makes up another 24%.

In his book Fire Hazards in Industry, Norman Thomson identifies five main causes of fires involving heating equipment:

  • Careless refilling of heaters, especially those that use liquid fuel
  • Placing combustible materials too close to heaters
  • Placing portable heaters too close to combustible materials
  • Not following instructions for changing gas cylinders
  • Not regularly inspecting heaters and associated equipment

Heating equipment is not the only culprit though. Mechanical, electrical, and other equipment can also pose a significant risk, particularly if it isn’t working properly.

For example, this deadly 2014 incident at an oil recycling business in Phoenix was caused by gas dripping from a faulty pump onto a hot motor.

How do you prevent equipment and machinery fires?

Most equipment and machinery fires happen because someone is doing something they shouldn’t (e.g., storing combustible materials too close to operating machinery, hot work in unauthorized areas) or not doing something they should (e.g., following instructions, performing regular inspections and maintenance).

So, the best way to prevent these incidents is to establish policies and programs to ensure all equipment and machinery is installed, tested, maintained, and used according to the manufacturer’s instructions and industry best practices.

Read 5 Major Causes of Industrial Fires and Explosions for a three-step plan to prevent these incidents, as well as an overview of other industrial fire hazards.