Hazardous goods pose a fire risk for warehouses

30 April 2019 | Web Article Number: ME201914267

Transport, Distribution & Warehousing

LARGE industrial warehouses are at risk when they do not own the goods stored in their buildings as is the case with courier or logistics companies. Clients do not always declare the fire risks associated with hazardous goods, as they are either unaware of the hazard, or are trying to avoid paying a premium for the handling and storage of hazardous goods.

That’s the warning from ASP Fire CEO Michael van Niekerk who says the net result is that the actual fire load or fire hazard of the goods stored in the building far exceeds the designed fire load of the building in terms of its construction, and the fire detection, fire suppression, and life-safety systems.

“It is also difficult to manage access in and out of a very large warehouse site. Buildings that cover many thousands of square metres are not necessarily staffed to a level that allows for a fire to be detected and suppressed rapidly,” he added.

Fire protection in a warehouse environment not only has to comply with the National Building Regulations Act, but also with various SANS codes. These are mainly SANS 10400-T: Application of the National Building Regulations Act, Fire Protection; SANS 10287: Automatic Sprinkler Installations for Firefighting Purposes; SANS 10139: Fire Detection and Alarm Systems for Buildings (System Design, Installation and Servicing).

Then there are also SANS 10228: The Identification and Classification of Dangerous Goods for Transport; and SANS10263-0: Warehousing of Dangerous Goods. Local municipal emergency service or fire brigade by-laws are also applicable, Van Niekerk said.

He said retrofitting warehouses that do not have high-piled storage rack installed to be compliant with all of the necessary regulations is not only costly, but in some instances either unfeasible or impractical. This can be avoided in certain cases by simply sub-dividing warehouses into various fire compartments aimed at limiting the spread of a fire.

These compartments, in turn, are separated from each other by fire-resistant floors and walls to stop any fire from spreading and engulfing an entire warehouse.

The main benefit of this so-called ‘fire compartmentalisation’ is that it prevents a fire from spreading out of control, which could result in workers being trapped. It also reduces the possibility of such a fire from spreading, and resulting in even greater damage, and even fatalities.

The degree of sub-division necessitated by fire compartmentation depends on the use of the building, its height, and whether a sprinkler system has been installed.

Evacuation procedures and fire protection strategies are also an essential component for warehouse design. Van Niekerk said ASP Fire is able to conduct fire-risk assessments for warehouses in order to determine whether the actual fire load exceeds the installed fire-protection system design.

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