Extinguishing the risk of fire related downtime

Fire wall at Ardo UK.jpg

With warehouse fires costing the UK economy around £232 million (BRE Global), mitigating fire risk is a key concern for many industries. None more so than the food and beverage sector which suffered a series of serious fires last year resulting in costly damage to warehouse and production facilities, operation downtime and loss of stock. The impact of fire damage cannot be contained to just the organisation either.  As well as huge commercial losses, it can also cause multiple job losses and affect the wider supply chain.

Although fire risk is a very real concern for the sector, it can be prevented. Paul Morley, Managing Director of Chalcroft Construction, will look at the most common causes of warehouse fires and focus on some of the high profile cases that impacted the industry last year. Paul will also discuss how the design of the building itself plays an integral role in localising damage and containing the spread of fire, helping to reduce £multi-million damage.

With fire recognised as the leading cause of commercial property damage and disruption, its impact on the food and beverage industry, which is based on demanding suppliers and tight timescales, can be devastating, particularly as it relies on round-the-clock production with little room for unscheduled downtime. While fire disruption can cause multi-million pounds worth of damage, it can also seriously impact the reputation of a brand and for those producing a high commodity product, could see suppliers move to competitors if their orders can't be fulfilled.

A multitude of hazards can cause fires and while it's a number one concern for those responsible for health and safety, the continued frequency and severity of food and drink manufacturing fires last year demonstrates it's an issue that still needs to be addressed. With human error and maintenance the main cause of fires in production facilities, including electrical fault, arson, high-temperature work and contractors, the causes can be controlled and strategies put in place to identify and reduce the impact and coverage of fire. 

Among the manufacturers effected last year by fire, well-known brands including Rank Hovis, 2 Sisters and Dairy Crest all experienced damage at their facilities causes by fire, however good fire prevention strategies helped mitigate the damage and production downtime was kept to a minimum. Some organisations weren't as fortunate. A fish processing plant in Peterhead was hit by a major fire in January last year which took nearly 12 months for the site to become fully operation again, resulting in millions of pounds of lost profit. Similarly, a salad production company was overcome by a large fire last year caused by arson, which saw its warehouse and a number of adjacent portable buildings completely destroyed by fire.

Fire safety requirements for a construction project will initially be in line with requests of the client and compliance with legislation, but generally the client's insurers will have stipulations over and above all else, which means early dialogue with insurers is key. Due to each building being used for its own unique purpose, fire safety considerations during construction will inevitably differ. The number of people populating the building and the size and location of the site can all influence the construction of a building, and play an important role in fire prevention strategies.

While the layout of a facility can help encourage efficiency and improve workflow, the design of a building is crucial to fire prevention. If fire prevention strategies fail, containment measures can be the difference between minor damage and multi-million pound destruction. A series of high profile cases in the 1990s identified the role a building's composition played in mitigating and containing the spread of fire. While steps were taken to improve facility design, last year's series of fires demonstrate that more needs to be done, and preventing ignition and the early spread of fire is critical if valuable back-up systems and maintenance fail. 

Firewalls between chambers and production areas can offer varying lengths of resistance from fire ranging from two to four hours, and can be made from a range of materials including concrete, which is often used for self-supporting walls. Firewalls can also be constructed from insulated panels and boarded construction, and differ in composition and width in comparison to standard panels. 

Sectioning key areas for fire protection can provide a valuable back-up and help reduce the risk of losing an entire production facility or thousands of pounds worth of stock. Fire compartmentation is a method which sees each room sectioned using fire-resistant panelling, helping to isolate key areas and prevent the spread of fire from one part of the building to another. It is effective in key areas which are the most likely to be at risk, and can reduce the spread of fire to high value areas such as the production facilities or warehouse stock holding.

Recognising the importance building design and construction plays in meeting safety requirements, Ardo UK, a frozen fruit and vegetable specialist, approached Chalcroft to build a new cold store facility as an extension to the existing factory. The frozen fruit and vegetable producer had previously worked with the organisation in 2009 to build a cold store and packing hall.

In line with specifications set by the company's insurers, Chalcroft's expertise in high-care construction enabled it to provide a practical solution to help Ardo UK meet stringent health and safety requirements and offer solutions that could prevent risks such as fire. A firewall between the new and existing phases was constructed allowing the business to remain operational if any fire should start in an area of the facility and ensure it could be contained without spreading to adjacent phases. While outside the cladding was extended to provide a seamless finish and ensure the building was in-keeping with its external environment.

Risk managers can also take other simple steps, such as ensuring access behind machinery for cleaning and maintenance which can prevent an outbreak, while the location of elements outside the building that potentially present a fire risk, such as vehicles and rubbish, should also be assessed. Adequate fire detection systems or automatic fire suppression components such as sprinklers and gas suppression can help minimise fire damage in industrial buildings. They can be installed at roof level with different heads to cater for various distances, as well as be fitted to the racking systems themselves, offering protection at various levels. The automation of a sprinkler ensures they are released directly over a fire, isolating damage in that area.

Working in partnership with a construction specialist will help ensure all issues and risks are identified and the building meets with all appropriate regulations. Incorporating the right properties within the design means food manufacturers can ease their concerns when contemplating a possible fire outbreak. That's because Chalcroft has the expertise and vision to ensure downtime is minimised and fire outbreaks cause less damage.

While preventing fire is already a major consideration for the food manufacturing industry, in a sector which uses operations which are highly susceptible to fire, those responsible for health & safety should not only look at ways fires should be prevented but have a contingency plan in place to ensure fires can be contained and their coverage maintained. The design and construction plays an integral role in the effectiveness of the building in the future, and by considering all possible risks and hazards such as fire, steps can be taken to reduce and alleviate the effects if the worst should happen.

To find out more about Chalcroft's work with Ardo UK, check out the full case study on our website at www.chalcroft.co.uk. As construction specialists in the food and beverage industry, Chalcroft has vast experience keeping up with industry standards and ensuring that facilities meet the latest health and safety standards.