Fire Hazards in Cold Storage Facilities


It may sound illogical given the extremely cold conditions, but cold storage facilities actually carry a significant fire risk. There are many contributing factors to this, from chemicals to air composition to simply the storage of flammable goods and packaging. Minimising this risk is obviously crucial for anyone operating such a facility. Here we break down the most prominent risks and dangers.

Dry Air

It’s well understood that as the temperature of the air drops, so too does its capacity for holding water. This results in the air within cold storage facilities being extremely dry. There’s a reason we use water to extinguish flames – fire doesn’t like it; the lack of moisture in the air makes fires not only more likely to occur, but also more likely to rapidly spread to other areas of the facility.

Electrical Faults

Electrical fires are, unfortunately, rather commonplace in just about any building or facility, and cold storage is no different. The amount of technology required to run a large cold store is quite astounding, and each and every bit of kit increases the risk of something doing wrong and possibly igniting a fire as a result. In order to combat this, ensure that you carry out regular inspections and maintenance on all electrical components.

Combustible Chemicals

Depending on the exact purpose of your facility, you may be storing a multitude of highly combustible substances. Even if the product you deal in is not a fire risk in itself, the chemicals used to operate the facility most certainly are. Ammonia, for example, is one of the most widely used coolants in the refrigeration industry, and is highly volatile. As such, it is recommended that areas containing such chemicals are able to be isolated from other parts of the facility wherever possible in order to reduce the risk of the fire spreading should a problem occur.

Packaging Materials

As previously stated, your stock itself may not be a fire hazard, but packaging made from cardboard and plastic, as well as any goods containing high levels of fat, substantially increase the fire load of the building. In many cases this is unavoidable, but if your facility carries multiple stock lines it may be worth trying to break up some of the more flammable lines by placing lower risk goods in between. This simple act could significantly reduce the risk of a fire spreading throughout the warehouse.

Flame Propagation

The risk of a fire spreading has come up multiple times throughout this article already, and for good reason. If it can be contained properly a fire may not be the disaster it is capable of being, but if allowed the spread it could be the end of your dreams of big business. Cold storage facilities have to be particularly careful about flame propagation, as many aspects of the facility contribute heavily to it. High racking units help the fire to spread upwards as the hotter air surges skyward, as does the high density at which the goods are often stored. Couple this with the dry air, combustible packaging and volatile chemicals previously mentioned and you have a recipe for absolute disaster. Facility operators should ensure that proper procedures are in place to deal with the outbreak of a fire before serious propagation can occur.

Reduced Effectiveness of Traditional Fire Detection Systems

Traditional fire detection systems and alarms, while perfectly well-suited to your home and most other buildings, are largely ineffective in cold storage facilities. This is due to the condensing air humidity and sub-zero temperatures, which adversely affect their operation. Failure to realise this and install the correct systems really could mean the difference between life and death for those employed in the facility.

Restricted Access

Cold storage warehouses tend to contain tightly packed rows of shelves and racking, separated by relatively narrow access corridors. We’ve already discussed how this could be a problem in terms of propagation, but it also causes issues in terms of evacuation and firefighting. When trying to ensure that all employees and visitors are safely removed from the building, this restricted access will reduce their ability to quickly escape as well as forcing them to wind their way between the tall racks. If these racks have been ignited the risk of serious injury or death is worryingly high. When the fire crew arrives, the same thing causes the opposite problem; the firefighters often struggle to safely enter the building and proceed onward to extinguish the growing flames.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.

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Last modified: 16th April 2018