Fighting greenhouse fire hazards
November 19, 2019 By Jay Plato
With new technology being introduced to almost every aspect of our lives, it is not surprising that farming continues to become more technologically advanced as well.
As providers of fire and emergency services, it’s not hard to miss the automated controlling systems that have become prevalent in almost every greenhouse that we see. As more and more greenhouses begin to embrace this technology, it also brings new fire safety concerns that owners should be on the lookout for.
New technology can reduce man hours during production and can help save on long-term costs. However, it can also create a new hazard in the form of electricity. Most older greenhouses that I’ve come across were not originally wired for automated controls. Owners need to ensure that all new electrical requirements for supplying new advanced systems should be completed by qualified and licensed electricians. Cutting corners when installing electrical components can have devasting impacts on a greenhouse. If a fire were to happen, it could spread at an incredible speed due to the amount of wiring, fabrics, plastics and chemicals that can be found within a greenhouse. Also, when you consider the size of most greenhouses, a fire starting in a central location of the facility can be very difficult to access by firefighters. This reduces the chances of extinguishing the fire quickly.
From insecticides to fertilizers, almost every greenhouse requires a handful of different chemicals to assist in growing different crops. While automated systems may help in applying most of these agents, owners still need to ensure that these products are not only stored properly, but that their employees know how to handle them correctly. During a recent inspection of a greenhouse, an acid-based chemical had been found to be stored improperly, uncovered and had spilled out onto the concrete floor. The incident was very recent, but the acid content was so high that a metal shaving laying in the spill had started to oxidize immediately. If employees are taught how to store and handle these chemicals properly, most spills can be avoided, which in turn, can prevent possible injuries.
Regardless of new technology, the storage of plastics and wood pallets within a facility will always remain an issue that owners have to deal with. The majority of greenhouses store these items in large piles, which they often stack as high as possible. The Ontario Fire Code has clauses directly related to pallet storage for indoor and outdoor scenarios. In the event that a fire starts anywhere in or around a greenhouse, pallets are a fuel source just waiting to assist in the rapid growth of a fire. A pile of pallets being stored improperly, either wider and taller than the required height or deeper than permitted, will make for a difficult fire to extinguish.
Basic safety concerns around proper exiting should also be one of the top priorities for owners. The layout of planting rows or tables should always allow for safe access to exits. While the Ontario Farm Code will dictate the locations of the exits in a greenhouse, it is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that all employees can get to those exits safely and quickly when needed. Employees should not have to move items out of the way or make their way through a labyrinth to get to the nearest exit.
As technology continues to develop, so too do the safety features and precautions around it. The one contributing factor that is unavoidable, however, is human error. Owners should always be on the lookout to ensure that they are doing what they can to stop preventable fires.
Jay Plato is acting deputy fire chief of Niagara-on-the-Lake Fire and Emergency Services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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