Ports and docks face many fire risks, from the constant use of onsite vehicles to the storage of flammable materials. For port operators, the key is identifying these risks and embracing new technology in order to mitigate them effectively, Fire Shield Systems Ltd has said.
One key thing that the company has found when working with ports across the UK is that there is a variety of standards in place.
James Mountain, sales & marketing director at Fire Shield Systems, told CM: “There is a disparity across different ports in the application of fire safety measures. Some put fire safety at the forefront of their operations – taking DP World London Gateway as an example.
“As our largest port customer, DP World London Gateway have a fleet comprising well over 60 vehicles – each and every vehicle is fitted with a mobile fire suppression system to ensure the safety of their teams and their assets. But then there are others, who don’t see vehicle suppression systems as being important.”
As there is a lack of industry-specific guidance surrounding fire safety at ports, how a company approaches its fire protection is often dictated by the individual operator, its own, internal policies and insurance requirements.
Russell Bonnett, technical director at Fire Shield Systems, added: “The safety of ports is primarily governed by general legislation, such as the Health and Safety at Work act, but as far as each individual port is concerned, there isn’t a set, industry-specific standard to regulate safety – internationally or nationally.
“Ports may commonly reference specific standards for fire protection – such as VFM 5970, which is an international third-party certification specifically for heavy-duty, mobile plant machinery – but that may not be a mandatory requirement for all ports.”
Fire Shield Systems Ltd designs, installs and maintains fire protection systems across a number of high-risk industries. It “specialises in sourcing the right sort of application for a wide range of different risks across a port,” Bonnett explained.
While there are many fire risks across ports, they can be broken down into two key areas – vehicles and stored materials:
Due to the nature of port operations, there is very little downtime – schedules are tightly packed and vehicles are often in constant use, 24/7, to fulfil these.
Many of these vehicles have some form of a diesel engine attached to them, meaning they pose a high fire risk.
Mountain said: “All vehicles and machinery – from a small forklift to a straddle carrier or large crane – pose a significant fire risk.
“As per the port authority’s guidance, each of these should be fitted with suitable fire protection equipment. It should also be regularly monitored to check temperatures, reduce any build-up of dust and ensure its safe, continued use.”
To combat this risk, Fire Shield Systems uses the Dafo vehicle fire protection system – an automated system that utilises a very robust detection method within the vehicle, triggered by a stored nitrogen cylinder.
In the event of a fire, once triggered, the cylinder releases a foam, hybrid, liquid agent which will suppress the fire.
Thousands of vehicles pass through ports each day, delivering and collecting a number of different materials for import and export.
However, these materials can often be stored on site for some time before they are moved for onward transport. This can bring about key fire risks.
Mountain said: “Flammable materials, loose materials and containers with unknown contents all carry fire risks which should be planned for and monitored regularly.
“Any flammable material should be stored in one area, away from the port’s main operations. Loose materials should be monitored to control temperatures – ensuring no hotspots build up, causing self-combustion.
“Port operators have a responsibility to understand the contents of every container passing through so they are able to implement the appropriate fire safety measures to reduce the risks they face.”
Bonnett said: “There’s a lot of older methods in place for fire prevention and they’re not as effective as they used to be. There’s a certain level of resistance to change which can help to save lives and assets in the event of an emergency.
“Ports should seek out and embrace newer, more effective technology when choosing their fire protection solution in order to save lives, assets, downtime and money.”
Once a company has its fire prevention solution in place, the next step is to train its teams – helping them to understand what equipment you have, where it can be found and how it works.