Fire Extinguishers for Oil Refineries, Offshore/Petro Chemical Market

June 29, 2006


(ARTICLE/COMMENTARY - Industrial Fire Journal)

Steve Taylor, Manager of the Chubb Fire Aberdeen Offshore office looks at some of the recent issues facing the oil refineries, offshore/petro chemical market in relation to portable extinguishers…

“Safety Managers in these high risk locations have wide ranging responsibilities,” he says. “In relation to fire protection, they need to understand not only the principles and technologies associated with fire detection, explosion protection and fire extinguishing, but also the vital role that portable fire extinguishers continue to play in preventing a ‘small’ fire from becoming a major conflagration. The recently published guidance notes to the new Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety ) Order 2005 (FSO) makes reference to this very point, also stating how the safe use of an appropriate fire extinguisher to control a fire in its early stages can significantly reduce the risk to others.”

Tackling a small fire with a fire extinguisher can prevent a full scale disaster developing
Most of Chubb's extinguishers have Marine Approval specifically for use in offshore environments

The breadth and range of extinguishers in use today – from the familiar water-based products to the more specialist powders and foams – is the result of the many different types of fire they are expected to fight. This has led to formal fire classifications within British Standards and European standards:

A (Fires involving solid materials such as wood, paper or textiles)

B (Fires involving flammable liquids such as petrol, diesel or oils)

C (Fires involving gases)

D (Fires involving metals)

F (Fires involving cooking oils such as in deep-fat fryers).

It has also led to the evolution of BS5306: Part 8 methodology for selecting and siting extinguishers - providing general fire fighting cover (class A) and covering specific risks with other products such as CO2 for electrical equipment.

As Steve continues: “A Safety Manager should ensure that sufficient cover is provided by reviewing the Fire Risk Assessment that has been carried out at the particular installation or location. Acting on all the recommendations within a risk assessment is essential, as is making sure that fire equipment is fit for purpose, provides sufficient cover, is maintained and complies with current regulations. Extinguishers should conform to the manufacturing standard BS EN3, have a BS Kitemark , a CE mark to indicate compliance with the Pressure Equipment Directive, which is mandatory for extinguishers in Europe. Safety Managers must also ensure that staff are trained to use fire extinguishers effectively. Developments in extinguisher products in recent years include a typical 9litre extinguisher with a 13A fire rating now being able to be replaced with 3litre water with additives extinguisher.”

Disposal of fire extinguishers has also moved on to meet the demands of new environmental regulations:

“Foam extinguishers should not discharged onto areas where groundwater can be contaminated , as required by the European Groundwater Directive ,” Steve adds.

Chubb Fire’s Extinguisher Recycling Unit (ERU) in Hams Hall, Birmingham, has recently exceeded its 500,000th extinguisher recycled since the Unit opened for public business in June 2005. Peter Buy, Manager of Chubb’s Extinguisher Recycling Unit (ERU) explains: “Recycling is arguably the biggest single issue the fire extinguisher industry has faced for many years, and it is a credit to the industry and end-users that they realise their social and environmental responsibility for recycling aged and sometimes hazardous extinguishers and their contents.

“To put our efforts into context, in the last 12 months our ERU - which we believe is the only one of its kind in the UK and the largest in Europe – has processed more than 500,000 litres of liquid and 192 tons of powder that used to go to landfill and disposed of them in other more environmentally-friendly ways. The recycling rates for plastics and cardboard have also risen significantly, and we are now working on the issue of how to deal with the recycling of hard plastics and hoses.”

Through the establishment of programmes like Chubb Fire’s, all aspects of an extinguisher can now be recycled: the physical container, its ancillaries (such as rubber hoses) and its contents (including water and powders), all of which are now being safely processed or put to good use in an environmentally-friendly manner.

As Steve concludes: “The UK Oil & Gas Offshore Industry is very much a high risk area. In remote locations, where access is difficult, it makes Fire & Safety even more relevant, and the decisions taken even more critical. Safety Managers onboard these installations have to fully understand the importance of having the correct portable at the correct location, and to help them, our engineers are always on hand to service the equipment and provide any technical assistance required.

“Our engineers will also work with the onboard safety advisor to ensure the requirements for extinguishers are continually assessed and that regulations and legislation are current and adhered to.”