Rick Adam

P.Eng., PE, CRP, Loss Control Engineer

Email : radam@bflcanada.ca 


Einstein once said:

"The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits."

In the loss control and fire protection industries, stories abound about fires started in strange and mysterious ways or of forgetful behavior leading to incredible explosions. Some of the more bizarre examples include tales of a welder who left the scene of a fire he just started without raising any alarm; two pipefitters who never bothered to check where they were venting their natural gas to and thus caused a massive explosion in a food plant; and the teenagers who burned a house down trying to light a match with a chain saw. I have personally witnessed employees mopping floors with an explosively flammable liquid in a printing plant, “fire watch” workers making a fire out of used work gloves at a pulp mill and an employee hiding a couch, table and an ashtray above a sensitive telecomm switching center (he was sleeping on the couch when I found him).

All of this is to say that people are generally at the root of major losses. Controlling the human element of the loss prevention equation becomes a critical portion of an overall strategy for any operation. Essential elements for you to consider should include:

Hot Work Permits

Uncontrolled hot work (any process that produces heat or sparks such as welding, grinding or cutting) ranks consistently as the second leading cause of fire ignition across almost every industry. Standard permits and policies are freely available to immediately start managing this risk.

Contractor Management

An insurance company study found that in a 19 year period, more than 3,500 contractors initiated fires that resulted in nearly over $6 billion in total damages. Compare that with a company’s arson losses of $1.65 billion for the same period. Statistically speaking, this means that inviting a contractor onto your property is riskier than inviting an arsonist!

Impairment Tracking

It is considered fairly routine to find sprinkler control valves in the closed position, dry pipe valves purposely disabled and even fire pump controllers in the off mode. It is surprisingly easy for employees or contractors to overlook the proper restoration of these systems. Tagging and tracking impairments can significantly reduce this risk.


Improper storage of flammables or combustibles is a constant issue in the industrial environment. Obscene amounts of flammable liquids are often brought onto a production floor to simply “make life easier” for an operator who doesn’t want to walk 100 meters to fill up his can. Failure to remove built up materials, such as sawdust or organic dust, can also allow for flash fires or explosions to occur that no sprinkler system can adequately respond to.

Active protection systems like sprinkler systems, smoke detectors or pressure relief valves are great. The problem with these systems is that they are so easily disabled or circumvented by employees who then forget to reopen the water line or remove the plastic wrap over a smoke detector. Developing appropriate human element programs is a key loss control measure. These programs have the added bonus of being low to no-cost implementation as they don’t usually require any significant equipment purchases. On top of that, if you develop good programs and reduce your site risks, you are unlikely to become the new funny story to which fire protection and loss control people will shake their head at.

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