A laboratory at workplaces and educational centers uses and stores chemicals and materials that are highly flammable, toxic and sometimes explosive. In order to prevent unplanned fires, laboratory staff must remain constantly aware of the presence, the location and the number of fuel-air-ignition sources. Laboratory fire safety is a set of procedures intended to prevent and respond to planned and unplanned fires in the lab.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has created regulations and standards to prevent injury, disease and death from fire and smoke. Fire suppression systems and evacuation alarms are installed throughout the laboratory and activated by heat and smoke. The sprinkler systems are designed to contain fires and prevent small fires from growing into large one. Portable fire extinguishers are required in any area where chemicals are handled or stored.
Laboratories can have four of the five classes of fire:
- Class A: Ordinary materials, such as paper, wood, plastics, and cardboard
- Class B: Flammable and combustible liquids, as well as organic solvents
- Class C: Energized electrical equipment, such as appliances, burners, hot plates, power tools, and panel boxes
- Class D: Combustible metals, such as magnesium, lithium, sodium, calcium, and titanium
The only fire class not found in a lab is kitchen fire or Class K.
In addition, labs are classified based on the type and amount of flammable gases and flammable and combustible liquids present – not by the fire classifications above. Laboratory classes include:
- Class A: High fire hazard
- Class B: Moderate fire hazard
- Class C: Low fire hazard
- Class D: Minimal fire hazard
Most labs are considered to have a moderate to high fire hazard since they contain varying amounts of flammables and combustible material. Fire extinguishers must comply with the area of coverage and travel distance criteria for these materials.
The two most common types of extinguishers in the laboratory are the (class) ABC dry chemical and the (class) BC carbon dioxide. Laboratories that store and handle flammable metals must have a Class D powder extinguisher since neither the carbon dioxide nor dry chemical extinguisher is effective.
ABC extinguishers use fine powders which are corrosive and difficult to clean. BC carbon dioxide extinguishers use compressed CO2 gas which leaves no residue and no cleaning issues.
If you have questions or are looking for advice and guidance to make sure your laboratory, office, or home meets fire safety and fire extinguisher standards, please contact Fire Control Systems today.