The Food Processor Guide to Forest Fire Season
By Mike Zblewski, Director of Security Services for Sentinel insurance
The summer heat is here, as are the risks of forest fires that accompany it.
Forest fires burn millions of hectares in the United States every year, disrupting food processors. In addition, regional forest fire data often overlaps with industry highest fields of employment, making the situation worse.
In short, forest fires can happen anywhere and your business needs to prepare for them now. With many states facing the highest drought season Since 2013, I have put together the most important tips from our Sentry Safety Team on Forest Fires. While this list helps you get a head start, it is not a substitute for the conversations you should be having with your local experts.
Let’s get started.
Prepare your installation
Your facility is the cornerstone of your operations. It houses your employees, your equipment and your products. Your facility can also defend your property during wildfire season.
Start by looking at the landscape that surrounds your building. The following considerations can reduce the chances of a fire reaching your facility:
- Cut tree branches 10 feet above the ground (also known as scale fuels).
- Minimize vegetation and store combustible materials within 50 feet of your building. If your business is on a slope, clear a 200 foot area around your building.
- Keep lawns watered and mowed. If you will save water, keep debris at least 30 feet away from your building.
- Think about landscaping. Large patios, walkways, parking lots and brick walls can reduce the spread of fires.
- Remove any overhanging tree branches within 10 feet of your building, roof, or chimney.
- Remove dead trees or bushes from your property. Cut back the trees to maintain a 15-foot clearance between the treetops.
Once your surrounding property is ready, walk around your property to assess whether you have the necessary protections in place. Human error almost causes 85% of fires, According to the National Park Service, protecting your property will therefore require a team effort:
- Store combustible materials, such as wooden pallets, away from your building.
- Keep roofs and gutters free of leaves, tree branches, pine needles, and other debris.
- Store flammable and combustible liquids in approved metal containers. Place them away from other materials that can burn.
- Store waste in fire-resistant containers.
- Install and maintain smoke detectors and automatic sprinkler systems.
- Prohibit smoking or limit smoking in designated areas. Set up outdoor smoking areas in paved areas and provide containers for the disposal of cigarette butts.
- Maintain a sufficient number of portable fire extinguishers. Train your employees in their use, especially during the summer.
Update your emergency response plan
As I mentioned earlier, this article is not a substitute for the conversations you should be having with local experts. Coordinate your emergency plan with local first responders and community representatives. Local groups can help you integrate geographic considerations, notification alerts, and updated contact information.
Develop a emergency response plan which also includes the following considerations regarding forest fires:
- Emergency supplies: Supplies should include flashlights, battery-powered televisions and radios, extra batteries, first aid kits, non-perishable food and water.
- Fire fighting toolsUseful tools include shovels, rakes, pipes, axes, saws, water buckets, and ladders long enough to reach the roof.
Your team should feel sufficiently informed and prepared to put the plan into action. Ongoing training in fire prevention is a great way to keep employees confident.
Follow the advice of local authorities
Successful preparation begins with communication. Listen to media reports on forest fires in your area.
If a member of your team detects a fire, regardless of its size, contact your emergency response organizations. If local authorities order an evacuation, it’s time to follow your emergency response plan:
- Evacuate the building and its surroundings
- Check that employees, visitors and customers are out of the building
Forest fires spread quickly, but weather permitting, the following actions can help reduce damage to your facility:
- Use hoses or sprinklers to wet roofs, walls and nearby vegetation
- Seal the air vents
- Turn off natural gas and propane sources
- Remove combustible and flammable materials from around all buildings
- Close all doors and windows
- Delete critical business records
- Move combustible materials such as wood supplies to the center of your building
Back to your business
If your business goes out of business, do not return to your establishment until local authorities have declared that it is safe for you to do so. When you return, monitor any hazardous areas your employees need to avoid:
- Check your building for hot spots, embers, sparks, or other evidence of fire damage
- Contact local contractors to repair any damaged electrical, water, sprinkler, or structural system
- Stay away from fallen power lines
- Check your building for any water damage
- Retest water supplies before reuse
Weather-related disasters are complex and inevitable; however, it is possible to reduce your risk. Stay alert and update your emergency response plan to add certainty in an uncertain season. Your commitment now is the key to protecting your business and your employees later. Stay safe this summer.