Safety Moment

In December 2018, a SAFEX International member reported a significant near-miss incident in their explosives facility – “A grassfire was initiated in the vicinity of the storage magazines during the routine slashing of dry grass. The fire burnt an area of approximately 10 acres before it was fully extinguished.” The good news is that there were no casualties or damage to the ESA.

Advocates of climate change remind us that we are in for a lengthy period of hotter, drier summers and colder, wetter winters. On 19 Mar 19, it was widely reported in the UK media that “The impact of climate change, combined with population growth, means the country is facing an “existential threat”, Sir James Bevan told the Waterwise Conference in London.”

As summer is just around the corner, it is timely to remind ourselves of the absolute necessity for the prevention of fire in explosives areas.

Root Causes

The organisation that reported the grass fire suggest that “The fire was most likely caused by sparks generated when the rotating slasher blade struck a small rock embedded in the surface soil.”

Possible Mitigation

UK MOD Explosives Regulations1 (JSP 482) provides useful advice on mitigation of fire risk, that “describe the minimum standard that is to be maintained for grass, trees, and vegetation in and around explosives facilities. Grass, trees, and vegetation are to be controlled to ensure that they do not present a hazard to explosives. There is a major fire risk with any uncontrolled growth, particularly during dry weather conditions.”

Paragraph 156 of HSE guidance L150 ER2014: Safety Provisions which states that “The key measures to limit the extent of a fire and explosion are to:
controlling combustibles in and around explosives areas, such as waste, unused packaging, vegetation that could fuel the spread of a fire or flammable materials that are generated during grounds maintenance such as grass cuttings etc;…”.

Examples from History
In the summer of 1976, the heatwave felt in Britain was mirrored on the continent and in August a fire broke out within the boundary of what was then called 3 Base Ammunition and Petroleum Depot. The petroleum depot was actually many miles away but run by the same unit. The ammunition depot was heavily wooded, predominantly with pine trees and the fire raced through, due to the dry conditions and the air heavy with pine resin vapor. No human casualties nor any significant loss of stocks, but it required some 100 fire appliances from Germany and Holland, as well as the military staff and the volunteer services.

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