Basic Fire Safety for Jewelers
Have a fire plan; ask your fire department for advice. Keep the appropriate extinguishers around and in good shape. Get ABC all-purpose extinguishers. Get the manufacturers manual and read all the instructions carefully at least three times. Review your fire safety now and then.
Make sure you know how to use an extinguisher properly, sweeping back and forth at the base of the fire from 6-10 feet away. Realize that your extinguisher will only work for 15-20 seconds, so have more than one around. Mount them near exits. Dry chemical extinguishers of the stored pressure kind need to be discharged and recharged every six years.
All kinds of extinguishers need hydrostatic testing every twelve years or before if they appear corroded. Fire extinguishers should be inspected monthly and be checked out seriously once a year (Doug Scale, HSC list, 6/28/99). Some extinguishers need upending and a gentle shaking now and then to keep the contents from packing down and being less helpful in a fire. Talk to your fire department. Let’s say that again: talk to your fire department-have them come and advise you.
Here are some points to consider:
- Keep combustible materials, liquids and clothing away from things that can set them on fire. A paper left on a light bulb, smoking in the workplace, flying sparks landing in flammable materials or setting solvents alight, flammable dusts starting a filter system on fire are all examples. Be aware that magnesium, titanium, zinc, calcium, sodium and potassium are considered flammable metals and that their dusts may be particularly dangerous.
- Wear cotton, wool, fire resistant clothing.
- Any areas where flames are used, such as soldering stations, should be properly isolated from the rest of the space, using fire-proof walls and proper ventilation.
- Protect against flying sparks. Barriers for welding and cutting operations are essential.
- Do not store flammables in the workshop unless they are in approved self-extinguishing safety cans. Do not store flammables in combustible containers. Avoid overfilling the containers.
- Make sure that metal containers are properly electrically grounded when transferring flammable liquids-static electricity has started more than one fire or explosion.
- Make sure all electrical wiring is in good shape and that it is rated for the power you are drawing from your system. Make sure you can get at electrical panels, off switches etc. Don’t block your access to such things by piling stuff.
- Practice good housekeeping and clean as you go. Keep passageways clear and avoid clutter. Dispense chemicals and flammables safely, in a safe zone with drip pans and containment system at hand, away from spark or flame.
- Watch out for flammable dusts in collection systems, filters, and polishing machines. Clean those hoods now and then.
- Vacuum any cooling holes in motors such as on a polishing machine or flexible shaft, or blow them out with high pressure air (using eye protection). This prevents flammable dust accumulating inside the motor-a common cause of fires.
- Make sure your extinguishers are correct for their intended usage and are properly charged and maintained.
- Segregate and store incompatible chemicals, wastes and trash properly.
- Have that fire-escape plan ready and practice your fire responses once or twice.
- Have a regular safety check for fire hazards, once every six months or so. Store that in your safety log/”right to know” station (Northern Telecom 210).
- For more important fire safety guidelines see the appendix, ‘Gas Handling’ and ‘fire Safety Principles’.
Alcohol fires are reported by almost all jewelers I know who use boric acid and alcohol (usually solvent alcohol, also called methanol or methyl hydrate) as a firescale retardant. However, when I gave a paper on safety at a Society of North American Goldsmiths conference I had a number of people come up to me and say “But I’ve never had such a fire…,” so clearly there are many who have not had this problem.
I recommend other ways of applying the material, such as dipping in a simmering water-based solution. I knocked my container over once on the bench and had a fire, needed to use my fire extinguisher-boy, what a mess. I heard of a goldsmith who set his container on fire. He put his hand on it to put it out, the container was hot, he jerked his hand back, spilling it all over himself and ended up with serious burns (Mark Parkinson, Orchid list Jan 6, 98). Bruce Holgrain reports coating the warmed object with powdered boric acid to avoid the alcohol/fire hazard (Personal communication, 8 January 1998 and Orchid list, “Re: boric acid,” 7 January 1998). I don’t care for powders as much as an aqueous solution. Besides fire, other reasons to be careful with methanol is that it de-fats the skin, which can encourage dermatitis. It can also be absorbed easily through the skin into the blood or breathed in the form of vapor, causing alcohol damage to the body.
Fire Safety Principles
- Know what the fire regulations are in your locality; call the fire department for advice.
- Identify all the fire hazards: procedures, places, materials in your workshop
- Let’s emphasize that: know what all the flammable materials are in your workshop, solvents especially. And chemicals. Have nice, clear, unobstructed, readable signs for chemicals, solvents etc. so that firefighters or ambulance people can easily deal with a problem
- Have a fire safety and reaction plan worked out and practice your fire responses now and then.
- Have smoke detectors and fire extinguishers on hand and properly situated. For instance, have an extinguisher next to the exit from a room so you are in a safe position when you grasp it and make an assessment of the situation. Of course, feel free to have more extinguishers near areas with open flames and so on.
- Have the proper kinds of extinguishers available (an ABC extinguisher will cover most eventualities).
- Use non-combustible materials as much as possible. For instance, substitute water- based application measures for alcohol-based firescale preventative
- Wear fire resistant clothing like cotton and wool. Keep hair tied up and preferably wear a visorless cap when working around open flames and torches.
- Keep combustible things away from things that can set them on fire. Watch out for flammable dusts in collection systems, filters, and polishing machines. Clean those local exhaust hoods and filters now and then.
- Do not store flammables in the workshop unless they are in approved self-extinguishing safety cans. Make sure that metal containers are properly electrically grounded when transferring flammable liquids-static electricity has started more than one fire or explosion.
- Segregate and store incompatible chemicals, wastes and trash properly.
- Regularly check your electrical system’s condition and ability to deal with the load. Make sure you have easy access to the electrical panel in case of emergency.
- Any areas where flames are used, such as soldering and melting areas, should be isolated from the rest of the space using fire-proof walls and proper ventilation.
- Protect against flying sparks (such as from grinders, welding or hot-forging).
- Practice good housekeeping and clean as you go. Keep passageways clear and avoid clutter of all kinds.