Chapter 6 Fire Safety
Ensuring fire safety is particularly important because of the potentially high costs associated with loss of human lives and property. The objective of this chapter is to provide a basic understanding of the common causes of fires and to describe how an effective fire protection can be achieved by the implementation of an appropriate fire safety program.
Fire emergency procedures are described separately under Chapter 3 Section 1.
- The Director of the Health, Safety and Environment (DHSE) or his deputy is responsible for providing advice and appropriate assistance on all fire safety matters to the heads and supervisors of all units of the University.
- Heads of units are responsible for maintaining a working environment that is free from fire hazards. They must ensure that their staff understand and follow the guidance provided in this chapter.
- Supervisors are responsible for ensuring that their operating areas are in order and free of potential sources of uncontrolled fire.
- Departmental Safety Officers (DSO) should conduct regular fire safety checks to ensure that potential fire hazards are identified and eliminated. They should liaise closely with the management of their departments and with HSEO on all fire safety matters. They should facilitate evacuation in the event of fire. Additional “fire wardens” should be appointed as necessary to assist in evacuation, especially where there are more than one work area in the unit.
- All employees and students must perform their work in a way that minimizes the possibility of causing a fire, and avoids the enhancement of fire spread. They must follow instructions given by their supervisors and the DSO on fire safety.
Formation of Fire:
Fire is a chemical reaction in which energy is given off in the form of heat and light. For a fire to occur, three elements must be present, namely FUEL, HEAT and OXYGEN. If any one of these three elements is missing, a fire will not occur and if any one of them is removed once a fire has started, the fire will be extinguished. Understanding this characteristic of fire is very important in fire prevention and fire fighting. Examples of common heat sources and fuel sources are given in Appendix 6A of this chapter.
Hazards of a fire:
The major hazards of a fire are its flame, heat, and smoke (together with various types of gases). Whilst the destructive effect of the flame is easy to comprehend, the hazardous nature of the smoke generated is often under-estimated. Statistics show that the majority of fatalities associated with fires are caused by smoke and toxic gases. During a fire, products of combustion in the form of smoke and gases are generated which can cause suffocation and poisoning of building occupants. Smoke can also cause panic and obscure escape routes, trapping people in the fire.
Common Causes of Fire:
The origin of a fire is usually the result of negligence, which can range from direct acts such as lighting of fire in hot work operations, to more indirect causes such as poor installation and maintenance of plant and for equipment. The common causes of fire can be summarized as follows:
- Accidental burning of combustible materials (e.g., smoking, use of naked flame in hot work operations, etc.).
- Improper storage and handling of flammable materials.
- Overheating of electrical installations and apparatus due to overloading or improper electrical contacts, etc.
- Overheating of machines (mostly by friction of machine parts) due to improper maintenance.
- Arson (maliciously setting fire).
The fire safety programme of the HKUST consists of the following aspects:
- Good Housekeeping: This is very important for preventing the occurrence of fire and concerns the proper placing, storage and elimination of flammable and combustible substances.
- Fire Detection and Fighting: This is achieved by the various types of advanced fire services installations throughout the University premises.
- Operational Control: This concerns the control of the lighting of fire, elimination of fuels by means of good housekeeping, etc.
- Maintenance Program: Improper maintenance of equipment and machines can create heat sources for a fire. Therefore, it is very important to have proper maintenance programs to ensure that equipment and machines are in proper working conditions. The maintenance program shall also apply to all fire service installations.
- Inspection Programs: Frequent inspections are essential for spotting potential fire hazards so that appropriate corrective actions can be taken to avoid the occurrence of fires.
- Fire Evacuation: Efficient evacuation of occupants out of the affected areas in case of fire is very important in protecting lives.
Various aspects of the fire protection program mentioned above will be further elaborated in the following paragraphs.
Good housekeeping is a vital part of an effective fire protection program, which includes the following:
- Combustible materials should be present only in the quantity needed for the job and the shift, and should be removed to safe storage in properly labeled containers at the end of the day.
- Quick-burning and flammable materials should be stored only in designated locations which are away from ignition sources and have appropriate fire extinguishing provisions.
- Flammable wastes, including cloths soaked with flammable liquids, should be properly disposed of in metal bins covered with lids.
- Vessels or pipes containing dangerous materials should have no leaks, and spills should be cleaned up immediately.
- Passageways, means of escape, and fire doors should be well-marked and free of obstructions.
- Materials of any sort must not obstruct sprinkler heads nor be piled around extinguishers, hose-reel locations, sprinkler and standpipe controls, electrical switches or fuse panels. A clearance of at least 450 mm should be maintained below sprinkler heads.
Combustibles can be classified into the following types:
- Ordinary solid combustibles
- Flammable liquids
- Flammable gases
- Oxidizing chemicals, fast-reacting or explosive materials, and flammable metals.
Safe Handling of Ordinary Solid Combustibles:
Among the various types of combustibles, ordinary solid combustibles (timber, paper, rags, plastics, etc.) are the least hazardous. However, this type of combustibles can readily contribute to a fire when a sufficient amount of heat source is available. To minimize the risk of fires involving ordinary solids, the following precautions must be followed:
- Avoid excessive accumulation of waste.
- Keep the work area orderly to minimize fuel paths that facilitate the spread of fire.
- Keep combustibles away from ignition sources.
- Plan work to minimize the storage of excess combustibles.
- Keep soiled rags in proper containers with self-closing lids. Empty the containers frequently.
Safe Handling of Flammable Liquids:
Flammable liquids can burn much more readily than solid combustibles. The hazardous nature of a flammable liquid is determined by its flash point. The flash point of a flammable liquid is “the lowest temperature at which the liquid can give off sufficient flammable vapour that can be ignited by a heat source”. Most flammable liquids can give off flammable vapours readily at room temperature. Therefore, they must be handled with extreme care. The following precautions must be strictly followed when handling flammable liquids:
- Understand the flammability of liquids being used. This can be done by studying the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) which should be obtained from the supplier for the flammable liquid being used. If in doubt, please contact HSEO for assistance.
- Store flammable liquids in appropriate safety cans that can be used for dispensing the liquids in a safe manner.
- When dispensing flammable liquids, containers should be properly grounded and bonded to eliminate static electric charges.
- Store waste flammable liquids in safety containers when they are kept inside building pending disposal. The container should be properly labeled such as “For Flammable Liquid Waste Only”.
- Never put corrosive materials in a flammable liquid waste container. This could result in a fire or explosion.
- Containers containing flammable liquids should be properly labeled in accordance with the Dangerous Goods Ordinance and Factories and Industrial Undertakings (Dangerous Substances) Regulations.
- Flammable liquids exceeding the exempted quantities as stipulated in the Dangerous Goods Ordinance should be stored inside a licensed dangerous goods store (Category 5).
- When using flammable liquids, the area should be ventilated to prevent accumulation of ignitable vapour/air mixtures or inhalation of toxic vapours or gases.
- Avoid ignition sources in the vicinity of flammable liquids (e.g. flames, sparking equipment, hot surfaces).
Safe Handling of Flammable Gases:
Flammable gases can be ignited readily and burn vigorously and therefore are the most hazardous type of combustibles. The combustion is often so vigorous that it can result in an explosion.
Flammable gases are normally stored under pressure or liquified inside cylinders (e.g. LPG). Flammable gases can also be supplied via pipelines (e.g. Towngas).
To minimize the risk of fire and explosion involving flammable gases, the following precautions must be followed:
- Cylinders containing flammable gases must be stored and secured in an upright position.
- Flammable gases exceeding the exempted quantities as stipulated in the Dangerous Goods Ordinance must be stored in licensed dangerous goods stores.
- Oxygen cylinders must never be stored near flammable gas cylinders.
- Cylinders must be handled with care to avoid damage.
- Empty cylinders should be properly marked and stored as if they are full.
- Appropriate safety devices such as pressure gauges, flash-back arrestors, etc. should be installed when flammable gases are being used together with oxygen or an oxidant gas.
- Gas cylinders should be checked regularly for leakage.
- When using flammable gases, the area should be well ventilated to prevent accumulation of ignitable vapour/air mixtures or accumulation and inhalation of toxic gases.
- Avoid ignition sources (e.g. flames, sparking equipment, hot surfaces) in the vicinity of flammable gases.
Safe handling of oxidizing chemicals, fast-reacting or explosive materials, and flammable metals is discussed under Chapter 8 of this Manual.
Improper use of electricity can cause fire. The major causes of electrical fire include overloading, improper electrical contacts and short circuiting. Electrical equipment used for generating heat (e.g. space heaters) can also cause a fire if it is not used properly.
Use of electrical devices to obtain more outlet capacity (such as adaptors, extension socket boards) may result in overloading circuits and causes fire. Minimize the use of such devices and, when they must be used for temporary purposes, they must be used properly and of safe designs.
Proper plugs must be used to ensure proper electrical contacts. Wiring connections must be checked to ensure good electrical contacts. This is especially important for equipment drawing large amount of electric current, such as electric heaters.
Electrical equipment must be properly maintained to ensure that they are in safe operating conditions.
The HKUST is equipped with advanced fire services installations for detecting and extinguishing fires. They include:
- Sprinklers System
- Drenchers System
- Hose Reels
- Fire Hydrants
- Portable Fire Extinguishers
- Gas Suppression System
- Fire Detection System
- Fire Shutters
These fire service installations (FSI) shall be properly maintained and tested by the Estate Management Office (FMO). All employees and students must not interfere with their proper functioning.
The following are brief descriptions of the various types of FSI, :
Automatically distributes water upon a fire in sufficient quantity either to extinguish it entirely or to prevent its spread. A properly designed, installed, and maintained sprinkler system is by far the most efficient fire protection system available. Most of the areas of the HKUST premises are installed with sprinklers. In some areas, the sprinkler heads are within reach of pedestrians. All employees and students must not temper with these sprinkler heads. Goods must not be stacked too close to sprinkler heads. A minimum clearance of 450 mm must be maintained below the sprinkler heads.
Consists of water nozzles which, when activated, will form water curtains to prevent the spread of a fire, or to provide protection to building facades e.g. large glass panels or curtain walls.
A hose reel is a coil of 25mm flexible rubber hose held on a metal reel. The hose reel can be mounted on exposed walls or inside a recess. The door of a hose reel should be clearly marked for easy identification. The length of the hose is about 30 meters. The hose reels are normally installed next to staircases and other locations such that every part of the premises is covered by them.
There are two types of fire hydrants. One is the street hydrants and the other is the stair hydrants (inside staircases). These are water supply outlets for use mainly by the Fire Services Department. These installations are not to be used for purposes other than fire fighting.
Portable Fire Extinguishers:
These are appliances designed to be used for initial fire fighting when a fire has just begun. Fire extinguishers can be classified by the different types of fire extinguishing media contained inside them. Fire extinguishing media commonly used include WATER, FOAM, POWDER, HALONS, and CARBON DIOXIDE. Appropriate types of fire extinguishers should be chosen for specific applications. The major consideration in the choice of fire extinguishers is the type of fire anticipated. For example,
- water and foam must not be used for electrical fire due to the risk of electrocution,
- water must not be used for fighting oil fire,
- carbon dioxide and halons may not be effective when used in windy situations, etc.
Advice on the type, size and suitability of fire extinguishers can be obtained from HSEO.
Gas Discharge Suppression System:
Such systems are mainly for protecting computer rooms and some of the dangerous goods stores. When the fire detection system is activated, special fire suppressing gas will be discharged to extinguish the fire by flooding the area or by stopping the chain reaction of the fire. Some of these gases may decompose into toxic gases when heated, and therefore no person should remain in the area where gas has been discharged. Appropriate safety precautions (appropriate fire orders) must be implemented and followed in areas protected by such systems.
Fire Detection System:
The fire detection system installed at HKUST consists of smoke detectors and heat detectors. The fire alarm system will be activated when smoke or heat is detected by the detectors.
Fire shutters are installed at certain locations inside the buildings to limit the spread of fire. Fire shutters are normally held open and will drop down when activated by the detectors installed at both sides of the shutters when smoke or heat is detected. The areas below fire shutters must be kept clear so that their operation is not obstructed.
The longer a building stands intact when engulfed by fire, the higher the chances that people can escape from it. Furthermore, the consequential damage to its contents and to the business carried out within it is reduced. The structural fire protection is mainly achieved by enclosing areas into compartments by way of structural elements such as walls, doors, ceilings and floors that have sufficient fire resistance.
Fire and Smoke Doors
Doors are the weakest part in structural fire protection. Doors at certain locations are designated as fire/smoke doors. These doors are designed to stop the propagation of flame and smoke for a sufficient period of time when they are properly closed. Fire doors are installed with self-closing devices and must be kept closed. Wedging open fire doors is strictly forbidden. If fire doors have to be kept open momentarily in the event of moving equipment, or large objects, etc., the doors must be closed immediately afterwards.
When hot work has to be carried out at HKUST (other than in a designated workshop), a hot work permit must be obtained beforehand in accordance with the “Procedures for Hot Work on HKUST Premises” (Appendix 6B of this chapter).
Another important and essential aspect of the fire protection program at HKUST is the routine inspection of the work areas, including office areas, workshops, laboratories, stores and other areas where fire hazards may exist.
Intervals between routine fire inspections vary with the size and nature of the workplace, the risks inherent in the process, or the materials stored therein.
HSEO shall conduct periodic safety and fire inspections on most of the premises at HKUST in accordance with a predetermined schedule. Inspection reports with findings and recommendations shall be forwarded to the respective location management for appropriate follow-up actions.
Individuals in charge of workplaces should carry out more frequent checks to identify fire hazards so that prompt actions can be taken to eliminate them. HSEO should be contacted if assistance is needed. Checklists applicable to individual work places should be developed to aid the checks. Examples of typical checklist are given in Appendix 6C of this chapter.
- The procedures for fire evacuation are described under Chapter 3 Section 1 of this Manual. In the event of a fire or a fire drill, all occupants must follow appropriate evacuation instructions.
- A location plan with clearly identified fire escape routes must be prepared by the respective Departmental Safety Officers at every location. The plan for the fire escape routes should be submitted to HSEO for review and endorsement. The location plan, together with the fire evacuation procedures should be posted at conspicuous positions.
- As soon as new staff report for duty, management must show them the proper escape routes and explain the fire emergency procedures to them.
- Locking of fire exit doors is extremely hazardous and is strictly forbidden.
- Fire escape routes must be maintained clear and free from obstructions. If the original fire escape route has to be altered, approval from the appropriate authorities must be obtained. In every occupied location, there must be prominent signs indicating fire escape routes. Additional directional signs should be added if an exit sign is not clearly visible or obscured from occupied areas.
- When the fire alarm is activated, all the lifts will automatically descend to the lowest floor and the lift doors will open. Passengers inside the lifts should leave the lifts immediately and proceed to the fire assembly points.
Evacuation of Disabled Persons
Units in which disabled persons are employed should develop a specific disabled evacuation plan. The following guidelines should be considered for the evacuation of disabled persons:
- Specific staff members should be assigned with personal responsibility for helping the disabled person(s) to evacuate in the event of fire. Alternates must be designated as well.
- Disabled persons should prepare to evacuate horizontally if they have difficulties in getting down staircases. In the event of fire, disabled persons should be evacuated with the help of someone horizontally to other safe areas as far away from the affected area as practicable. If you can hear the fire alarm clearly, you are still within or close to the zone of the affected area.
- After reaching a safe area, call the Security Control Centre (SCC) to let them know your whereabouts. Stay at the safe area unless you are instructed otherwise by Security.
- Special arrangements should be made when disabled persons have to work (or study) in areas where horizontal evacuation to a safe area is not practicable. Consult the SCC or HSEO for advice or for making special arrangements.
Fire drills are organized periodically for the campus buildings including student halls. All staff members and students are required to participate in the fire drills. Individual units are encouraged to organize local fire exercises to further acquaint their staff with fire evacuation procedures. Assistance can be obtained from HSEO for organizing such fire exercises.