Fire Shield Systems director James Mountain explores the common risks faced by port operators and how these can be mitigated to ensure a safe site
Ports operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Due to the high volume of imports and exports they facilitate, work schedules are carefully planned and very tight. As such, any period of downtime can cause significant backlogs.
Ports face a variety of fire risks, from storing combustible materials to the continued use of industrial, onsite vehicles.
For port operators, ensuring the safety of teams and assets while minimising downtime is crucial to sustained operations. To do this, port operators have a responsibility to identify the risk areas and implement the appropriate measures to mitigate these. Carrying out a regular risk assessment is key to this.
General health and safety regulations are laid out in both The Health and Safety at Work (HSW) Act (1974) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999). The HSE’s Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) Safety in Docks (2014) aims to help port operators ensure compliance with the HSW Act, while improving the overall safety of the sector.
Although not compulsory, The Department of Transport’s Port Marine Safety Code (2016) is endorsed by the government and details a pragmatic approach to ensuring high safety standards across the ports industry.
Fire risks and mitigation
Materials and containers are often stored at ports for some time while awaiting onward transport. This can pose a significant fire risk. As such, all materials and containers should be monitored and managed carefully.
A common risk associated with storage at ports includes flammable materials. Any flammable materials – such as fuels or alcohols – should be stored separately, away from other non-flammable materials and clear from the port’s operations area. Any containers enclosing flammable materials should be kept closed when not in use to mitigate the risk of any fire spreading.
Also, loose materials such as wood chippings or biomass have the potential to self-combust when transported if not monitored closely. When these are transported in a ship’s hold, hotspots can form within the bulk material. These will often lie dormant until the material is transported from the ship’s hold. When the material is separated into smaller piles, these hotspots can activate, causing self-combustion. To prevent this, temperatures of all loose materials on a port’s site should be continually monitored.
Containers are frequently sealed when arriving at ports, leaving the port susceptible
to hidden fire risks. It is essential to monitor the materials within these containers to enable sufficient measures to be implemented to mitigate fire risks.
Many onsite vehicles at ports are in constant use to fulfil the intense programme of imports and exports. This brings about several fire risks, such as potential clogging from the build-up of dust in cargoes. All site vehicles should be subject to regular maintenance and – as per the port authority regulations – should be fitted with adequate fire protection equipment.
Various machinery, such as straddle carriers, are often in constant operation at ports and carry a high risk of overheating. All machinery should be regularly monitored to check temperatures, minimise the build-up of any dust and ensure its continued, safe use.
Due to their exposed locations, ports are susceptible to extreme weather conditions such as high coastal winds which can cause fires to spread quickly. This is a factor which your fire protection solution should account for to keep it as effective as possible, at all times.