The Fire Protection Blog.

Fire Suppression Focus – Forklifts

7th October 2019

Posted by: Ardent

Ardent

Small plant machinery such as forklifts are a critical piece of equipment for many businesses. When a fire occurs, it can have serious consequences that go beyond machine repair or replacement costs.

Forklifts often operate inside buildings like warehouses. A forklift fire can cause serious disruption to operations, as well as damage or loss of materials and finished products which may be stored in the vicinity. More serious still is the risk of injury to operators and other staff working in the building.

There are several measures that should be regularly performed to reduce the risk of forklift fire. Although good maintenance practices can help reduce the chances of fire, accidents still happen, and the risk of fire cannot be eliminated. Fire suppression systems are designed to protect the equipment, facilities and operator if a fire occurs. Their success rates however strongly depend on the right system specification for the specific machine and environment.

What are the challenges?

The size of forklift trucks means they need a compact but efficient fire suppression system, without compromising on system quality or reliability.

There are plenty of fire suppression systems in the market offering forklift protection. A significant number of them are pneumatic tubing systems. A trapped, kinked or otherwise damaged tubing will release the pressure in the tube, discharging the system. High instances of false discharges in these systems mean increased vehicle downtime and operational disruption.

Alternatively, systems using linear heat detection cable eliminates the risk of false discharges due to loss of pressure, ensuring 24/7 reliable protection for the forklift, facilities and operators. These systems can differentiate between a fire and a cut or damaged detection cable, and will only activate the system in case of a fire. If damaged to the detection cable is identified, the control module will report a fault in the system.

Linear heat detection cable (red) routed around fire hazards in forklifts engine compartment.

Linear heat detection cable (red) routed around fire hazards in forklift engine compartment.

What are the main fire hazard areas in Forklifts?

A common cause of fires in forklifts are flammable materials, such as dust, debris, oil and grease, getting in contact with very high temperature components in the engine compartment, like engine blocks and manifolds, and igniting. Electrical shot-circuits can also be a cause of fire ignition.

The build-up of flammable materials on forklift trucks, accumulating in the engine compartment, poses a significant fire risk, particularly in industries such as waste and recycling, in paper and timber yards where large amounts of combustible materials are handled day in and day out. A broken fuel or hydraulic line can also start a fire if they spray diesel or oil onto a super-heated engine component.

What are the requirements for an effective fire suppression system?

As previously mentioned, there are plenty of fire suppression systems offering forklift fire protection. Not all these systems are reliable and fit for purpose, often struggling with issues arising from high rates of false discharges, which put machines out of action.

In addition to linear heat detection cable, an effective fire suppression system uses distribution nozzles to discharge extinguishing agent, directly targeting all the main hazard areas in the engine compartment. These systems will protect all high risks areas in case of a fire rapidly expanding from its initial ignition point.

Agent distribution network and nozzles covering all main fire hazards in forklifts engine compartment.

Agent distribution network and nozzles covering all main fire hazards in forklifts engine compartment.

Agent distribution network and nozzles covering all main fire hazards in forklift engine compartment.

ABC dry chemical, also known as dry powder, is the recommended extinguishing agent for forklift trucks, as it offers excellent fire knock-down capabilities. Dry powder is able to disperse widely and cover even the hardest-to-reach areas of the engine compartment.

Dry chemical can be used independently or in combination with wet chemical agent. Wet chemical is recommended where the forklift operate in environments with abundant combustible materials, as it helps prevent fire re-ignition. The wet chemical cools super-heated components, stopping combustible materials from re-igniting after the systems has put out the fire.

What other system features are recommended for Forklifts?

An engine shutdown function is always recommended. When a fuel or hydraulic line fails, it can spray flammable liquid onto superheated components and cause a fire. Shutting down the engine stops fuel intake and the continual fuelling of the fire. This significantly reduces the chances of fire re-ignition. Remember that any fire suppression system only gets once chance to put out a fire.

A battery isolator can also help avoid fire re-ignition when the source of the fire is an electrical short-circuit.

Conclusion

Forklift trucks aren’t the only asset at risk if a fire breaks out. If a fire isn’t contained, it can spread to the surrounding of the forklift, such as the facility and stock, put operators in danger and result in costly downtime.

A fire suppression system fitted to the forklift is the best protection against the potential effects of a fire. The effectiveness and reliability of the system will vary significantly depending on the fire detection and agent distribution methods that the system employs, among other parameters.

For more information on how to protect your forklifts and other equipment against the risk of fire, contact one of our experts on 01423 326740 or send us a message to request a call back.

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