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Safeguarding against fire in agri and food processing facilities

Home Agriculture Safeguarding against fire in agri and food processing facilities

FIRE safety compliance is vital to save lives, reduce the costs of fire damage, and protect equipment and buildings from major damage. That’s according to Michael van Niekerk, CEO of ASP Fire, a risk consulting service in Benoni.

Van Niekerk said ASP Fire offers specialist expertise for the agri and food processing industries. “Our systems ensure compliance with national and international fire safety standards. This includes sign-off from insurance companies and local authorities to safeguard people and property. Before creating a system for any new or operational
business, we look at each risk area and ask what we need to do to mitigate that particular risk,” van Niekerk said.

ASP’s track record includes completing rational designs for two solvent extraction plants at sunflower and soya seed processing facilities in the North West and Mpumalanga. Both facilities create an initial mash and then extract the oil using hexane. This highly flammable solvent that separates the oil content from the meal is then removed from the oil by a drying process.

The two major risks were the preparation and solvent plant buildings, each around six storeys high, which makes escape for occupants in the event of a fire a huge challenge. When the product starts to burn, it does so rapidly, which calls for fast-acting fire suppression.

The last part of the process is storing the dried meal in an area where there is a lot of dust. This creates an explosive atmosphere that can be ignited by a single spark, posing a far greater fire risk than the hexane plant itself. There is also crude oil storage that is not flammable but combustible.

Fire safety compliance save lives and buildings

ASP Fire’s risk mitigation systems comply with the National Fire Protection Association 36 standard for solvent extraction plants in terms of fire suppression and aversion. Compliance is vital to save lives, reduce the costs of fire damage, and protect equipment and buildings from major damage.

One of the biggest risks in industries that use solvents such as hexane is boiling expanding liquid vapour explosion (BLEVE).

A hexane tanker could be up to 42 m3 in size, so an incident such as brake failure could quickly become a tanker fire.

Mitigating the overall fire risk associated with tankers and refinery structures calls for a high-velocity deluge system over the solvent tankers at the refuelling point. As the solvent is highly flammable, any fire must be put out before a BLEVE event.

“We design a comprehensive set of solutions, using advanced methods and equipment. From there, insurers and local authorities certify that we have addressed all necessary regulations, and that all our work complies with the strict standards governing that specific industry. Thereafter, it’s about constant vigilance and inspections, caution on the part of all personnel, and knowing how to avoid the unimaginable,” said van Niekerk.

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