Fire Hazards in Textile Industry

Over the last few decades, textile and apparel industries play an important role in the economy of Bangladesh. It is the largest revenue earning sector. Textile and apparel industry is also the largest source for employment both skilled and unskilled labour. Among them 80% are women. Fire hazards is the most common in textile industries. Tazreen Fashion factory fire is a big example. At least 117 people were confirmed dead in this fire outbreak, and over 200 were injured. Besides, fire outbreak in cotton and wastage godowns is common affair in Bangladesh. In this article I will explain fire hazards in textile industry.

fire hazards

Fire Hazards in Textile Industry:

The textile industry produces materials made of various natural and artificial fibers. It is one of the oldest and most important branches of industry. However, textile materials themselves are flammable. In addition, the textile industry deals with numerous flammable materials and chemicals. The chances of catching fire are very high along the entire textile production chain and easily cause fires and dust explosions.

A fire may break out at any place including houses, residential and commercial buildings, restaurants, cinemas, sports stadiums, jungles, industries, and mills (particularly those like textile mills and industries where raw material or finished products are combustible). In the case of a fire, there may be several reasons related to its initiation and propagation.

Statistics have clearly indicated that textile products have been significantly involved in fire hazards involving human lives. Such products include clothing (including oversuits, undergarments, work wear, and suiting), bedsheets, floor coverings, upholstered textiles in seats, bedding, and home furnishings.

Human beings are always in close contact with these textile materials. Since textiles made from natural fibers are flammable or combustible, they can provide a means of initiating fire. Actual fire cases had shown that textile and clothing were the main items causing injury and death to human lives. Public concern over the fire-retarding textiles for the protection of human lives and property appeared in the form of legislation.

An equally important subject, along with the enforcements of legislation is the standard testing procedure designed for evaluating the degree or level of flame retardancy offered by the product for general and specific purposes. A standard testing procedure usually incorporates the overall conditions that would be experienced by the textile item in an actual fire environment. Presently, several textile flammability testing procedures are available that can be used for a variety of textile products under specified application conditions. These products are apparel, upholstery, building materials, plastic toys, folding portable cots and, car racing suits.

In the textile industry, nearly all materials being used are flammable tosome degree. According to HSE, (Health, and Safety Executive, UK) some fire-prone substances are listed below:

  1. Loose materials, e.g., fabric offcuts or open layers of wadding–low density fibers burn very easily.
  2. Deposits of fluff and dust (fly)–dust on light fittings is a particular risk. Cotton fly is very hazardous when it is on fire.
  3. Oily fibers, such as contaminated wool or cotton; oil results from the spinning process.
  4. Rough, raw edges on rolls or bales–bales tend to burn on the surface and smoulder underneath–deep-seated smouldering in bales is almost impossible to put out from the outside.
  5. High piles of stock, especially if close together, can increase the speed at which a fire spreads.
  6. Traditional textile mills, constructed using a high amount of wood and with the presence of fly, means that a fire can spread rapidly.
  7. Flammable liquids that ignite easily or oxidizing agents that may make an existing fire more intense by fueling it with oxygen.

Some suggested precautionary steps to be followed to avoid fire hazards are listed next:

  1. Good housekeeping–cleaning up fluff and dust regularly, especially high ledges;
  2. Keeping offcuts in bins, preferably metal;
  3. Minimum storage in workrooms;
  4. Indirect heating in workrooms;
  5. Restricting smoking areas;
  6. Controlling heated work areas; and
  7. Storing raw materials and finished goods systematically with proper spacing–not randomly on the floor.

HSE suggests some fire-prone areas in textile production units are discussed below:

Carpet making:

This involves the manufacture and storage of latex foam and rubber underlay and foam carpets. These can burn to produce enough smoke to classify the material as a highly flammable solid.

  • A high level of sprinkler protection is needed where foam-backed carpets are stored.
  • Traditional wool or nylon hessian-backed carpet is not particularly flammable.

Spinning:

During opening and carding, foreign bodies in fibers and baled raw material can come into contact with rotating metal parts of machinery and produce sparks or frictional heat. Natural fibers are more likely than synthetic fibers to contain foreign bodies.

Opening rags is a vigorous process and it is highly likely that they will contain foreign bodies, such as coins and metal buttons, that may cause a spark. The spread of fire from opening machinery through ducting can be high; the spread of fire through the fiber delivery and trash recovery systems is also a fairly high risk. Automatic fire detection in a ducted system is essential. Traditional spinning causes deposits of fly, and, if contaminated by oil, can be particularly flammable.

Weaving:

The main hazard is ignition of fly by electrical faults, usually insulation failures caused by mechanical vibration. Modern looms are less susceptible to vibration. Effective controls include good housekeeping and good maintenance of electrical systems and machinery.

Finishing processes:

These are processes that alter the physical characteristics of the cloth, either by

  • Physical means, e.g., raising or milling, or
  • Chemical means, e.g., crease resistance.

Processes involving a naked flame, e.g., flame bonding can cause smoldering. The stenters used for thermal bonding are a common source of fires–smoldering in the finished reel of material can develop into a fire later. Also, if the material stops in the stenter, it is important for the heat supply to cut off automatically. Thermostats can also fail causing overheating. Gas singeing, i.e., burning of projected fibers from the fabric surface by open flame may cause fire hazards.

Some causes for explosion are:

  • Wool spinning: wool dust can cause explosions. Good housekeeping is essential and the dust in the carding machines should be controlled.
  • Flocking: Ground flock (rather than precision cut) from mainly cotton, acrylic and nylon fibers, gives a higher risk of explosion. If dispersed into the atmosphere, e.g., when cleaning down, it can cause an explosion and/or fire.

The primary causes of burn injury include fire-flame, scalds, contact with hotobject, electrical and chemicals.

Burn injury:

A burn is an injury to the skin or other organic tissue primarily caused by heat radiation, radioactivity, electricity, friction, or contact with chemicals. Thermal (heat) burns occur when some or all of the cells in the skin or other tissues are destroyed by:

  • Hot liquids (scalds),
  • Hot solids (contact burns), or
  • Flames (flame burns).

Burns are a global public health problem, accounting for an estimated 180,000 deaths annually. The majority of these occur in low- and middle-income countries and almost two thirds occur in Africa and Southeast Asia.

In many high-income countries, burn death rates have been decreasing, and the rate of child deaths from burns is currently over seventimes higher in lowand middle-income countries than in high-income countries.

Nonfatal burns are a leading cause of morbidity, including prolonged hospitalization, disfigurement, and disability, often with resulting stigma and rejection.

  • Burns are among the leading causes of disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) lost in low- and middle-income countries.
  • In 2004, nearly 11 million people worldwide were burned severely enough to require medical attention.

The burn statistics of some countries are as follows:

  • In India, over 1,000,000 people are moderately or severely burned every year.
  • Nearly 173,000 Bangladeshi children are moderately or severely burned every year.
  • In Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, and Pakistan, 17% of children with burns have a temporary disability and 18% have a permanent disability.
  • Burns are the second most common injury in rural Nepal, accounting for 5% of disabilities.
  • In 2008, over 410,000 burn injuries occurred in the United States, with approximately 40,000 requiring hospitalization.

Preventing fire hazards would be the first and foremost choice and also it is mandatory to alleviate the fire accidents to safe guard raw materials and employees.

References:

  1. Flame Retardants for Textile Materials by Asim Kumar Roy Choudhury
  2. Venkataramanan, Ponnusamy; Prathap, Paulraj; Sivaprakash, Palanisamy; Sivaprakash, Kanchana “Fire safety in textile industries – A Review” Industria Textila; Bucharest Vol. 70, Iss. 6,  (2019): 523-526. DOI:10.35530/IT.070.06.1615
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org

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