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Industrial fire protection starts with a protective coating

For some industrial facilities, fireproofing is a prerequisite for holding on to the facility’s insurance, at least at rates resembling anything close to affordable. Many owners of refineries, petrochemical and oil and gas facilities that contact us have just received a call from their insurance companies. They’ve been told that in order to keep their current plan, measures would need to be taken to ensure the facility has adequate industrial fire protection.

Throughout the refinement process, regardless of the desired final product, various flammable liquids and byproducts move along a network of pipes supported by structural steel. Pipe racks, refinement vessels, steel supporting structures, any construction which could potentially be exposed to a fire, and which could collapse before the fire is brought under control, will likely be designated for fireproofing. In the event of a fire, the flammable liquids at the heart of a business can quickly become the fuel helping to burn it down. Active industrial fire protection like foaming and sprinkler systems should kick in to battle the fire, but these measure are often meant only to slow a serious blaze.

While industrial fire protection via fireproofing is certainly a good idea—it can be the difference between a damaged facility and one that has suffered a total collapse—fireproofing steel mandates are usually followed up by very little in the way of specific direction.

If the insurance company is pushing for a plan to be in place immediately, fireproofing can be a stressful experience. Some areas that now need to be fireproofed may never have been fireproofed before. For other areas, it may have been years since fireproofing was last performed. Perhaps the facility has changed ownership by then, or the previous facility manager has moved on, leaving no personnel with fireproofing experience. Even auditors touring your facility, though they may have strong opinions on what sort of fireproofing work needs to be performed, will offer no clues as to how the work should be performed.

Industrial fire protection for refineries

Passive fire protection for your facility

As firefighters and active industrial fire protection systems battle the blaze, passive fire protection can buy valuable time for structural steel that would otherwise become distorted under such extreme heat. The purpose of passive fire protection is to protect this structural steel only for a given amount of time, until the fire can be extinguished. Refinery fires sometimes reach temperatures upwards of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit; hot enough to melt most structural steel alloys.

Passive fire protection methods such as intumescent coatings are measured according to the time they have been proven to withstand these heats with the laboratory. Independent safety science companies, such as the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), provide third party testing of fireproofing coatings and then rate the products according to how long they are able to withstand the heat of the flames.

Insurance auditors will specify a necessary minimum time rating for an asset based on its use, susceptibility to fire and the anticipated difficulty of extinguishing an outbreak. The most common rating is 1.5 hours. Higher ratings can be achieved by adding mil thickness during application of the coating. UL 1709 is the standard most commonly applied to heavy industrial fireproofing products.

Still have questions about industrial fire protection? Download our guide to industrial fireproofing below or click here to speak to a NACE-certified professional today.

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