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INTRODUCTION

The RISCAuthority has produced RC 45: Risk Control - Fire safety in the

electroplating industry, a copy of which is filed in the RSG Information Centre. This

is an excellent publication and is to be referred to by Consultants for guidance as

regards fire risk assessment and control measures specific to electroplating

processes. The intention is that this should apply not just to stand-alone plating

businesses, but also to ancillary plating processes which are often encountered

within manufacturing premises generally.


As a result of the environmentally unfriendly nature of plating processes, many

plating works have tended in the past to be located in old buildings, often of

unfavourable construction, situated in rundown industrial areas. Whilst more

recently this may have changed, such premises will still be encountered.


Irrespective of the age of the premises, the potentially corrosive atmospheres

generated can have a serious impact on the condition of the property and its

services, resulting in the need for enhanced maintenance regimes to be in place.

Standards of management and risk awareness in the plating industry will vary

considerably, ranging from modern, prosperous, well managed facilities

incorporating automatic tank lines, to those that are struggling to survive on basic

equipment and where little attention may be given to fire safety.


RC 45: RISK CONTROL - FIRE SAFETY IN THE
ELECTROPLATING INDUSTRY

RC 45 is made up of the following sections:


• Introduction

• Potential Fire Hazards

• Recommendations, sectioned between:


1. Construction/Location

2. Process Heating and Electrical Installations

3. Fire Protection

4. Fire Safety Management

5. General Recommendations


The document concludes with an extensive fire safety checklist which

Consultants are encouraged to employ on site as required.


KEY RISK FEATURES

Experience has shown that one of the main causes of fires involving plating

processes relate to the use of electric immersion heaters in plastic, or plastic lined

plating tanks. In these circumstances, failure of temperature controls and

subsequent over heating can cause increased vaporisation of the liquid in the tank

to the extent that the heating element becomes exposed. If the liquid level drops

below the heating element, the liquid will begin to cool causing a continuous “on”

signal to the heating element control.


This further accelerates the overheating, which can result in the tank igniting and

the subsequent fire spread to associated plastic extraction hoods, ducting and

related equipment. The same result can occur from a simple leakage or the

removal of large components from within the tank.


Attention is therefore drawn to the Section 2 of the Recommendations in RC45

and, in particular, to those items dealing with the selection and installation of

heaters, and the provision of suitable temperature controls, liquid level controls,

etc. Ideally, consideration should be given to replacing electric immersion heaters

with other safer forms of heating such as indirect heating using heat exchangers,

although in many cases this will not be feasible for reason of cost and other

factors. Reference should also be made to the need for routine inspection and

maintenance of all tanks and heating equipment (Recommendations 4.6 – 4.8)

Fires in plating risks caused by general electrical faults are common owing to the

humid and corrosive atmosphere and the detrimental effect that this has on the

electrical installation. Preventative maintenance of the electrical installation is

paramount, comprising a programme of routine checks, formal periodic inspection

and testing, and thermographic testing as appropriate. The frequency of periodic

inspection and testing should be determined by a risk assessment; in many cases

this is likely to be more frequent than that recommended for general industrial

premises.


One further key consideration relates to the need for premises in which

electroplating is carried out to be assessed in compliance with the Dangerous

Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) 2002 (Technical

Bulletin 21 refers).


Whilst it is rare for plating processes to be run unattended overnight, the time

length of process can be such that enquiries into this aspect must always be

made and risks assessed accordingly.

The Electroplating Industry

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