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Fire Protection Fixed Fire Extinguishing System Hazards on Board Vessel

Fire extinguishing system specialist inspecting high pressure CO2 system on vessel.
Figure 1. Fire extinguishing system specialist inspecting high pressure CO2 system on vessel.
Fixed fire extinguishing systems on vessels and vessel sections may create a dangerous atmosphere when such systems are accidentally activated. Several accidents involving fixed fire extinguishing systems have resulted in fatal injury. When employees must work in a space on a vessel that is protected by a fixed fire extinguishing system, specific requirements must be followed. These include:
  • Isolating the system or otherwise prudent discharge.
  • Training workers on precautions when entering a space with an armed system.
  • Working with an extinguishing system.  
The following identify potential hazards and requirements:

Fire Extinguishing System Hazards on Board Vessels
Schematic of high pressure CO2 fire extinguishing systems used on vessel.
Figure 2. Schematic of high pressure CO2 fire extinguishing system used on vessel. Schematic of low pressure CO2 fire extinguishing systems used on vessel.
Figure 3. Schematic of low pressure CO2 fire extinguishing systems used on vessel.

Potential Hazards:

  • Accidental discharge of fire extinguisher.
  • Miscommunication and coordination with:
    • Ship owner and prime contractor
    • Prime contractor and subcontractor

Requirements and Example Solutions:

  • When active fixed extinguishing systems could create a dangerous atmosphere in vessels and vessel sections: [1915.506(a)]
    • Physically isolate the system or use other positive means to prevent the systems' discharge. [1915.506(b)(1)]
    • Ensure that employees are trained to recognize: [1915.506(b)(2)]
      • Systems' discharge, evacuation alarms and appropriate escape routes. [1915.506(b)(2)(i)]
      • Hazards associated with the extinguishing systems and agents including the dangers of disturbing system components and equipment (such as piping, cables, linkages, detection devices, activation devices, and alarm devices). [1915.506(b)(2)(ii)]
  • During sea and dock trials, all systems must remain operational. Ensure that: [1915.506(c)]
    • All doors, hatches, scuttles, and other exit openings remain working and accessible for escape in the event that the systems are activated. [1915.506(d)(1)]
    • All inward opening doors, hatches, scuttles, and other potential barriers to safe exit are removed, locked open, braced, or otherwise secured. [1915.506(d)(2)]
  • When testing a fixed extinguishing system, all workers must be evacuated from the space during discharge. Oxygen level must be tested to ensure safe conditions prior to workers reentering the space. [1915.506(e)]
  • Fixed extinguishing system must be physically isolated before conducting maintenance on the system. [1915.506(f)]
  • When fixed manual extinguishing systems are used to provide fire protection for spaces in which work must be performed, ensure that:  [1915.506(g)]
    • Only authorized workers are allowed to activate the system. [1915.506(g)(1)]
    • Authorized workers are trained to operate and activate the systems. [1915.506(g)(2)]
    • All workers are evacuated from the protected spaces, and accounted for, before the fixed manual extinguishing system is activated. [1915.506(g)(3)]
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Maritime Labor/Industry Recommendations
Activating mechanism for halon extinguishing system.
Figure 4. Activating mechanism for halon extinguishing system.

  • When a fire extinguishing system is active:
    • Post signs at gangway and space. 
    • Provide emergency escape respirators should be provided.
    • Maintain a sign in and out log.
  • Lock and tagout when working on the system. 
  • Evaluate and assess hazards of halon used in the extinguishing system (Figure 4).
  • Sample Fire Safety Plans. Shipbuilders Council of America, (2006).

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