Flames of misfortune

October 3, 2008
By: Dan Davis

I had a meeting in the near northwest suburbs of Chicago earlier this week. To get there, I literally had to go over the hills—that"s the suburb of Lake in the Hills to be exact—and through the woods—also known as the Cook County Forest Preserve.

Of course, that was a 25-minute detour because my original route was cut off by a major fire. I had intended on taking Illinois Highway 14 to my destination, but the highway was closed off in both directions, preventing any access to the bridge that crosses the not-so-mighty Fox River. Emergency officials aren"t in chatty moods during these types of crises, so I was left to my own deductive skills.

The thick plume of smoke rising against the light blue skies of the autumn morning gave me an idea that local firefighters were battling a pretty big blaze. But was there also a chemical leak? Had something happened to the bridge?

Chicago radio was of no use. The all-news station was all commercials everytime I tuned in. After working my way through the neighborhoods of Cary, I was on my way to my appointment, perturbed and tardy.

I forgot about the episode last night, but caught the headlines this morning. A machine
shop was burned to the ground
, closing nearby thoroughfares for five hours. Gage Grinding Co. didn"t stand a chance against the flames as firefighters struggled with a nearby blown fire hydrant.

The 46-year-old business was a family operation, not too big, but big enough to employ several relatives and others.
The older building also included several residences upstairs, a sight you don"t see too much anymore because of
modern zoning requirements. Those residences were destroyed as well.

The whole affair reminded me that manufacturing can be a very dangerous proposition. Take a few minutes off to daydream, and you could find yourself in deep trouble. When I drift off, I drool on a computer keyboard; when a welder does it, something catches fire.

Just take a look at headlines from one day. You"ve got fires in Oroville, Calif. and Erwin, N.Y. related to welding.

We ran a story in the July 2008 FABRICATOR about ways to avoid hot-work hazards. Here"s a quick rundown of those tips:

  1. Drill employees on the correct safety requirements.

  2. Keep combustibles 35 feet from welding areas, or at least ensure they are covered with flameproof materials.

  3. Know the work area and the workpiece. For example, if a gas could be emitted from the workpiece when it is exposed to heat, the welder should know that.

  4. Correctly store gas cylinders. They must be stored at temperatures cooller than 125 degrees F and remain at least 20 feet from combustibles, according to industry standards.

  5. Go the extra mile. Keep an eye out 30 minutes after hot work has been done to make sure no fires have started, and always use newer equipment when possible.

Safety is not always stressed in manufacturing settings, but it shouldn"t be taken for granted. After all, it could
all go up in a big plume of smoke, leaving you to wish that your biggest worry was trying to get to a meeting on time.

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8281