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Playing with Fire: Welding fires spark need for improved safety precautions

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island — The fire that tore through a Charlottetown, PEI repair facility in late April has since been linked to welding work that was being done at the time.

What started as routine repairs in the shop’s garage quickly turned into an inferno that caused the roof of Mechanical Performance Auto Service on Brackley Point Road to collapse, and the entire building to be declared a total loss.

Fire inspectors did not elaborate on what about the welding likely caused the fire to start, however, the blaze was substantial enough that it took firefighters nearly four hours to extinguish.

Speculating on what, if anything, went wrong during the weld, or what the conditions of the shop were like prior to the fire would be unproductive, though these incidents prove an opportune time for a refresher on fire safety when welding vehicles.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) suggests that a welder’s first step, before even laying hands on their tools, is to survey their workspace for flammable or potentially combustible materials. This includes anything from spilled oils or fluids, cardboard boxes, paint cans, rags—even dry leaves tracked in on the floor should be swept up prior to any welding.

If floor space is inflexible, flame resistant materials and screens can be set up around the welding area in order to contain stray sparks.

Another commonly overlooked safety recommendation for shop owners is to inspect their shop floors and walls for holes and cracks. Sparks generated from welders can land inside cracks in your floor or walls and smolder, greatly heightening the potential for the building to catch fire.

It is also recommended that there be appropriate time between any activities that could eject foreign particles into the air, like sanding or painting, so that any potential airborne fire hazards can be properly filtered out of the production space.

If you simply can’t manage any of these things, please, please just have a fire extinguisher on-hand before you start welding—managers are typically grateful to not see a pile of rubble where their shop used to be.

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