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Spontaneous ignition fires in laundries

What is the potential risk?

Laundry that is tightly packed with poor ventilation poses a risk of spontaneous combustion, which may cause injury to workers.

Spontaneous combustion occurs when a fuel source, such as contaminants in the laundry or the material itself, reach a sufficient temperature to ignite. Oils, fats, or cleaning chemicals may already be present in laundry before it is washed, or they may persist if the cleaning process did not remove them effectively. Piled, stacked, or folded laundry can have a high internal temperature that may initiate an oxidation reaction. This reaction can continue to generate heat until the laundry pile is ignited. Storing warm laundry immediately after drying, placing laundry in containers made of a flammable material (for example, polyethylene), and storing laundry in a warm environment (for example, a sunny area), may increase the risk of spontaneous ignition.

Incidents of spontaneous ignition in laundries have occurred in B.C. and in the U.S. Laundry services workers or laundry workers in other workplaces, such as hotels, hospitals, nursing homes, or prisons, may be at risk of injury should a fire occur.

What industries may be at risk?

  • Commercial laundry or linen, uniform, or diaper supply
  • Laundry services
  • Commercial cleaning or janitorial services
  • Janitorial services
  • Health care and social services
  • Accommodation, food, and leisure services
  • Correctional services

How can I reduce the risk in my workplace?

As an employer, you need to know if there is the potential for the risk identified in this advisory to be present in your workplace. It’s your responsibility to regularly inspect your workplace, and to ensure that your safety procedures and practices control the risk. The following information highlights some of the sections of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation and Guidelines that are most relevant to this risk.

Part 12 (sections 12.142–12.166) of the OHS Regulation requires that if articles to be processed may contain materials such as hazardous biological or chemical contaminants, sharp objects, or other materials which would pose a hazard to workers handling the articles, the operator of a laundry or dry cleaning establishment must

  1. determine the nature of any hazard to workers,
  2. develop effective written safe work procedures to minimize the risk of injury and disease, and
  3. ensure that workers are adequately instructed and directed to follow the safe work procedures.

Publication Date: Jan 2015 Asset type: Risk Advisory Reference: RA 2015-34