Don't Torch Your Business!
By Universal Underwriters Group's Loss Prevention Department

Fires started by cutting torches injure scores of employees and cost the Automotive Recycling industry millions of dollars each year. Being proactive in your loss prevention efforts may save your business.

Cutting Torches + Combustible Materials = Disaster

High-temperature flames and materials that are easily ignited just don't go well together. If these torches come into contact with flammable liquids or gases, a full-fledged catastrophe can result. Over the past year alone cutting torches and oxy-acetylene welders have been the cause of entire dismantling and warehouse facilities being burned to the ground, and worse yet, of near-fatal employee injuries.

Of course other factors are usually involved. Welding and cutting being performed inside buildings where they shouldn't be. Employees cutting on or close to automotive gas tanks, shock absorbers or inside the trunk or passenger compartments where hot slag ignites carpeting or insulation. Hot slag or extreme heat can cause carpeting and wood to smolder for hours before bursting into flames - long after your business closes, employees go home and there is anyone to see or extinguish the fire.

Most facility managers in the dismantling business understand this exposure, many know what controls are needed to prevent losses like those described above, and a few others have implemented the changes necessary to make their facilities safer.

Speed vs. Efficiency

Cutting torches are quite possibly the fastest way to remove parts from a vehicle…but are they worth the risk? Are they the most efficient method? First let's talk about the risks. If you are a single point recycler, the very survival of your business may be at risk. Catastrophic fires that burn facilities, inventory and vital records are very difficult to recover from, even for large corporations. The second and most critical asset "at risk" are your employees. Employees at recycling facilities have suffered extremely serious injuries while using torches. Most of them were burned when the torch they were using ignited gas vapors, spilled gasoline or explosive gases inside shock absorbers. Workers' compensation claims and employees missing time at work do not improve efficiency. In addition your insurance company may view the use of cutting torches as an "extra hazardous" operation and it could affect your desirability or insurability. Torches may be the fastest option in the short-term, but are they most efficient in the long run? Maybe not.

Best Option: "Just Say No (Torches)"

One of the largest recycling companies in the country has banned cutting torches altogether at some of their facilities. A near-catastrophic fire at one facility convinced the plant manager that he had seen enough and he made a decision: "No more torches". Citing torches as "the lazy man's way of removing parts" he got rid of all cutting torches on the property and went out and purchased sawsalls. It took approximately a month for employees to adjust to the change but after that the issue was settled. This location has dismantled over 3,500 vehicles since then and has had "zero" small fires or other problems.

It has become obvious that alternative tools including "Sawsalls" and "Super Shears" are available to dismantlers. The bottom line is this: eliminating cutting torches reduces your risk of suffering a major fire.

Option Two: Restrict Use

Once again the best option is to eliminate torches altogether, but barring that, you should control the use of this tool to the greatest extent possible.

· Keep torches under "lock and key" and require supervisors to sign them out to responsible, well-trained employees.

· Restrict use of torches to outdoor or other open areas. Prohibit use of cutting torches inside buildings - especially those housing warehouse and office operations.

· Closely supervise all cutting and welding operations to ensure that all safety procedures and rules are followed.

More and more recyclers have made the decision to reduce the use of torches in their facilities, or eliminate them all together. They have determined that the use of torches is not worth the risk to their businesses and employees. Evaluate their use around your facility and ask yourself - "Can I do without them?" The answer is "Yes".


Gerry Cecil is the National Account Executive for the Special Account Services division of Universal Underwriters Group. For more information about how Universal Underwriters Group, Special Account Services can help your automotive recycling business needs call 800-840-8842, ext. 4845, visit www.uuic.com/specaccts/ara.asp or e-mail: uuic.specaccts@us.zurich.com.

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