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Commercial Flooring News

Sanding Can Put You In The Line Of Fire

Terry Guilford gives an explosive warning
THIS month I came across an online forum with the heading ‘After the fire’. And that immediately sparked (sorry) my imagination.
Just like the dangers caused by airborne hazards such as dust and toxic vapours – fire is a serious concern for floor sanding contractors.
The strange thing is how common the fire hazard is without actually being seen as a problem. You see it has happened to me in a small way twice; it has happened to one of our franchisees in a large way once; and it has happened to a friend who was nearly a deceased friend. Five minutes on Google will show several cases where it was lethal. So what are the causes?
As well as being dangerous to our lungs, wood dust is amazingly explosive. If you want to lose your eyebrows throw some wood dust on an open fire (no don’t, my conscience is already overburdened).
However unlike most explosive products, when an ignition source is applied to larger amounts of dust you don’t get bigger bangs (no I’m not going there) but the far less impressive phenomena, smouldering.
Now, of course smouldering may not be particularly impressive, but dangerous it certainly is. Loud bangs and flames are audible and visual warnings that all is not well, but smouldering is so subtle you won’t notice it until it destroys your van or worse still, burns down your clients’ house.
n So we know that wood dust is flammable, but what is the source of ignition and what physically happens?
During the course of sanding, the abrasive is not only working against the wood but also the nails or anything else that may have been left on the floor or becomes unearthed while sanding. As it strikes the foreign object a small spark is produced, this can happen at exactly the point that the dust particles are making their way into the mouth of the dust collection port on your sander.
Should one or more of those particles be ignited by the spark it will make its way to the canvas bag of the sander and begin a process which may take several hours to become a fire.
So how do we avoid the potential for fires caused in the manner described above? The key is in recognising the hazards and eliminating them as much as possible.
n First off, is the floor face nailed? If so punch the nails well below the surface.
n Second is the floor greasy (like a restaurant) or is it a waxed or oiled floor? Both of these massively increase the flammability of the dust.
If the former you may consider cleaning the floor first if it is bad or just do what you do in case of the latter which is be aware of the risk and watch the dust bag as you sand.
n Third, make sure to vacuum the floor thoroughly before sanding as small stones or other debris can create sparks just like nails do.
n Fourth make sure to empty dust collection bags frequently and dispose of the contents outside of, and well away from, the building.
Finally if you do see or smell smoke coming from the dust bag or see an ever growing black/brown mark developing on the canvas it is essential to do the following:
n First clamp your hand around the neck of the bag closing off the point where it is tied to the machine; this stops large volumes of air getting in and cuts down the speed at which things can develop.
n Second, untie the bag from the machine keeping your hand clamped around the neck and third, get the bag and contents out of the building!
I witnessed a fire starting on two occasions. On the first occasion it happened to a franchisee the cause was as described above. The difference is that I saw it happening and dealt with it, whereas the other lad had serious damage done to his van and sanders, the next day (as I told you, smouldering is slow can be slow but dangerous).
The other common instance of fire caused by floor sanding contractors, involves flammable finishes and cigarettes (don’t think I need to elaborate).
My friend got away with severe scorching to the room he was working in and remarkable little damage to himself, the migrant workers in Boston Massachusetts were not nearly so lucky.
It does happen, at best it dents your bank balance at worst it ruins every plan you ever made. CFJ

n I look forward to seeing you at the Floorcare exhibition on June 24 in the Baskin Suite at Bewleys Airport Hotel Dublin. To date over 10 manufacturers are confirmed to exhibit.
T: 00353 (0)94 9048284
T: 0161 818 2582 (for training courses)
Terry Guilford is technical director of The Ultimate Floor Sanding Co, a corporate member of the National Carpet Cleaners Association (NCCA). n

This article has been reproduced from the Contract Flooring Journal website. You can find them at