Introduction to ignition sources in the workplace

Table of Contents

In this short article, we’ll discuss a range of potential ignition sources that can lead to fire and explosions in industrial process environments.

We’ll start by defining what an ignition source is and why it’s important to prevent different types of ignition sources from occurring.

Understanding Ignition

Let’s start with the basics – the fire triangle and explosion pentagon.

For the creation of a fire, three elements – fuel, an effective source of ignition and oxygen are required. For an explosion to occur, two more elements are needed– the mixing of a fuel with an oxidant and confinement.

The Fire Triangle
The Explosion Pentagon

The combination of these elements will determine if a fire or explosion will occur.

However, if one of the critical elements is identified and removed, the fire hazard or explosion scenario can be avoided.

Although we are oversimplifying the complexities of the multiple fire and explosion risks involved in the process industries, the removal of a source of ignition, a fuel source or oxygen is what we are striving to achieve.

Common Sources of Ignition

There are many sources of ignition in industrial process environments. Below are some of the most common:

Electrical Equipment and Electrical Devices

Electrical equipment and electrical devices are common sources of ignition. When exposed wiring or equipment is damaged, malfunctioning or not correctly earthed, they can spark and ignite nearby materials. Common electrical ignition sources include electrical circuits, motors and switches.

Static Electricity

The ignition of explosive atmospheres via flammable gases or dust is frequently attributed to a number of sources of ignition – this includes static electricity. A variety of site-wide operations can cause the generation of static electricity.

Static electricity can be produced simply by the movement of an item being processed or handled. Common procedures that can generate static electricity include, filling, dispensing, conveying or tipping.

Combustible Materials

Combustible materials such as dusts and powders are easily ignited and can quickly generate fires and explosive atmospheres. These materials are often present across the process industries.

It’s important to understand the relationship that potentially combustible materials have with ignition sources and explosive atmospheres via the implementation of a thorough risk assessment.

Any potentially combustible materials must also be rigorously tested in a process safety testing laboratory to determine their explosive properties.

Hot Surfaces

Hot surfaces such as furnaces, motors, heaters and hot plates can also ignite nearby materials if they come into contact with them. Keeping these surfaces clean and well-maintained is important to prevent fire and explosions.

Chemicals and Flammable Liquids

Chemicals can also be a source of ignition. When they come into contact with a gas, liquid or other hazardous materials, they can ignite and start a fire. Similarly, they can ignite if exposed to heat.

Another chemical reaction process that has the potential to produce heat and become a source of ignition are exothermic reactions. This particular chemical reaction releases energy in the form of heat from the reacting chemicals into the surrounding environment.

Human Error

Human error can also become a source of ignition. It is especially true of mechanical equipment. This can include leaving equipment running unattended, smoking in restricted areas or simply failing to follow safety protocols.

Ignition Source Prevention Measures

Preventing ignition is key for any process safety professional. Below are a few simple measures you can take to prevent fire ignition in your workplace:

Regular Maintenance

Regular maintenance of equipment, electrical devices and machinery can help prevent malfunctions that can lead to fire hazards or ignition.

Fire Safety Training

Providing fire prevention and safety training to employees can help them identify potential sources of flames, sparks, and designated areas/sources of ignition. Proper process safety management will provide and maintain companywide actions to prevent process incidents from occurring.

Proper Storage of Combustible Materials

Storing combustible materials properly can help prevent them from igniting.

This process includes keeping them away from potential heat sources and guaranteeing that they are stored in a well-ventilated air or area.


There are many sources that can create risks of ignition in industrial processes. But, by understanding them and taking preventative measures, you can reduce the risk of fire and explosions.

Regular maintenance, training and the proper storage of hazardous materials are all important steps to take in preventing ignition and reducing the risk of fires.

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