Keeping up with the port industry’s Evolving fire risks

22 January 2024

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Fredrik Rosén, business line manager material handling, Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection, discusses the rising fire risks associated with the industry’s technological development and explores how understanding these risks can help to reduce costs, protect lives and minimise downtime.

Given that 90% of world trade is currently moved by ocean transportation, protecting material handling at ports is more crucial than ever. With over 200 million containers projected to be shipped annually, reducing downtime is crucial for maximising productivity and meeting strict deadlines.

Fire dangers are rising as port vehicle technology advances. These risks have the potential to increase downtime and potentially result in the suspension of some goods transit if they’re not managed. For instance, last year the Port of Shanghai, the busiest container port in the world, was prohibited by the Shanghai government from moving high-risk goods for two weeks as a result of a fire, which negatively impacted supply chains and profitability.


Even when the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak, worldwide shipping was still in business. However, protecting specific personnel against Covid-19 became a top goal, hastening the use of automated vehicles. Modern automation technology made it possible for a sizable section of the workforce to work from home or at remote workstations, where they could continue their jobs while remaining safe from Covid-19.

Although most people have since returned to their jobs, automated vehicles in ports are here to stay. For many port enterprises, a mix of automated cranes and automated port vehicles is now standard. However, since meeting deadlines is a top priority, it is crucial to comprehend this new technology and minimise the hazards it presents.

Global electrification of vehicles and equipment, as many port operators switch from conventional internal combustion engines to modern hybrid, as well as entirely electric motors, is occurring against this autonomous background.


In order to maintain high safety standards and save downtime, it’s crucial to take into account the new hazards brought on by electrification and automation, even though these advancements are assisting the sector’s advancement.

First, it’s important to develop a new knowledge of these dangers since they will alter whenever you introduce new technology to your business.

There could be a variety of concerns associated with the deployment of autonomous and electric vehicles, including…

…Increased response time

There will be fewer employees working on site at any given time as the number of autonomous vehicles increases and drivers work from remote locations. As a result, there are less personnel available to manually spot a fire should one break out, for example, by smelling or seeing smoke.

If manual fire suppression systems are being employed, this might result in considerable delays in their activation, increasing the likelihood of injury and the amount of damage done. Although drivers may be able to activate the system remotely, it’s vital to keep in mind that there will still be a delay in system activation since the vehicle needs to communicate with the operator before the operator can activate the proper suppression technique in the car.

A fire may spread faster as a result of the longer response time, posing more safety hazards, resulting in more severe vehicle damage, and raising the possibility of operating downtime.

…an increase in li-ion batteries

A rise in lithium-ion (li-ion) batteries is being observed in ports and other high-risk environments as a result of the global transition to electric vehicles. Lithium ions flow between the negative and positive electrodes of these rechargeable batteries to produce sustained energy.

Despite being a considerably more environmentally friendly energy source, these batteries also pose new fire dangers. Because li-ion batteries store a lot of energy, increasing heat, mechanical trouble, physical harm or overcharging can result in an internal short circuit, which can then result in a state known as thermal runaway.

If not quickly managed, thermal runaway is a very dangerous condition that can result in toxic gas releases as well as significant explosions. In this condition, a battery can generate its own supply of oxygen, which lessens the efficiency of conventional suppression methods.


Protecting your site to maintain the highest level of safety and the least amount of downtime is essential as the material handling business develops and hazards change. Use the following steps to fully comprehend your website:

1. Update your risk assessment map

You should make a map of your risk assessment before thinking about how you might improve your fire suppression systems. This will cover the sources of the fire, escape routes, locations of the firefighting tools currently in use, and how the emergency services will access your location.

Your site probably already has one of these maps, but it’s crucial to update it as you add new machinery or equipment. This will allow you to pinpoint specific risk areas and think about how you can make the region safer.

2. Choose your equipment

Automatic detection and activation are crucial if you’re trying to protect new autonomous vehicles so that fires may be put out promptly and safely. To minimise erroneous activations and unneeded downtime, it’s crucial to make sure the system you select is a good fit for the vehicle it will be used on.

It’s crucial to take into account the battery chemistry while protecting electric vehicles so that you are aware of any potential threats and can implement the appropriate fire suppression system. An early fire warning system and spot cooling, for instance, have been found to be efficient ways to stop a li-ion battery from achieving thermal runaway, according to research from the Research Institutes of Sweden (Rise) and Dafo Vehicle Fire Protection.

3. Consider your site as a whole

It’s crucial to safeguard cutting-edge technology, but you also need to take care of your older, conventional combustion-powered automobiles. Since they could result in prolonged downtime should they catch fire, they present distinct hazards that still need to be taken into account in your fire protection solution. This could have an impact on schedules and profit margins.

The first step in enhancing site safety is to install fire detection and suppression equipment. Take the time to train staff, both on-site and remotely, on what to do in the event of an autonomous vehicle fire, an electric vehicle fire, and a conventional combustion engine fire to guarantee it is successful. This will guarantee both their own security and the security of the facility and its tools.

To guarantee that site operations can continue efficiently, with the highest level of safety, and with the least amount of downtime possible, it is crucial to thoroughly grasp the fire hazards brought on by new technologies as the port industry continues to develop.

Fredrik Rosen.