Thermal cameras might seem like technology from a futuristic science fiction movie, but they are a modern-day reality. When implemented properly, they let us see the world in a different way: highlighting sources of heat in a video image, regardless of lighting or other visual obstructions. Many people are familiar with thermal cameras being used in security applications, such as in the police helicopter video footage we see on television. But thermal cameras are also being put to use in more creative ways, such as to prevent and detect issues that could lead to fire hazards at a business or jobsite.
What Are Thermal Cameras?
Thermal cameras utilize special technology to provide HD video that is processed and displayed in such a way that it highlights areas of heat in the image. A hot area, or an area that is hotter than its surroundings, will be displayed brighter and whiter on the video image.
For instance: with a traditional HD security camera, a person standing in a dark room would be invisible, since there is no light to illuminate their figure. Thermal camera technology can illuminate and highlight heat in darkness, even in the presence of fog, smoke, or other visual obstructions.
Most people are familiar with thermal cameras being used in security and surveillance contexts to detect humans. And while thermal cameras are useful for detecting a human presence in these visually challenging contexts, they can be implemented effectively for fire prevention and detection, as well.
Benefits of Using Thermal Cameras for Fire Prevention and Detection
One new application for thermal cameras is the prevention and detection of potentially hazardous conditions that may result in a fire. Accidents and incidents involving fire are among the most common and most dangerous of workplace threats. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that fire-related deaths at work make up 3.4% of all fatal incidents on the job, but thermal cameras can help keep your business and your employees safe.
Spontaneous Combustion Detection
In many construction, jobsite, and business settings, a potential exists for spontaneous combustion. While this sounds like a fanciful term out of a horror movie, spontaneous combustion is the very real result of certain materials being gathered together in such a way that high levels of heat can be generated, resulting in the outbreak of an actual fire:
- Construction: Rags, cardboard, drywall, and other construction materials can become contaminated with oils, varnishes, stains, and other similar jobsite chemicals. When disposed of improperly, such contaminated materials can create chemical reactions over time, resulting in open fires. With a thermal camera in place, a construction site or work area can be monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If a hotspot occurs in such a situation, it will be detected before it becomes a real safety hazard.
- Waste Disposal and Composting: In facilities that handle large amounts of garbage, refuse, waste, or compost, there is a similar threat of combustion. Even in the absence of construction chemicals (such as stains or oils), piles of garbage or similar waste can generate heat due to their size, conditions in the area, and bacteria at work in the refuse. A thermal camera can monitor these areas for the occurrence of hotspots, which can then be handled safely before they result in an actual fire.
Thermal cameras can also be installed in any situation in which electrical, plumbing, natural gas, or other building infrastructure presents the risk of fire. In large facilities and businesses, it can be impossible for boiler rooms, electrical rooms, and natural gas equipment to be monitored safely by humans at all times. Installing the right thermal cameras can help monitor such infrastructure, and can be used to detect if any equipment is developing a dangerous level of heat. In cases where equipment should be running cool, the camera can immediately reveal if heat is building up in the wrong places.
Open Flames and Active Fire Situations
Thermal cameras can also be useful in monitoring situations where open flame or active fire is intentionally used for the operations of a business or construction zone. One example may be a smelting facility, where metals and ores are prepared for commercial use. It is expected that certain area of such a facility will be extremely hot, will contain molten materials, and will be operating with open flames and heat sources. Using thermal cameras will allow for constant around-the-clock monitoring of such equipment to make sure that the heat and fire are contained in an appropriate and safe manner. If equipment malfunctions and there is the threat of uncontrolled heat or fire, thermal cameras can be used to safely detect what equipment may be a source of fire hazard.