OSHA Safety Manuals | Computer Room Safe Work Practices
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computer room safety

Computer Room Safe Work Practices

Computer Room Safe Work Practices

Working in computer rooms can involve special fire protection issues; electrical, ventilation, security, and work practice issues also apply.

Computer rooms (or “data centers”) have an increased risk of fire, because of the electrical energy used to run the machines, the heat generated by computing processes, and the air movement used to dissipate heat (air movement can feed a fire with oxygen, can cause rapid spread of a fire, and can dissipate smoke, making detection more difficult). Also, conventional smoke detectors cannot detect low concentrations of smoke, so some computer rooms have high sensitivity smoke detectors to detect smoke.

Fire protection systems include; smoke detectors, sprinklers, clean agent (gaseous) fire extinguishers, emergency power off “break glass” devices, and Halon gaseous fire suppression. Clean agents in extinguishers or Halon supplied to the entire room, evaporate completely, without leaving any residue, so they have the potential to extinguish a fire with minimal damage to equipment. They are effective on Class A, B, and C fires. In addition, many computer rooms have uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems that provide battery backup power to critical systems, even when EPO devices have been activated.

If you are working in one of the rooms supplied with Halon to the entire room, additional controls apply. The Halon system must be put in Manual Mode for any work under the floor or work that could create dust. In this case, extra vigilance is required, because the Halon will not be released in the event of a fire unless it is manually released. In addition, you must be aware of any false alarms, and stop the Halon from releasing if there is no actual fire. Postings in these rooms provide instruction on what to do if the alarms sound while you are in the room.

In many cases, a short in computer equipment will be self-limiting, due to loss of power to the equipment. It may not be necessary to use an extinguisher or the EPO in this case. However, the EPO SHOULD be activated (“break glass” or “pull down” handle) in the event of a FIRE in a computer rack or equipment. First, activate the building fire alarm or call the fire department or 911. Then, activate the EPO. Only if you are trained in the use of a fire extinguisher and the fire is small, should you attempt to extinguish a fire. Remember: EPO activation will NOT secure electrical power to all individual UPS systems.

Halon and clean agent extinguishing gas are not toxic but can produce toxic by-products when applied to fire. Avoid inhalation of these materials by evacuating the area. Use of a dry chemical extinguisher is a last resort because the chemical can damage sensitive electronic equipment.

Test your familiarity with the fire protection systems in the computer room you are working in:

Can you point out the locations of all fire extinguishers, fire alarm pull stations, and EPO devices, in the computer room where you will be working? If there is a fire, where is the closest device? Can you identify a “clean agent” extinguisher, as opposed to a dry chemical extinguisher? All computer rooms should be supplied with clean agent extinguishers.

Access to computer rooms is limited to those who have completed an online training and been authorized by the room owner. Anyone opening the door for someone else is responsible for that person and becomes their escort. This is for the security of the equipment as well as fire protection. Inform your supervisor or Lab contact of any security concerns.

Ventilation is important to keep computers cool. When working in a data center, check with the room owner before moving any fans or blocking any air conditioning units.

In addition to any construction hazards in data centers, work in these areas may involve under floor access. Tile pullers are used to lift floor tiles. Floor openings should be marked at all times, and workers need to be watching for open floor tiles or other hazards. When replacing tiles, never put your fingers near the opening. Use the tile puller to replace the tiles.