The Risk of Flammables on Your Premises
Using Flammables with Care
Flammable substances such as solvents and fuels are present in many workplaces, but they can cause devastating fires and explosions if handled incorrectly. This can be avoided by properly assessing the risks and adopting precautions such as safe storage.
The risk of fire and explosion from substances such as chemicals, solvents, fuels and gases is ever present and can lead to major loss of life and serious injury, as well as significant damage to property. As a result, employers working with and handling these substances have a legal obligation to tackle the associated fire and explosion risks. This means preventing the release of dangerous substances; preventing or controlling sources of ignition; ensuring that products are stored correctly; and establishing appropriate procedures for the delivery, handling and use of these substances.
Employers should first attempt to completely eliminate the fire and explosion risks, by using a non-hazardous substance. But if this proves impractical, measures must be taken to control the risks and mitigate the effects of any fire or explosion. Control measures include reducing the quantity of the dangerous substance to a minimum while mitigation measures will include reducing the number of employees exposed to the hazard and providing staff with suitable personal protective equipment.
Hierarchy of Controls:
Flammables and combustibles
Store these in a separate area of the workplace in purpose made containers or cupboards that comply with local regulations. During dispensing, there must be good ventilation and sources of ignition must be removed. Containers should also be kept closed when not in use, and whenever possible safety containers with self-closing lids and flame arresters should be used. It is also a good idea to have a suitable spill kit on hand to capture any leaks which could pose a safety or pollution risk.
Gases are stored at very high pressure and any uncontrolled release can fill a large volume quickly. This is particularly the case with liquefied gases such as LPG. As a result, gas cylinders should be stored in a designated area in purpose-built stores. The cylinders should also be secured upright and the valves protected from potential damage caused by impact.
If explosive dusts are present steps must be taken to remove any sources of ignition – for example, by ensuring that no open flames or hotwork activities are present. Work areas should also be regularly cleaned to keep them dust-free.
Many types of packaging material such as plastic foam, polyester wadding and textiles give off dense black smoke when they burn, so they should not be stored close to heater sources or electrical equipment.
Materials that ordinarily burn slowly, will burn vigorously in an oxygen rich atmosphere, so oxygen and oxidisers like chlorine in cylinders must also be stored in a secure and controlled manner. In addition, oxygen must never be used as a substitute for compressed air, or to sweeten the air in a working area or confined space. Furthermore, grease or oil must not be used on equipment containing oxygen as they can self-ignite.
Some chemical products incorporating organic peroxides can explode if not stored and handled correctly and certain chemical substances can react with incompatible materials or contaminants, causing fire or explosion. Some substances such as sodium react violently when they come into contact with water. Others may decompose or react violently when wet. Information on storage and handling temperatures can be found in the substance’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS) or by contacting the manufacturer.
Using flammable liquids
If flammable liquids are used in a work process, it is likely that a limited quantity will have to be stored and readily available inside the workplace. In assessing the risks from flammable substances, employers will need to justify the requirement to store any particular quantity of flammable liquid within the work room or working area. However, the guiding principle is that only the minimum quantity needed for frequently occurring activities or an amount required for use during half-a-day or one shift should be present in the work room.
When not in use, containers used for storing flammable liquids needed for ongoing work should be kept closed and placed in suitable fire-resistant cabinets or bins which are also designed to retain spills. The cabinets should be located in designated areas that do not interfere with any escape route from the working area. Ideally, this will be away from the processing area.
The local Fire by-laws dictate the maximum allowable quantities of flammable substances that should be stored within your premises without a flammable substance certificate. It is always recommended that you liaise with your local fire department for the maximum allowable quantities applicable to your area. Typically, these limits are no more than 40ℓ of class I (flash point of < 37oC) and 200ℓ of class II and III liquids (flash point > 370C) .
Oils and chemicals stored externally, must not pose a risk of polluting nearby drains or watercourses. Companies can be prosecuted for such incidents even if the problem is caused by vandals. Employers must therefore think about the amounts of product that need to be stored; the types of containers they are held in (for example, 205ℓ drums or 1,000ℓ intermediate bulk containers); and the need for bunded spill pallets or standalone stores with built-in sumps to capture spills and leaks. The bund of any storage unit or a spill pallet must be able to contain at least 110% of the volume of the largest container or 25% of the total volume stored, whichever is greater and must also be made of a material compatible with the chemical being stored.
Spill kits and absorbent materials should be present on site and a pollution incident response procedure should be drawn up and followed at all times. It is always better to try to keep any spill of hazardous substances on the surface, so spill kits should be located next to chemical and oil storage areas and sealing products should be positioned next to the site drains. An inventory of all the chemicals on site should be drawn up and should be kept in a location where it can be easily accessed by spill responders or outside agencies, such as the fire service. The location of spill containment equipment should also be marked on a site plan, and this too should be readily available to staff or emergency responders.
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