Safe handling of compressed gas cylinders

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The cautionary tale of Little Red Riding Hood visiting her Granny, only to find that the old lady had been replaced by a wolf, is being re-enacted up and down the country every day – even when it’s not pantomime season.

But it’s not so easy to spot, because neither little girl nor wolf are involved. Instead, thousands of innocent workers are unwittingly cast in the role of Red Riding Hood, with the part of the wolf taken by cylinders full of industrial gases.

The story is one of familiarity breeding contempt; of why being too trusting can end in disaster; of not fully understanding what’s around you; and of failure to treat a ‘hidden hazard’ with all the respect it deserves.

Cylinders full of industrial gases, even the inert ones, hold tremendous power. If one were to fall over and have its valve knocked off, the rush of escaping gas would turn the cylinder into a torpedo capable of blasting through a concrete wall. If the gas were flammable, and were to catch fire, it would do so with explosive force, ripping through buildings 100 metres away or more, and massively increasing the fire load – the amount of combustible material in a given area.

And that’s why as reported in the Worksop Guardian a number of residents of the Lincolnshire village of Blyton had to leave their homes recently when fire broke out in a nearby workshop containing acetylene cylinders.

Such cylinders are like unexploded bombs, as one American resident found out when he left one in his truck overnight without closing its valve properly. Opening the door in the morning caused enough of a spark to ignite the gas and air mixture, blowing the roof off the truck and scarring his face. But, treated with the same respect Little Red Riding Hood showed for the wolf, they can be controlled and serve the purpose they’re intended for. Indeed, we’ve been using acetylene in industrial processes for about 150 years.

And that’s also why you have a duty in law to consider the safe storage of acetylene and other explosive gases as part of your fire risk assessment. That makes sure you comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and the DSEAR Safety Regulations (Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002).

A guide to the safe handling of gas cylinders

1. Always turn off valves tight
2. Fit return arrestors to bagging (the pipes between tools and cylinders)
3. Store upright in proper racks
4. Chain them in place so they can’t fall or be knocked over
5. Transport them upright, and secured to the vehicle
6. Never transport them in a closed vehicle
7. Use dedicated cupboards (the ‘room next door’ is not really enough; remember what we said about the explosive force involved) Dedicated storage cabinets which are independently fire chamber tested to BS EN14470-1 to prove that, in a fire, the temperature inside the cabinet will stay below 50ºC for at least an hour and a half to allow sufficient time for safe evacuation and for the emergency services to attend.

The British Compressed Gases Association has some really useful guides and leaflets to download about the safe handling of gas cylinders.

Are you about to break the law on explosives storage?

When the calendar clicked over to October 1st, you could unwittingly have broken the law – and you could still be doing it.

That was the date on which new regulations came into force for storing explosives, replacing the Approved Code of Practice to the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2005.

The new legislation is The Explosives Regulations 2014, and incorporates a number of changes. These are:

• Merging registrations into the licensing system

CabinetAllowing local authorities to issue licences of up to five years, aligning them with equivalent HSE/police-issued licences

• Extending licensing to address storage of ammonium nitrate blasting intermediate (ANBI)

• Exceptions for keeping desensitised explosives without a licence have been updated

• Tables of separation distances have been restructured to better allow for sites with more than one store. The tables have also been revised to cover quantities of explosives greater than 2,000kg

• A revised list of explosives that can be acquired or acquired and kept without an explosives certificate from the police.

• The repeal of the Fireworks Act 1951, as its remaining provisions have been superseded by the Pyrotechnic (Safety) Regulations 2010

More detailed guidance is in the documents L150 and L151 available from the Health and safety Executive. The former looks at safety provisions, the latter at security. It has been possible to download copies, but the HSE advises that those copies may have been subject to change before the new rules came into effect, and suggest it would be best to check.

Those affected by the new regulations particularly include employers, private individuals and other people making explosives, storing larger quantities of them, or storing explosives that present higher hazards.

Don’t get your fingers burned: Use and store chemicals safely

The lunatic craze sweeping social media at the moment involves young people pouring flammable liquid onto themselves and setting it alight. I can’t believe I’ve just written that, but that seems to be what they’re getting a kick from. Not to mention second-degree burns and a stay in hospital.

What they’re doing in the name of ‘fun’ is based on the property of liquids to give off flammable vapour, which ignites when it comes into contact with a heat source. The misguided teenagers often use a cigarette lighter, but other sources of ignition will do just as well – and that means you could innocently suffer the same fate using some very familiar household chemicals in the wrong combination of circumstances.

Hazardous Substance Storage Cabinets

The lesson is that hazardous substance storage is an important consideration both in the home and at work. For example, air freshener sprayed in the presence of a naked flame such as a candle can cause the vapour to ignite. Standing beside a barbecue whilst wearing some kinds of spray-on sunscreen can ignite the vapour it gives off, burning the wearer.

What’s happening in all of these cases is that the vapour is being exposed to a heat source hotter than its flashpoint – the temperature at which its vapour will ignite. There doesn’t have to be a naked flame involved; a hot surface like a heating element, machinery and superheated air are all enough.

A liquid’s flashpoint is the lowest temperature at which it will give off enough vapour to burn at the surface of the liquid. With petrol, that can be under 5ºC. (Hard and fast rules don’t apply; the purity of the liquid in question can change the temperature). Flashpoints for different fuels vary widely, which is why our safe storage advice pages offer a table of temperatures. Remember, the higher the flashpoint temperature for any material, the less hazardous it is.

Why safe storage is vital for chemicals

A welder has spent a week in hospital and needed skin grafts after seven litres of acetone he was using to quench a hot work piece caught fire and caused serious burns to his legs. The subsequent Health and Safety Executive investigation revealed that the bowl in question had been used for the purpose for almost 30 years, even though it was intended only for degreasing, and the company in question had 600 litres of acetone on its premises.

Hazardous Substance StorageThe HSE inspectors’ findings could be a useful wake-up call to other companies. They identified numerous issues with the company’s safety management system, which resulted in the serving of three Improvement Notices requiring changes to be made. Following the incident, and in order to comply with the Notices, safe storage solutions in the form of smaller, sealed containers were introduced for storing acetone for welders to use. Acetone is highly flammable, and has a flash point of 20ºC.

HSE inspector John Caboche said afterwards: “The standards governing the use of highly flammable liquids are well established and well known in industry, so it is difficult to comprehend how a company could mistakenly believe that leaving an open bowl of acetone seemingly unchecked for a prolonged period – in this case several decades – was acceptable. The incident demonstrates the importance of actively managing health and safety, and following health and safety advice and guidance where appropriate. The use of flammable liquids must be properly risk assessed and controlled in industrial environments.”

If you’re confused about which safe storage solution you need for a particular chemical, you could be forgiven, because there are a number of regulations you’ll have to comply with. However, at the Safety Storage Centre we understand the legislation, and would be pleased to guide you through it, either in a phone call or using our live chat facility. Alternatively visit the Safety Storage Centre advice page for more information.

Choosing Hazardous substance storage cabinets

When you first look at the vast range of hazardous storage cabinets you may be forgiven for asking why so many and what’s the difference. On the face of it all the cabinets are COSHH compliant i.e they meet the basic requirements of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations so why not go for a basic COSHH cabinet rather than the substance specific options for flammables, pesticides and acid and alkali’s?

The first question to answer is what specific types and how much of these hazardous substances do you have to secure to comply with COSHH legislation. Secondly you need to be aware of the dangers of storing incompatible substances in the same cabinet. Acids do not go with alkali’s and flammables should be segregated from all other hazards. Aggressive and toxic chemicals such as systemic agricultural pesticides are a direct hazard to health and are subject to additional controls, some requiring licences to store and use. In extreme cases, particularly involving bio hazards specialist cabinets to BS EN14470-1 may be required.

The substance specific cabinets offer more protection and are not just different coloured versions of the same cabinet. Flammable storage cabinets have deep spill tray shelves and deep sumps with welded seams to prevent leakage. Rebated doors prevent accidental exposure to naked flames. An Acid and Alkali cabinet has similar features but are made from Zintec steel for added corrosion resistance. Pesticide Storage cabinets also feature additional louvred ventilation to prevent the build-up of toxic fumes and have galvanised steel rather than powder coated shelves. Of course all the cabinets have hazard specific corrosion resistant powder coated finish, quality key locking for access control and security and hazard specific warning labels.

For those storing hazardous substances on site the different colour coded finishes provide a further benefit in an emergency – particularly a fire emergency – as irrespective of the warning label the fire and rescue services can quickly identify at a distance the type and location of any hazardous materials present. Storing different types of hazardous substances in the same anonymous Cabinet is a hazard in itself so assess the risks carefully and make the right safety choices.

A guide to Hazardous Storage

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002, places an obligation on employers to ensure any chemicals and dangerous substances used on the premises are stored and handled in a way that reduces the risks from spills and misuse both to the environment and to those in contact with the substances. What follows are some key actions and provisions you can adopt to ensure you comply with the legislation.

A risk assessment of your site and working practices is the starting point to identify any dangerous chemicals and substances and then to ensure their safe containment, take steps to protect employees from harm and prevent leakage into the environment.

Always read and follow the safe use, storage and disposal instructions on the product label. If you purchase a product that is classified as hazardous, it will be marked with an appropriate haz-chem label and come with a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). An SDS describes the hazards the chemical presents and will give you information on safe handling, storage and emergency measures in case of accident.

Guide to Chemical Incompatibility by Hazard Class

Always store chemical based products in their original containers so that you can read the label for directions on their use, storage and disposal. If you have to transfer hazardous product to other containers such as dispense bottles clearly mark the container with the contents and return to safe storage after use. Never transfer flammable liquids, pesticides or toxic cleaning products to soft drink bottles, uncapped jugs or food containers. Even adults, may mistake them for something to eat or drink.

Store flammable products outside the workspace in locked flammable cabinets or a purpose built fuel store and well away from heat and sources of ignition. Site chemical and fuel storage tanks as far away from water courses, drains and dykes as possible and install bunds to contain leakage.

Only hold sufficient stock of hazardous substances within the workplace necessary for the job in hand. Use COSHH approved flammable storage cabinets or flammable liquid storage containers (with secure lids) to store flammable and combustible liquids not exceeding 50 litres in any one work room.

Never store pesticides or other hazardous products in cabinets or fridges where food is stored. Ideally pesticides should be stored in lockable pesticide cabinets. Toxic and biological hazards should preferably be stored in secure fire proof cabinets to BS EN14470-1 and BS EN14470-2 British Standards with integral ventilation systems

Store inorganic acids in COSHH Chemical Storage Cabinets that have corrosion resistant interiors and door hardware. Flammable storage cabinets are not corrosion resistant and should not be used for inorganic acid storage. All COSHH rated cabinets have secondary containment in the form of spill trays or sumps to contain leaks and spills.

As a general rule store any hazardous substances away from sources of heat and direct sunlight. Heat and sunlight may impact and degrade chemical properties, ignite combustible vapours, deteriorate storage containers and fade labels making identification difficult.

When using hazardous substances ensure air ventilation to the workspace is adequate and operators are equipped with personal protective equipment e.g. masks, goggles and gloves, appropriate to the hazard.

Never mix different cleaning chemical fluids or pesticides. Chemical reactions can occur creating dangerous gases and in some cases exothermic reactions with the potential to cause fires and explosions.

Always dispose of unwanted chemicals particularly petroleum based products and pesticides responsibly to protect the environment. Do not tip down drains, into drainage dykes, rivers or onto the land.

Segregate incompatible chemicals to prevent accidental mixing of chemicals which can produce toxic gases, combustible vapours and exothermic reactions likely to produce heat, fire or explosions. The chemical compatibility table provides guidance for segregated storage of incompatible chemicals.

Finally have emergency numbers for fire and emergency services and the environmental agency in a convenient place in case of emergency.

Safety a priority for Fuel Storage

Safety concerns regarding the storage of flammable liquids hit the headlines following the threat of industrial action by fuel tanker drivers. After official advice was broadcast to stockpile a reserve supply the press went into a feeding frenzy when a woman was badly burned whilst decanting petrol into a container in her kitchen whilst a gas ring was lit.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Ministerial advice to have an gallon or two of fuel put by for emergencies, the case of the injured woman highlights a general lack of public understanding of the safety risks attached to the handling and storage of flammable substances both in the home but also in businesses.

Humberside Fire and Rescue Service was one of many fire services that strongly urged homeowners not to store petrol because of these risks, but in practice a great many homeowners, myself included routinely store at least a gallon of fuel either for lawn mowers or for self-drive holidays and excursions, as an emergency reserve should the tank run low with no filling station in reach.

The issue of storing flammable liquids safely is not just about car fuel. Many proprietary off the shelf cleaning products, solvents, varnishes and paints found around the home are hydrocarbon based and are also a potential fire risk. In the right concentrations it is the invisible vapours from these products that are first to ignite and all it takes is one spark, a lit cigarette or a lit gas ring to cause an explosion and fire.
If you wish to store a small reserve of fuel there is no reason legal or otherwise why you should not, provided you put safety first. Legally you can store up to 30 litres in two suitable metal containers each of a maximum capacity of ten litres and two plastic containers (which have to be of an approved design) each of a maximum capacity of five litres. These limits also apply to any containers kept in your vehicle when parked in the garage or on the driveway

Having up to four fuel containers kicking around the garage is not a good idea. Having flammable cabinets in a secure garage or stored away from the main dwelling gives the volume capacity to allow you to store all your flammable products in one secure location. The cabinets are designed to protect the contents from accidental contact with heat sources and have spill retention trays and sumps to contain any leaks from containers. All our COSHH rated fire safety storage cabinets have the approved fire hazard label and security locks to prevent unauthorised access and keep inquisitive children at bay.

 

Hazardous Substance Storage – Are you safe?

In facilities that deal with potentially hazardous materials on a regular basis, it is important that all elements of safety adhere to COSHH regulations (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health).

One such element of safety is the safe storage of dangerous substances. There are many cabinets currently available on the market that have been certified by COSHH.
COSHH cabinets such as hazardous storage bins, in many cases, will also adhere to DSEAR (the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations).
Available in many different sizes, hazardous storage bins and chests offer a practical and safe area specifically designed to house substances that are flammable, corrosive or toxic.

Whilst many, in a climate of economic downturn, might consider the expense of a hazardous storage bin or chest an investment they can’t justify, it is important to remember safe storage which adheres to COSHH and DSEAR is a legal obligation.
Keeping your workforce safe from the harmful effects of dangerous chemicals, however, should be reason enough to invest in safe storage.

Hazardous Substance Storage

The storage of chemical substances – those that are potentially hazardous – is vitally important; however, whilst a flammable cabinet will provide a significant amount of protection against the effects of these dangerous substances, it is important to remember that some chemicals will need to be stored away separately.

For example, oxidising acids should never be stored with flammable solvents. Storing two incompatible substances in the same cabinet can result in disaster – causing the two to mix to form heat, harmful vapours, as well as explosions between the most volatile of chemicals.

When these chemicals are stored away it is also important to ensure that the container lids and caps are tightly secured – in order to prevent the substances from leaking out into the cabinet. Many will assume that because a storage cabinet is fireproof, it will also work as a corrosive cabinet – this, however, is simply not the case. Separate cabinets will have different attributes and it is therefore important to have the correct cabinet to contain the chemicals you intend to store in it.

See our Advice Pages for more help on the Chemical Compatibility.

Specialist Storage Solutions for Highly Hazardous Substances

Having explained the basic difference between COSHH and DSEAR compliant hazardous storage cabinets I now return to the issue of more specialist applications where additional precautions are required.
Highly Flammable Liquids (HFL’s) present by far the greatest fire risk in the work environment as they have the potential to self ignite when exposed to low ambient temperatures defined as 32 degrees centigrade or less – air temperatures exceeded in the mini heat wave only a couple of weeks ago.  If your organisation regularly uses HFL’s such as Acetone or Toluene it is not always a sufficient safeguard to store these substances in a standard DSEAR rated hazardous storage cabinet.

From a fire hazard standpoint It is recommended that the maximum quantity that may be stored in standard cabinets and bins is no more than 50 litres for HFL’s with a flashpoint below the maximum ambient temperature of the workroom/working area; and no more than 250 litres for other flammable liquids with a higher flashpoint of up to 55°C (DSEAR ACoP L135, par.40).

You can overcome these restrictions by using specialist fire proof storage cabinets. Typically these are constructed with double skinned insulated walls and doors with fireproof door seals and have in built ventilation systems that exhaust to atmosphere or through air recirculation scrubbers. The Asecos range of fire proof storage cabinets incorporate leading edge design and technology to prevent the temperature within the cabinet from rising above ambient for up to 90 minutes giving ample time for a fire to be brought under control.

They are also used extensively for the storage of biological and environmentally hazardous substances particularly in clean rooms and research and development laboratories where the financial cost of material damage or loss due to fire may be considerable.

The storage of large quantities of toxic and corrosive substances also requires special attention. Under COSHH highly toxic substances such as pesticides and corrosives such as acids and strong alkalis such as caustics should be segregated. To facilitate this hazardous storage cabinets designed specifically for these substances are available. Pesticide/Toxic cabinets have all the attributes of COSHH cabinets with the addition of ventilation grills to prevent the build up of fumes. Acid/Alkali cabinets have an additional corrosion resistant finish. It should be noted that you should not store Acids and Alkalis in the same cabinet as in certain cases they can chemically interact causing an exothermic reaction that risks an explosion or fire. These cabinets are colour coded and carry the applicable hazard identification label.

You will find further information and guidance in our advice pages but if you are unsure or require a solution to your specific storage application please contact us here or call your local HSE office.