The minimalist guide to safe chemical storage

Correct chemical storage is simple and straightforward, isn’t it? Some chemicals can safely share the same store; others can never do so – right? Wrong.

As with so many things in life, the answers about chemical storage aren’t completely black and white. Grey areas arise in the case of anything labelled ‘harmful’ or ‘irritant’. These two groups can share the same store only if special arrangements are made. Erring on the side of caution is probably best, so keeping them apart is probably the way forward.

But that begs the question: “Are you certain you know which chemicals can be stored with which?” For example, is it OK to store anything labelled ‘toxic’ and ‘explosive’ in the same store, or ‘toxic’ and ‘harmful’, or ‘explosive’ and ‘corrosive’? For the record, the answers are no, yes and no.
Chemical Storage Cabinets
To take away any uncertainty about how to store chemicals safely, we have an at-a-glance chemical compatibility storage chart you’ll find really useful. It’s an instant reference using traffic light colours to tell you at a glance which category of chemicals are suitable storage bedfellows, and which aren’t.

And in the going, we’d draw your attention to the text panel at the bottom of the chart. In summary, the message is this: If you store organic acids (like Acetic or Formic) with common mineral acids (Sulphuric and Nitric), you’re setting up the potential for fire and explosion, so don’t do it – but organic acids are generally safe to store with flammables or solvents…

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.

Preventing thefts through secure storage

Thanks to the time and effort expended by a large number of public spirited residents we have a very active Neighbourhood Watch scheme operating in my area. Trouble is that it appears to do little to deter both the opportunistic and more organised thieves who of late have become more brazen often operating in broad daylight under the noses of residents. With no town gas supply, not surprisingly the most frequent thefts involve stealing home heating oil, but recently there has been a notable rise in thefts of grass mowers and power tools from outbuildings. The thieves probably calculate a ready market exists for their ill-gotten gains as spring approaches.
Insurance will ease the pain but standard policy excesses and loss of no claims bonuses can still leave you hundreds of pounds out of pocket. So what can you do?


Obviously don’t leave out buildings and sheds unlocked or leave windows open. The objective is to put as many security barriers in place as possible to foil the sneak thief and deter the more determined and better equipped criminal. Fit quality locks or padlocks and if possible steel lock covers to prevent access with bolt cutters. You can also buy anti-jemmy door hinges for a few pounds. If you have very expensive equipment like generators and ride on mowers consider extending your home security alarm. These days modern technology means this can be done wirelessly.
If despite your best efforts thieves do gain entry all is not lost (literally). My own mower is chained to the wall using two 15mm eyebolts. As for power tools and other expensive equipment the answer is to lock these away in a secure steel cabinet or tool vault. Depending on the size the Probe Industrial cabinet range provides security for lower value items. For added security you can utilise the heavy duty Oxbox or Tuffbank van boxes made from heavy gauge steel plate that have bolt down features and anti-jemmy lids.
Spending a couple of hundred pounds to safeguard against theft is worthwhile when balanced against the cost and hassle of replacement. The police also advise that thieves will return time and again to properties they consider easy prey so now is the time to be proactive so you don’t become a victim.

Heavy snowfall increases risk of flood and theft

The heavy snow forecast to affect the whole of the UK at some point this weekend is further bad news for those businesses and homeowners at risk of flood. Snow, despite its picturesque effect on the landscape is rain by another name so when it thaws it can only add to the flood risk on already waterlogged ground. Now is the time to take added precautions to safeguard valuable stock and valuables by placing them out of reach of potential flood waters.
This precaution is doubly true if your business uses hazardous chemicals. It is advisable to consider raising hazardous storage cabinets well off the ground on steel stands available to suit most standard COSHH cabinets. Leakage of toxic substances into the environment can have devastating effects and if you are sited in a high flood risk area the environment agency will look to you for proof that sensible precautions were in place should a leak occur.


Valuables can also be stored in the same way in high security storage cabinets placed on stands, or in waterproof security chests and safes depending on the value and quantity of goods to be stored.
Another consequence of the freezing temperature is a significant increase in vehicle thefts. Criminals literally tour the streets looking for vehicles that have been left unattended on driveways with the engine running to defrost the car or van. This presents a golden opportunity for thieves to either steal the vehicle itself or rifle the contents in seconds for any valuables, laptops, tools and equipment.
Commercial vans and lorries can be fitted with lockable heavy duty steel van boxes and cabinets that bolt to the chassis for storage of expensive tools and equipment but that does not prevent theft of the vehicle if the thief has the opportunity. One tip is to use one key to start the engine to defrost and then use the spare key to lock the doors until you are ready to start your journey.
With a little care you can avoid falling victim to the unforeseen risks that the onset of winter weather can present.

Water resistant storage a bigger priority

At long last Summer has arrived, at least for a day or two. River levels are falling and the farmers may at last be able to get onto their fields to harvest crops. It’s easy to forget that many businesses are still cleaning up from the devastating floods that hit many towns and villages earlier this month.

Although insurance will cover the cost of reinstatement, for the majority this will do little to help the business return to normal trading or replace business critical documents and customer records lost in the deluge. It is also an ever present worry that once at risk further flood events are likely to reoccur in the future.

Businesses in risk areas should consider additional measures to protect their operations so that normal service can be resumed as soon as possible. Fortunately there are a range of waterproof safety storage options to protect documents, cash and valuables from as little as £50 or so. All have the considerable added benefit of providing fire protection.

A Sentry or Phoenix portable waterproof document box and cash box come in a range of sizes ideal for the small business providing both water damage protection and security against unauthorised access. If you have larger quantities of paper based records and files that would be difficult to remove from the premises in a flood alert a waterproof filing cabinet such as the Sentry vertical file cabinet or the innovative Phoenix World Class lateral drawer model, is an effective safeguard against both flood and fire.

Businesses holding significant cash or water sensitive valuables such as electronic devices and digital media on the premises should consider a waterproof safe with bolt down facility. Advances in design and technology means they are now an affordable option for even the smallest business. The Burton Aquasec will withstand total submersion in water, is certified for 60minutes fire protection and at less than £250 is surprisingly cost effective.

If the climatologists are to be believed extreme and freakish weather is likely to become the norm in the years ahead so business attitudes to risk and preventive actions must adapt to safeguard business viability.

Storage of Flammable Liquids

When dealing with liquids of a flammable nature, it is crucial to ensure that they are stored away correctly.

Not ensuring that flammable liquids are protected could result in a small controllable fire very quickly becoming a raging blaze.

By ensuring you have a flammable cabinet that adheres to COSHH regulations (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health), you can minimize the potential risk caused by fire.

There are a number of different types of cabinets suitable for storing flammable liquids, such as paint, away in.

Here are just a few:

Flammable Liquid Storage:
The most obvious choice. Specifically made to house flammable liquids, flammable liquid storage solutions are available in a number of varying sizes – meaning you can a cabinet that is an exact fit.

Paint and Ink Safety Cabinets:
These storage containers are specially made to keep paints and inks protected. Some will have doors that have to be manually closed, whilst others benefit from having a self-closing door system.

Drum Safety Cabinets:
Drum safety cabinets are much larger than the previously mentioned cabinets. Big enough to store drums filled with potentially dangerous chemicals, these cabinets are usually double-walled and manufactured from a much thicker gauge steel. A gap of one and a half inches of air space between the walls and the inclusion a fire baffle and cap ensures that no half-measures are taken as far as safety is concerned.

Storing Up Trouble

During the recent cold spell many businesses and domestic consumers, I amongst them, were left without heating oil supplies. In desperation people were forced to find whatever containers they could and trawl the local suppliers for emergency supplies. This was not easy and I for one was forced to introduce some expensive diesel to the tank to get me through. As a consequence domestic and business users were transporting and storing extra quantities of fuel many without knowledge of current safety legislation for flammable substances.

For reference the good news is that for Heating Oils and Diesel, under the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) there are no specific legal requirements on the quantity allowed either in workplaces or domestic premises. They are not, from a health and safety point of view, classed as particularly hazardous substances within the context of DSEAR – as their higher flash point means that their vapours will not ignite anywhere near normal room temperatures.

Kerosene and diesel do however constitute an environmental hazard, incurring high clean-up costs if they should leak into a drain, watercourse or the soil. Also if they are caught up in a fire they will contribute to fire intensity and spread so safe containment is essential.

When not in use, containers of flammable liquids needed for current work activities should be kept in sealed containers and stored in suitable fire-resisting cabinets or bins which are also designed to retain spills (110% volume of the largest container stored in it).

The recommended maximum quantity of highly flammable liquids, i.e. with a flash point below the maximum ambient temperature of the workroom, that may be stored in DSEAR type flammable storage cabinets and bins should be no more than 50 litres. For other flammable liquids with a higher flashpoint of up to 55°C no more than 250 litres is recommended.

The amount of petrol that can be kept in a domestic garage or within six metres of a building is a maximum of two ten litre capacity metal containers or two suitable plastic containers with a maximum capacity of five litres each. Under no circumstances should the petrol containers be stored in the home itself.

The design of our standard flammable storage cupboards is intended to provide a physical barrier to delay the involvement of the stored materials in a fire and limit exposure to the flames and hot gases for sufficient time to allow safe evacuation.

If your working practices require internal storage of quantities of highly flammable liquids above the recommended maximums then you are well advised to consider fire proof storage cabinets conforming to the BS EN 14470-1:2004 Standard. Unlike single skin cabinets that segregate from flames but not heat the EN14470 cabinets have stringent design specifications covering the fire resistance of the complete cabinet that prevent the internal temperature from rising above preset limits protecting the contents from fire damage or destruction for up to 90 minutes. Although their use in the UK is not yet a legal requirement under DSEAR legislation for excess storage quantities employers may find installing BS EN14470 cabinets with enhanced fire performance helps in justifying the integrity of their risk assessment as well as protecting valuable assets.