Why schoolboy foolishness means you need the correct chemical storage cabinets

Chemicals are all around us in everyday life, and their safe storage is controlled by legislation. Safety Storage Centre looks at the anatomy of chemical storage cabinets to show why they facilitate to keep universities and colleges on the right side of the law.

An elderly lady living near us spent many happy years as a school dinner lady, and would often recount the stories of her experiences and the things done by the children in her care.

One of her favourites involved Harry, a cheeky seven-year-old prone to getting himself into scrapes. She recalled being approached by several of Harry’s friends in a state of high excitement. Their spokesman piped up: “Miss, Miss, please Miss, Harry’s washed his hands and his arms, Miss, right up to the elbows, Miss!”

Although hand washing before meals was to be commended, she thought, going right up to the elbow was perhaps a tiny bit excessive. Then came the punchline: “But Miss, he hasn’t rolled his sleeves up, Miss!”

Don’t be prone to foolishness when storing hazardous chemicals

The incident of Harry’s sleeves serves to illustrate perfectly that people are prone to do irrational and illogical things, and often require protecting from themselves. When it comes to chemicals, such protection is enshrined in legislation in a number of ways, but thorough implementation of the regulations requires specialist storage solutions like chemical storage cabinets in industry and education alike.

They wouldn’t have helped Harry, of course. He was in a primary school in the 1950s, so the only chemicals he was every likely to get close to were out of harm’s way on a high shelf in the cleaner’s cupboard, which was always kept locked.

However, chemicals are used in other educational establishments, and even at Universities we hear of student pranks that step beyond the bounds of common sense, potentially in the lab as well as out of it.

Chemical storage cabinets and the law

Chemical Storage CabinetAll manner of chemicals were once stored on open shelving in dark glass bottles bearing labels in Latin, just like those in our picture, but times have changed significantly. The regulations for a chemical storage cabinet dictate their physical features.

For example, safe storage calls for segregation, secure storage and transport of corrosive acid and alkali substances, and is covered by COSHH 2002, Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR), Paragraphs 94-96, along with appendices A & B and Paragraph 104 in the DSEAR ACoP L136 together with the factory Inspectorate’s Certificate of Approval No. 1 parts 3 and 4.

That’s a mouthful, which is why Safety Storage Centre has done the investigation for you, and put together a range of chemical storage cabinets which comply with all of those rules.

And that means you can expect to see:

• Construction using 0.9m steel
• Solid seam welds
• Corrosion resistant materials
• Powder-coated finishes
• Fully rebated doors
• Two-way locking handles
• Liquid-tight sump trays
• Appropriate hazard warning labels

These cabinets recognise that there may be a need for their contents to be used in more than one location, and are therefore some are fitted with sturdy wheels to allow them to be moved to the point of use in complete safety.

Given the important role played by your chemical storage cabinet, it pays to make sure you’re buying it from a reputable supplier.

Safety Storage Centre offers a range of top quality lab storage products in a variety of sizes, all sharing the same qualities that mean they meet the required standard. Visit www.safetystoragecentre.co.uk

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.

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.

Choosing the right Hazardous Storage Cabinet

Selecting the most suitable storage cabinet for hazardous substances can be confusing given the wealth of regulations that businesses are obliged to comply with.

To comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations referred to as COSHH, any substance that presents an environmental or health hazard if inhaled, ingested or through skin contact should be segregated from the active work area in a secure lockable cabinet that complies with the COSHH guidelines.

Generally this means a steel cabinet with spill trays for shelves and lockable doors.

The purpose of the COSHH cabinet is threefold

  1. To prevent accidental contact with the substances
  2. To contain leaking containers or spills from reaching the work area
  3. To prevent spills from causing any environmental damage.

The cabinet should be clearly marked with an HSE compliant Hazard Warning label.

Storing flammable substances is a different matter

Even though you could argue they are hazardous to health and the environment as defined by COSHH their storage is covered by more specific fire safety regulations, primarily DSEAR the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations. There are other legal instruments and requirements for specific activities such as fuel depots.

Flammable substances should be stored separately in a purpose made fire resistant cabinet. Typically paints, solvents and fuels. As with COSHH the cabinet should be equipped with spill trays with a liquid retaining volume of at least twice the volume of the largest storage container in the cabinet.

Flammable storage cabinets are designed with double rebated flush doors and fully welded seams to prevent flames entering the cabinet. The purpose of Flammable Storage Cabinets is to segregate the contents from accidental contact with heat or flame, to provide secure storage, to contain environmentally damaging spills and leaks and to clearly identify their location in a fire emergency.

In the event of a fire the fire resistance of the cabinet is intended to prevent the flammable contents from adding to the fire although the resistance time is no more than 30 minutes depending on the fire intensity and proximity. The cabinets are not insulated and in a fire event with not prevent the internal temperature from rising for more than a few minutes. It is therefore important to use original containers and ensure caps are securely in place.

You should also be aware that there is a distinction between Flammable Liquids and Highly Flammable Liquids or HFL’s. HFL’s have a flash point, at which the liquid or its vapours can auto-ignite, at or below  ambient or room temperature of 32 degrees centigrade. Common laboratory HFL’s are acetone, ethanol and toluene.

More on the safe storage of HFL’s and the storage of chemicals and toxics in my next blog.

10 Common Household Chemicals

It is surprising how many dangers lurk in products we use almost every day in the home and at work. Here’s a rundown on the 10 most common hazardous substances that are virtually guaranteed to be in every home in the land.

Antibacterial surface cleaners contain ammonium based or phenolic chemicals that are very irritating to the eyes and skin and will burn your throat so care should be taken particularly if using a spray type product. It’s advisable to wear latex dishwashing gloves to help protect your skin when using these cleaners.Jessica Rohrer painting: household cleaning supplies

Window and Glass liquid cleaners and aerosols may be irritating to the eyes, skin, nose, and throat. If swallowed, they may cause drowsiness, unconsciousness, or death.

All-purpose cleaners commonly contain Ammonia, Ethylene Glycol and sodium hypochlorite cause severe irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, and throat and can be highly poisonous if swallowed. Some of these poisonous chemicals also have an odour attractive to animals and pets.

Oven cleaner is either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide commonly called Lye or caustic soda, is extremely corrosive, and can burn skin and eyes. It is usually fatal if swallowed.

Automatic dishwashing detergents can produce skin irritations or chemical burns, are poisonous if swallowed.

Air fresheners are used in various places throughout the home and contain four basic ingredients formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, p- dichlorobenzene, and aerosol propellants. Air fresheners are usually highly flammable and can cause irritation to eyes, skin, and throat. Solid block type air fresheners usually cause death if eaten by people or pets.

Petrol and Solvents are highly flammable and petrol vapours mixed with air are potentially explosive and highly flammable. Serious lung injury may occur if droplets of petrol are inhaled and drinking petrol is more often fatal. Petrol also causes skin damage and prolonged exposure can affect the nervous system.Household cleaning products ***ALL BRAND NEW, UNOPENED"

Lubrication Oil contains some chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer (carcinogens). If disposed of improperly for example down the drain or onto the land it poses a very serious threat to the environment because it is toxic to fish and birds. Just a pint of motor oil in water can form an oil slick almost 5000 square yards in area. That’s equivalent to a football field! Flammable cabinets are ideal to store oil.

Antifreeze containing Ethylene glycol is very poisonous when swallowed and can be absorbed by the skin. It will cause severe damage to the heart, kidneys and brain and ultimately cause death. It has a sweet smell attractive to animals including pets that could be killed by licking or drinking the fluid. Clean up any spills immediately and wear rubber gloves when handling. Propylene Glycol is a new alternative that is much less toxic.

Oil-based paint contains organic solvents that can be irritating to eyes and skin, and can cause cracking of skin. Inhaling paint fumes can result in headaches, nausea, dizziness, and can make you feel very tired if you breathe in the fumes for too long.

NEVER mix different kinds of cleaners together, especially if one contains ammonia and the other contains chlorine. This can produce a gas called chloramine that can be fatal if inhaled.