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.