Seven rules for safe storage of Highly Flammable Liquids

The risks associated with highly flammable liquid storage should never be underestimated, but with the right attention to detail these liquids can be stored and used safely, with the risk of fire and explosion under control. Safety Storage Centre shows the correct way to do it.

Highly flammable liquids are like a genie in a bottle. Properly contained, they’re fine; once released, anything can happen. Like a genie, they can appear in a flash, accompanied by a cloud of smoke. Unlike a genie, they’re not going to grant you three wishes. Instead, there’s likely to be only one – that you’d stored them properly from the beginning.

That was a lesson learned from the Buncefield Oil Storage Depot fire, which burned for five days in December 2005, and by the woman in York who suffered extensive burns a few years later when she was decanting petrol from a jug in her kitchen close to a lit cooker.

The scale of these incidents is vastly different; the lessons identical. The most important of those was that safety took second place to expediency. That shift in priorities was a recipe for disaster. In the former case it resulted in the largest industrial fire ever in the UK; in the latter, it was life-changing.

Seven golden rules for storage of Highly Flammable Liquids

1. Understand the regulations: These are the Explosive atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR). They explain the way highly flammable liquids should be stored and used in the workplace. We provide a quick guide to the DSEAR Safety Regulations, and the Health & Safety Executive covers them extensively here.

2. Understand the substances: Some highly flammable liquids ought to be obvious, like petrol, (though it’s fair to say that it’s not universally obvious, as illustrated by the lady and her jug of petrol). Solvents, paints, liquefied gas, and varnishes, amongst others, can be involved too. Furthermore, although they’re not liquids, it’s worth remembering that dusts and gases can cause explosions too.

Highly Flammable Liquids3. Do a thorough risk assessment: It’s obviously impossible to keep all highly flammable liquids locked in proper cabinets all the time; they need to be used. A risk assessment requires an employer or duty holder to examine not only a number of factors about storage, but also about how chemicals are used, and the means of escape for people in the work area.

The HSE offers thorough guidance here.

4. Keep them out of the way: Put store cupboards away from heat sources which might raise the temperature. Even strong sunlight from a window could push the temperature beyond the flashpoint of some liquids.

5. ‘Empty’ doesn’t mean ‘safe’: Just because a bottle used to contain HFLs is empty doesn’t mean it’s not at risk of starting a fire. Residual fumes will remain, as well as a few drops of liquid. It’s always best to assume that empty bottles are full, and treat them with the same respect.

6. Keep them in a proper safety storage cabinet: A cabinet for storage of HFLs is a specialised piece of equipment. Thinking that a COSHH cabinet will suffice is an easy trap to fall into. Don’t be fooled. They’re not the same thing. Cabinets should be used for flammable petrochemicals and solvents only.

Having them share space with corrosive oxidants, acids, alkalis or other materials that could react with the solvents or cause corrosion of the cabinet should be avoided. Further important information about the bulk storage of Highly Flammable Liquid’s is available in our advice pages and with each product description, but the appropriate regulations offer an overview.

In summary, they say, construction materials need to have at least 30 minutes fire resistance, joints should be completely sealed, lids and doors should be close fitting, and the construction materials should have a melting point above 750ºC.

7. Did you know? No working area ought to contain more of a highly flammable liquid than is necessary for one shift. The rest should be stored safely, with the workplace stock being replaced regularly in small quantities.

Safety Storage Centre offers a number of appropriate cabinets for hazardous substance storage meeting the right legislation. We offer a range of sizes, so there is sure to be one that meets your needs. There are even models on wheels, allowing the right protection to be moved with the flammable liquid, assuring greater levels of safety.

Picture: Greg Davis, Dreamstime