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

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.