Flammable Substances – Ten facts you might never have known

Did you know that a cloth or brush used to apply certain kinds of furniture preservative can catch fire of its own accord? Or that vapours from flammable liquids can flow like water? If not, you need Safety Storage Centre’s list of ten facts about flammable substances, and maybe a flammable storage cabinet too…

Modern workplaces and homes require the use of a broad spectrum of flammable substances, each of which presents similar, but slightly different hazards.

They’re all so familiar to us that there is a danger of being too relaxed around them, which is why the Safety Storage Centre has produced this list of ten facts you might not have been aware of when thinking about flammable substances.

1. Flammable liquids don’t burn. Burning happens when the conditions are right for the liquid to give off vapour into the atmosphere. It’s the vapour, mixed with the oxygen in the air, which burns, rather than the body of the liquid itself.

2. ‘Flammable’ doesn’t mean ‘combustible’. The words are not interchangeable, even though the distinction might be seen as a technicality. It’s about temperature, or more precisely, flashpoint. Flashpoint is the minimum temperature at which a liquid can form sufficient vapour to be ignited above its surface. As a general rule, liquids which have a flashpoint below 37.8oC (or 100oF) are said to be flammable; those that have a flashpoint above that temperature are combustible.

3. Vapours can flow like water. Some hazardous vapours are denser, and therefore heavier than air; others are lighter. The heavier ones can flow like water and pool in unventilated areas such as boat bilges, where they can lay undetected until an ignition source creates a spark leading to an explosion. In the event of a fire, it can spread along a vapour trail and cause a fire some distance away from the ignition source. When working around hazardous vapours, never ventilate an area with an electric fan; turning it on could provide the source of ignition. This is called flashback.

4. Flashpoints are like fingerprints. Every substance has a different one, and they can vary widely. Before working with any flammable or combustible substance, you need to know what its flashpoint is, and act accordingly.

5. The difference between ‘lean’ and ‘rich’. Most often used when talking about petrol engines, these terms refer to ‘flammable’ or ‘explosive’ limits. These are the concentrations above and below which vapours can’t be ignited. In the case of petrol, the lowest limit is 1.4%, (below which the engine won’t run well because the mixture is too lean). The upper limit is 7.6%, above which it is too rich. However, these figures are intended as guides. Always err on the side of caution.

6. A source of ignition isn’t always necessary. Substances have the capability to ‘go it alone’ in the explosion and fire stakes. That happens when they reach their auto-ignition temperature, at which point they will catch fire.

Flammable Substance

7. Static electricity on clothing can ignite a vapour. The tiniest spark can cause a fire, and that includes static electricity earthed from clothing. Wearing cotton reduces static build-up, and avoiding rubber-soled shoes, which are great insulators, will help static to disperse as it forms.

8. Oily rags can spontaneously combust. Alarmingly, when there’s been a spill clean up, the danger isn’t over until the cleaning cloths are safely disposed of, because they can catch fire of their own accord due to heat released as a result of a process known as oxidation. This is even true for some apparently harmless oil-based furniture treatments, where the application cloths or brushes need to be treated with the upmost respect, and disposed of or washed carefully.

9. Nylon will stick to the skin when it burns. That’s because it’s a man-made fibre, and will melt. Far better to wear natural fibres. Wool’s good, but remember the thought about static electricity in item 7.

10. Fire isn’t the only danger. Flammable substances can cause harm to health through exposure to the skin. They can be corrosive, and although their vapours are usually invisible, they can cause headaches, nausea, dizziness, and irritation of the eyes or throat. And that’s just another reason to make sure that they’re stored and handled correctly.

Storage of flammables – how to do it safely

Here are a few basic rules about storage of flammables, and they’re covered mainly by the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR). The Health and Safety Executive goes into much more detail on its website.

The Regulations say that in terms of liquids, it’s best to keep the smallest-possible quantity in the workplace at any one time – enough for half a day, or a single shift. When not in use, containers need to be kept in a suitable cabinet or bin not only designed to resist fire, but also to contain spills – up to 110% of the largest vessel normally stored in it.

This is where flammable storage cabinets can be so important for the safe storage of these dangerous flammable substances. You must also think of placement of any flammable storage cabinet. Although they need to be close to the workplace for the sake of convenience, they need to be in places outside the work area, and where they won’t get in the way of an evacuation.

All kinds of sizes of flammable storage cabinet are available and we have a full range at the Safety Storage Centre. It may even be that more than one cabinet is required; regulations about the storage of flammables require that different classes of hazardous substance should not be mixed.

We understand that flammable substance storage can be tricky and we’d love to help. Visit our website and give us a call.

Picture: Fotoknips via Dreamstime.

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.

Using flammable liquids? Your storage cabinet is key.

When working with flammable liquids – regardless of the facility – it is vitally important to have safety as your paramount concern. Although this may seem logical in principal, it isn’t something that is always adhered to – a good majority of fires in industrial environments are caused because the appropriate steps haven’t been taken to store flammable liquids safely.

Many may avoid the special flammable cabinets – designed to house the liquids in a safe manner – purely because of their cost.

Even though there is a cost involved, it is important not to try and cut corners with a cheaper version; this kind of behaviour is not recommended when it comes down to safety measures.

Flammable cabinets protect liquids in two crucial ways, the first ensures that any leakages are prevented from spreading outside the cabinet, and the second prevents the liquids from setting alight if a fire does happen to occur.

While in the short term, buying a flammable cabinet involves investment, in the long term it can be ensured that the hazardous risk is minimised significantly.

Top Ten Tips for the safe storage of chemical in the home

    1. Always read and follow the safe use, storage and disposal instructions on the product label.
    2. Store harmful household products and pesticides out of reach of children and pets. Store in a locked COSHH cabinet in a utility area or garden store with lots of ventilation.
    3. Store flammable products outside the living space in locked flammable cabinets and far away from places where they could catch fire. Keep flammable products away from portable heaters, electric heaters, central heating boilers and outdoor grills.
    4. Never store pesticides or other household products in cabinets where food is stored, or near food intended for people or animals. Never store pesticides where you keep medicines. Ideally pesticides should be stored in lockable pesticide cabinets.
    5. Always store chemical based products in their original containers so that you can read the label for directions on their use, storage and disposal.

bakingsodavinegar

  1. Never transfer flammable liquids, pesticides or other household products to soft drink bottles, milk jugs or other food containers. Children, or even adults, may mistake them for something to eat or drink.
  2. Never mix different cleaning fluids or pesticides. Chemical reactions can occur creating dangerous gases and in some cases exothermic reactions with the potential to cause fires and explosions.
  3. Always dispose of unwanted chemicals particularly petroleum based products and pesticides responsibly to protect your environment. Do not tip down drains, into drainage dykes, rivers or onto the land.
  4. Look out for new products that are less hazardous and environmentally friendly such as Propylene Glycol antifreeze or use safer alternatives. A combination of vinegar and baking soda is good at clearing blocked waste pipes.
  5. Have emergency numbers for fire services, environmental office and your doctor in a convenient place in case of emergency. Seconds save lives.

 

 

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.

Safe Storage of Hazardous Chemicals

With such a wide range of hazardous chemical storage cabinets available it is understandable that it is not always crystal clear which chemicals are safe to store together. Flammable substances, Acids, Alkalis, Toxics and oxidising agents are all chemicals of one type or another but may be incompatible and dangerous to store together. The following information gives some guidance on the basic principles for the safe storage and segregation but should not be taken as exhaustive.

As a rule store like materials with like and always segregate incompatible substances to prevent dangerous interactions. All chemicals storage containers should have a label on them identifying their hazard category (e.g. flammable, acid, alkali, oxidising, toxic etc.) It is always recommended to examine the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and manufacturers recommendations for more specific and detailed information.

Flammable solvents should be stored in specialised metal flammable solvent cabinets that are clearly labelled. The vapour forming above the liquid of these solvents represents the main danger from an accidental ignition source -even a spark. Ideally position the cabinet away from doors or other means of escape from the laboratory. DSEAR recommends that no more than 50 litres of highly flammable material may be kept in a flammable cabinet in any one room to reduce the risk of a serious fire. Quantities of other compatible flammable substances with a higher flashpoint up to a total of 200 litres may be added.

Flammable solvents must never be stored with oxidising agents such as bleach, hydrogen peroxide and nitric acid or reducing agents and concentrated acids (e.g. concentrated sulphuric and hydrochloric acids).

Because violent chemical reactions can result Chlorinated flammable substances (like trichloroethylene) are best stored in ventilated cabinets separately from flammable (non-chlorinated) solvents. In addition they should not be stored with alkali metals such as lithium, potassium or sodium, since any mixing can result in an explosion.  They can be stored in sealed metal cabinets if ventilated storage is not available.

Acids and alkalis are both potentially corrosive substances. Although specialist so called “Acid/Alkali” cabinets are available this does not mean acids and alkalis should be stored together. They should be stored separately since any accidental mixing of particularly concentrated materials can generate large quantities of heat and fumes. They can be stored separately in a vented or metal cabinet so long as they are in a segregated containment tray to prevent any spillages.

Oxidising substances (e.g. peroxides and nitrates) should be stored in a COSHH metal cabinet well away from organic matter such as wood and paper. As a rule oxidising agents should never be stored in a wooden cabinet. Oxidising agents should also never be stored with flammable solvents or reducing agents since a fire or explosion can result, particularly if a spillage occurs, even without a naked flame or heat present.

The above is a quick overview on what can be a complicated subject but the main point to remember is the incorrect storage or mixing of hazardous chemicals can result in disastrous consequences so check the chemicals’ MSDS before deciding on your haz-chem storage solution.