How storing hazardous substances correctly can avert disaster

Storing hazardous substances correctly is vital to protect people, premises and the environment. Having the appropriate hazardous material storage cabinets and gas cylinder storage arrangements will keep chemicals safely in their place. Safety Storage Centre discusses the regulations and highlights products to help you make sure your premises comply with the law.

Chemicals are everywhere. They support life as we know it in the 21st century, from the ones prescribed by our doctors to the ones used by companies to make the products we buy every day.

And therein lies a very real danger, perfectly captured in the old adage ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Although chemicals – let’s call them hazardous substances – are all around us, if they are mistreated or gas bottle storagemishandled they will turn on us in an instant.

That’s a lesson learned by thousands of people when a warehouse caught fire, and they had to be evacuated from their homes. Here’s what was happening:

  • Flames shooting through holes in the roof
  • Drums of solvents exploding in intense heat
  • Exploding drums fired, like missiles, several hundred feet into the air
  • Flying, burning drum crashed through the roof of another building, setting it alight
  • Large cloud of at least 11 noxious gases created

Although the cause of that fire was never conclusively identified, it is thought to have related to leakage of a corrosive substance onto organic materials. Ill-advised storage of chemicals did the rest.

Storing hazardous substances

And that’s why the Health and Safety Executive, in advising about the segregation of hazardous materials, includes ‘human factor’ elements that can cause issues, including:

  • Incompetence
  • A poorly-skilled workforce
  • Location of premises
  • Poor internal layout of premises
  • Lack of understanding about the substances being stored and handled
  • Ignorance of what happens if they’re mixed
  • Poor labelling

Legislation and codes of practice about storing chemicals, summarised by the HSE in the document referred to above, have a degree of complexity, but that’s no excuse for shying away from them.

You’ll also need to know about Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations as they affect your industry, and the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) 2002.

There’s more easily understood information in our advice centre, and all product pages provide the reassurance of making you aware what legislation they comply with – or even exceed. However, useful extra information is to be found in this at-a-glance compatibility chart for hazardous substance storage to what can and can’t be stored together.

In this chart plus signs [+] means chemicals can share storage, bracketed plus signs [(+)] means they can, but with restrictions, and minus signs (-) means they may not be stored together. If you’re in even the slightest doubt, the best advice is to store them separately.

Choosing hazardous storage cabinets

So now you have an idea of the ‘what’ of storing hazardous substances, let’s look at the ‘how’. Hazardous substance storage cabinets fall into a series of broad groups, based on what needs to be stored. Within each of those groups are other options, allowing for wall mounting, floor standing or mobility – the latter includes an option from Flambank which is on castors, and a van-mounted version from Flamstor.

All are also correctly labelled and coloured to show the nature of the specific materials they contain. Fire protection cabinets are yellow; pesticide ones are red, and acid/alkali cabinets are white.

Choosing gas cylinder storage

Fires turn gas bottles into bombs. Extra heat builds extra pressure so that makes them prone to explode, blasting pieces of shrapnel for considerable distances.

The way to prevent this happening is to keep them in fireproof gas cylinder cabinets. We offer two models, both very well engineered and practical, but including impressive safety features. With fire ratings of up to 90 minutes, they provide ample opportunity for evacuation of premises and time for firefighters to arrive to make the situation safe.

Storing hazardous substances is a serious responsibility. Visit www.safetystoragecentre.co.uk to find advice and products to assist you in meeting your responsibilities.

Safety Cabinets and COSHH Compliance

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002, requires employers to ensure any chemicals and dangerous substances used on the premises are stored and handled in a way that minimises the risks posed by those substances both to the environment and to those in contact with the substances

This is a pretty broad brush requirement when non-compliance can result in punitive fines or even incarceration. So how do you go about complying with COSHH? The answer, as in virtually all health and safety legislation today is Risk Assessment. You need to analyse your business to assess any risks arising from the storage and handling of any dangerous substances. Any identified risks to the people working on the premises, visitors or any potential negative impact on the environment- should then be actioned to minimise the risks identified.

In practice start the process by identifying what constitutes a dangerous substance. Any hazardous chemical should be supplied with a safety data sheet and the container should be marked with a hazard warning label. Typically hazardous substances are classed as toxic, corrosive, acid, alkali, explosive or flammable. If you see any of these labels but don’t have a related product safety data sheet contact your supplier.

The data sheet should detail any incompatible substances that may compound the risks if they are mixed so as a golden rule it is better to store in different COSHH or safety cabinets manufactured for that specific group of hazardous substances, Acids with Acids, toxics with toxics, and so on. Flammables are a special category and come under the DSEAR regulations but the same principles apply.

Within the actual workplace only store the minimum quantity of dangerous substances possible- for example enough for a days work. Store any bulk quantities in a separate designated secure area away from the workforce.

Any staff handling dangerous substances should be properly trained in their use and properly equipped with appropriate personal protective equipment. Needless to say in the aftermath of an accident you may need to prove this so keep up to date training and safety records.

If a substance is clearly toxic or otherwise dangerous if released into the environment take adequate precautions to prevent leaks and spills, for example by storing in cabinets with spill trays or sumps. Despite this precaution the risk of a spill is still possible so have spill containment products available to contain and remove spills before they leak into watercourses and drains or seep into land.

Risk assessment is about being honest with yourself when assessing the potential risks your business generates. Cutting safety corners may save money in the short term but may ultimately cost lives as well as your livelihood and quite possibly your actual liberty.