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.

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.

What is COSHH?

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations is enforced to protect people in the workplace against health risks from hazardous substances either used or arising from their work. Typically this covers cleaning agents, solvents and chemical reagents used directly and also substances arising from work practices such as dust, fumes and waste by-products.

COSHH lays down a compliance framework to guide businesses on identifying and implementing the necessary precautions and is therefore an essential management tool. Evidence strongly suggests correct implementation of COSHH has the potential for identifiable cost benefits by reducing substance waste, misuse and the remedial cost of accidental spills.

COSHH applies to virtually all substances hazardous to health. Exceptions include asbestos and lead and substances which are hazardous only because they are radioactive, asphyxiants, at high pressure/temperature or have explosive/flammable properties. Most of these hazards are covered by other Regulations.

COSHH has legal teeth and should not be seen just as a code of practice. Prosecutions are regularly brought for infringements. Hazards to look out for are storing incompatible substances such as acids and alkalis in the same enclosure preferably COSHH rated hazardous Storage Cabinets, storing flammables close to a heat source, inadequate ventilation, inadequate safeguards against environmental pollution such as spill control and lack of PPE ( personal protective equipment) to protect the workforce.

A Step by Step Guide to implementing COSHH legislation can be found in our Advice pages

COSHH Storage Cabinets are not a catch all

During a visit to my local garage to have a suspicious noise in the car checked out, I noticed in the workshop what looked like one of our general purpose COSHH storage cabinets. The doors to the cabinet were partly open – which they should not have been under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002. Idling my time whilst the mechanic did his thing I took a sly look inside. In my partial view I saw some battery acid, solvent cleaning fluid and a couple of cans of oil plus a load of other cans and bottles in the darker recesses the contents of which I could only guess at.

Mindful not to aggravate the owner and risk my usual discount I said nothing but the incident did raise issues regarding the basic understanding of the regulations regarding the storage of hazardous substances.

It is true that a COSHH rated cabinet is perfectly acceptable for storing some dangerous substances. Although the operative words in the COSHH acronym are “Hazardous to Health” not all dangerous substances are necessarily so. So why do we have specific cabinets for Flammable Substances, Acids, Pesticides and so on? What the Garage owner clearly did not grasp were the H & S guidelines and regulations embodied within COSHH, REACH, DSEAR and the raft of UK and EU fire and safety legislation regarding the requirement to segregate and clearly identify incompatible hazardous substance in the workplace.

In addition when necessary the specialist substance Storage Cabinets include design features intended to enhance the security and protection afforded for the potential hazard of that specific substance. For example Flammables Storage Cabinets have sumps and spill trays and fully rebated doors to prevent flame ingress, pesticide cabinets have louvered vents to prevent fume accumulation, acid and alkali cabinets have zinc coated steel to reduce corrosion.

Acid/Alkali Hazardous storage cabinets demonstrate the issue of segregation very well. From the description you may think you can store acids and alkalis together in one of these cabinets. The opposite is the case. Acids and Caustic Alkalis are incompatible substances as they can create toxic fumes and even explosions when mixed. You should also separate acids from flammables, oils and grease, caustics from epoxies, ammonia from bleach and oxidisers from virtually everything else.

Accepting that few garage owners are qualified chemists it is understandably difficult to know what is acceptable storage practice. In general you should start by looking at the product label and hazard classification as guidance is more often than not given. If guidance is absent you should ask the supplier for the official data sheet.

As a guide you can view a general chemical compatibility chart in our advice centre but if in any doubt consult your nearest Health and Safety Department or an experienced H&S adviser.