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.

Don’t get your fingers burned: Use and store chemicals safely

The lunatic craze sweeping social media at the moment involves young people pouring flammable liquid onto themselves and setting it alight. I can’t believe I’ve just written that, but that seems to be what they’re getting a kick from. Not to mention second-degree burns and a stay in hospital.

What they’re doing in the name of ‘fun’ is based on the property of liquids to give off flammable vapour, which ignites when it comes into contact with a heat source. The misguided teenagers often use a cigarette lighter, but other sources of ignition will do just as well – and that means you could innocently suffer the same fate using some very familiar household chemicals in the wrong combination of circumstances.

Hazardous Substance Storage Cabinets

The lesson is that hazardous substance storage is an important consideration both in the home and at work. For example, air freshener sprayed in the presence of a naked flame such as a candle can cause the vapour to ignite. Standing beside a barbecue whilst wearing some kinds of spray-on sunscreen can ignite the vapour it gives off, burning the wearer.

What’s happening in all of these cases is that the vapour is being exposed to a heat source hotter than its flashpoint – the temperature at which its vapour will ignite. There doesn’t have to be a naked flame involved; a hot surface like a heating element, machinery and superheated air are all enough.

A liquid’s flashpoint is the lowest temperature at which it will give off enough vapour to burn at the surface of the liquid. With petrol, that can be under 5ºC. (Hard and fast rules don’t apply; the purity of the liquid in question can change the temperature). Flashpoints for different fuels vary widely, which is why our safe storage advice pages offer a table of temperatures. Remember, the higher the flashpoint temperature for any material, the less hazardous it is.