What are flammable materials?

A flammable substance is defined as a material that ignites more easily than other materials, making it more hazardous to health. Substances that still burn but aren’t as easily ignited are referred to as combustible and pose less of a threat, though they should still be considered when planning to store flammable materials.

A flammable liquid is defined as a liquid with a flashpoint of 60c or below.

Flammable substances include fairly commonplace things to find around a workplace, like petrol, ethanol, methanol and acetone, but even everyday materials like wood and paper are combustible if they are exposed to high temperatures, so care should be taken to store both flammable and combustible substances appropriately.

What are the potential hazards?

The main hazards your employees face are fires and explosions. These can be caused by the materials themselves igniting, or potentially the vapours emitted. Fires and explosions are most likely to occur when flammable liquids or vapours are released from a controlled environment into an area with an ignition source or when said ignition source is introduced into a controlled environment. The most likely cause of this happening is operator error, resulting from a lack of available information about the properties of the materials or insufficient training.

Precautionary measures to take:


1. Appropriate training and available information

It’s vitally important that all staff on site are fully informed of the hazards posed by all flammable materials being used. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) should be readily available for all flammable materials stored on site.

Anyone physically handling or working with flammable materials should also receive specific training at regular intervals, to ensure their knowledge is up-to-date. This training should cover the materials being used, as well as their properties and potential hazards. It should also cover all processes for their safe handling and use, including protective clothing and equipment, safe clean-up procedures, incident reporting and emergency protocols.

2. Ensure safe chemical storage.

Where possible, to reduce risk, you should try to reduce the quantity of flammable chemicals stored on site. Highly flammable chemicals stored indoors should be limited to 50 litres or enough for one production shift and should be stored in flammables storage units with fire protection (safety cabinets with up to 90 minutes fire protection are available).

Highly flammable chemicals stored outdoors in unsafe locations should be stored in bunded chemical stores with a minimum 30 minutes fire protection.

3. Always wear the correct Personal Protective Equipment

The appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should always be used, when handling flammable materials. Check the MSDS for guidance on the correct PPE to wear for handling specific flammable materials, as well as any additional equipment required in emergency situations. If anything is unclear, always consult a health and safety expert.

PPE should always be used in addition to engineered safety controls and never as a substitute.

4. Never use flammable chemicals near potential ignition sources

All workspaces should be carefully planned and thorough safety protocols deployed to keep any ignition sources away from flammable materials. Some examples of ignition sources to eliminate from the workplace would be any tools that create sparks, metal cutting, grinding or welding activities, any device or tool with an open flame (boilers, ovens, blowtorches etc.) or even a hot surface (lamps, pipes, hot plates etc.), as well as the smoking of tobacco.

5. Take extreme precaution when dispensing and decanting flammable chemicals

Dispensing flammable chemicals or decanting them into another container should be carried out in a way that reduces spills and the release of potentially dangerous flammable vapours. If possible, flammable liquids should be handled in a fully enclosed system, using pipe work, pumps or closed vessels. Where this isn’t possible, the containers should be designed to minimise spillage, the release of vapours and the effects of fire.

Always check that metal containers are bonded and grounded when dispensing and never do it near an ignition source or use compressed air to transfer materials from their container.

Other good rules of thumb include only ever dispensing or decanting from one container at a time and ensuring all containers are sealed immediately after use.

6. Keep flammable materials close to where they will be used

Having flammable storage near to where the materials will eventually be used is known as ‘point-of-use containment’. Keeping stocks of materials close to their point-of-use not only saves time; it also limits staff exposure to potential ignition sources while they are working with them.

7. Substitute low flashpoint chemicals for alternatives

Low flashpoint liquids should always be avoided, if possible, substituting them with either non-flammable liquids or those with a higher flashpoint. That said, you should always check the liquid you are proposing as a substitute doesn’t present other less obvious risks to health and safety.
For example, some halogenated hydrocarbons are considered non-flammable but can still ignite or explode, if they come into contact with high-energy ignition sources, like a welding torch.

8. Make sure areas are well ventilated

Any flammables store or work area should be properly ventilated, to ensure all vapours are diluted to safe levels.

Whichever ventilation system is deployed should be capable of providing six complete air changes every hour and dilute vapours below the relevant occupational exposure limit – not just below its flammable limit. Sometimes, it is enough to have good natural ventilation; though for more volatile materials or confined spaces, mechanical ventilation and/or local exhaust ventilation will be required.

About Safety Storage Systems

Safety Storage Systems are a leading U.K. manufacturer of chemical storage solutions. From external flammable storage units to clinical waste storage solutions, IBC cabinets to bunded chemical stores and more, Safety Storage Systems specialise in the design and manufacture of customised chemical storage units, built to meet your specific requirements.