Up in flames?

How many of us know and understand the facts regarding flammable liquids? Do we understand the risks of storing and distributing flammable liquids and what can be done to prevent or minimise the risk of fires within the factory? Alan Wild and Kevin Murphy of Spill Doctor provide some insight.

Before one can start to understand the risks, it’s important to know some basic facts:

Firstly, one must remember that it’s not the liquid itself that burns, but the invisible vapour released into the atmosphere! The lowest temperature at which sufficient vapour is given off to form an ignitable mixture is known as the flash point. The minimum temperature to which flammable liquid vapour in the air must be heated to initiate self-sustained combustion, independent of the original heat source, is called the auto-ignition temperature.

In order for a fire to start, all three legs of the fire triangle – heat, fuel and oxygen – must be present.

When it comes to safe storage of flammable liquids, two main points need to be considered:

• Regulation – compliance with the OSH Act and local regulations/bylaws;

• Best practice – in the absence of any regulation, are you doing everything practically possible to minimise the risk of fire and/or injury in your workplace?

It’s therefore clear that safe storage of flammable liquids is of paramount importance for companies. It will help with:

• Fire prevention and spill control;

• Safety – protect people, property and the environment;

• Reducing costs and improving production efficiency;

• Good housekeeping and organised storage.

These are some basic tips for storage and dispensation of flammable liquids:

When dispensing from 200 l drums, always ensure containers are grounded using grounding and anti-static cables. Approved self-closing faucets with built-in flame arrestors prevent flashback of fire into the drum and avoid accidentally leaving the
faucet open.

Approved safety cans are ideal for storing liquids inside the factory and for dispensing into smaller containers. When considering safety cans, it’s important that they have a spring-loaded self-closing lid with a positive pressure release cap (automatically vents at between three and five psi) and a built in flame arrestor.

Too often, open containers are used to store cleaning solvents – not only is this illegal, but the exposed vapours present a health risk to employees, and the chance of spillage is increased. 

All containers not in use should be stored in approved cabinets specifically designed to withstand temperatures in excess of 700° C for a period of 10 minutes without losing the integrity of the cabinet. Double walls, sumps, stainless steel locking mechanisms, dual vent/flame arrestors are required as well as correct labelling.

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