How to handle flammable liquids in the workplace
Apr 20, 2018

How to handle flammable liquids in the workplace

Walter Ingles Walter Ingles

Flammable liquids are liquids that will give off enough vapours to ignite in the presence of an ignition source at temperatures below 60 °C. Flammable liquids present many risks upon the people, property and the environment and therefore they must be handled in a safe and compliant manner to minimise harm upon the workplace. Some hazards that flammable liquids present on the workplace include:

  • Environmental damage from spills
  • Asphyxiation from inhalation of flammable vapours
  • Fires from the ignition of flammable vapours
  • Violent chemical reactions from the mixing of incompatible chemicals

The risks associated with flammable liquids are many and varied, and it is always good to seek professional advice on how to minimise their impact upon your workplace. We will now discuss some best practices for handling flammable liquids to reduce the risks that they may pose upon your workplace.

Handling large packages of flammable liquids

With the increased use of flammable liquids in the last century, producers of flammable liquids now package their goods in much larger quantities. Some of the larger packages include 205 Litre drums and 1000 litre intermediate bulk containers. If these containers are not handled with the correct equipment, there is the risk of bodily injury. Intermediate bulk containers (IBC’s) must always be lifted in and out of chemical storage containers with a forklift. 205 litre drums have a round shape and they are much harder to handle. To safely handle round drums, forklift attachments may be necessary. Also when flammable liquids are decanted from larger 205 litre drums, drum handling equipment is recommended to reduce the risk of spills.

Dispensing in well ventilated areas

When flammable liquids are used in the workplace, they often have to be dispensed from their original packaging before they can be used. When flammable liquids are dispensed, they give off a lot of flammable vapours. These vapours have the potential to come into contact with ignition sources and cause severe fires that can harm people and property. If large quantities of these vapours are inhaled they have the potential to cause asphyxiation. To control these risks, flammable liquids must be dispensed in well ventilated areas. If the flammable liquids can be dispensed in the outdoors, the air will naturally dilute the vapours and reduce the risk of asphyxiation. If dispensing has to be done indoors ensure that it isn’t done in enclosed areas such as in small compounds or rooms. If flammable liquids are frequently dispensed indoors, it may be worth investing in a mechanical ventilation system that will safely remove all the flammable vapours.

Dispensing away from Ignition sources and incompatible chemicals

When flammable liquids are dispensed, they release a lot of vapours and spills are not uncommon. When flammable vapours are released and spills occur, there is a risk that they may come into contact with ignition sources and other incompatible chemicals. To avoid fires and the risk of violent chemical reactions from the mixing of incompatible chemicals, flammable liquids must be dispensed well away from ignition sources and incompatible chemicals. It is recommended that flammable liquids are dispensed in an area that is at least 3 metres away from all ignition sources. If there are other classes of dangerous goods in the workplace, flammable liquids must be dispensed in an area that is at least 3 metres away from incompatible chemicals and 5 metres away from chemicals that will react dangerously. Substances that will react dangerously with flammable liquids include Class 5.1 Oxidising Agents.

Personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment is another control that can be used to reduce the risks associated with the handling and dispensing of flammable liquids. While personal protective equipment (PPE) can be effective, it is not a substitute for more effective controls such as engineering and administrative controls. Some examples of PPE that can be used when handling flammable liquids include, respiratory equipment and gloves. If the flammable liquids that are being dispensed give of high concentrations of flammable vapours that cannot be ventilated, respiratory equipment can be used to decrease the risk of asphyxiation and nausea. If the flammable liquids that you are dispensing have a corrosive subrisk, corrosive resistant gloves can be used to reduce the risk of burns while dispensing the flammable liquids. Personal protective equipment should always be kept in a PPE cabinet that is easily accessible and close to your flammable storage cabinet.

Safety Data Sheets

So that those using flammable liquids can be aware of the specific hazards associated with the flammable liquids that they are handling, a copy of the safety data sheet (SDS) for each flammable substance must be kept next to the area where the flammable liquids are stored. Safety data sheets are documents that outline the specific hazards such as reactivity, fire, health and environmental hazards associated with a particular substance. The safety data sheet will also outline the basic storage and handling requirements for that particular substance. Before a flammable substance is dispensed, the safety data sheet for that substance must be analysed so that the substance can be handled in the safest possible manner. So that safety data sheets can be quickly accessed in the event of an emergency, safety data sheets must be kept in a document storage box that is mounted on the flammable liquids storage cabinet.

Innovative methods of storing and dispensing flammable liquids

To reduce risk and increase the efficiencies associated with the storage and handling of flammable liquids, there are a number of innovative solutions that can be utilised. One innovative method that can be used for the storage and dispensing of flammable liquids is a flammable liquids dispensing station. This is a solution that allows you to store and dispense your flammable liquids from a single module. This module is designed and manufactured in full conformance to AS1940. It is a fully enclosed unit fitted with a spill containment sump, natural ventilation system, hose reels, dispensers and pumps. This unit reduces the risk of flammable liquids spills and the dispersion of flammable vapours that can cause fires and asphyxiation. An example of a flammable liquids dispensing station is shown below:

Fuel dispensing stationNext Steps  

If your organisation uses flammable liquids on a regular basis, it is very important that you store, handle and dispense these flammable liquids in a safe and compliant manner. This includes dispensing in well ventilated areas, using drum handling equipment, consulting the safety data sheets and using personal protective equipment when necessary. If you would like to decrease risks and increase the efficiencies in the storage and dispensing of flammable liquids, innovative solutions such as flammable liquids storage and dispensing stations can be utilised. If you would like more information on how to decrease the risks associated with flammable liquids, download our FREE eBook by clicking on the image below.

How to reduce the risk of flammable liquids in the workplace

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Adviser. He loves helping business reduce the risk that Dangerous Goods pose upon their employees, property and the environment through safe and compliant dangerous goods storage solutions.

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