Flammable liquids are found at just about every workplace — from fuels to common cleaning agents, solvents, paints, waxes and polishes. This blog is all about identifying and controlling ignition sources (which are basically anything that could ignite flammables stored on a worksite). Ignition sources can be as obvious as a naked flame or burning cigarette, but can also include static electricity generated from personal electronics.
Some of the best ways of controlling ignition sources involve finding a suitable location for your flammable liquids store, keeping your flammables in an impervious chemical safety cabinet, and training your staff so they understand the flashpoint of the chemicals they use as well as the things that can ignite them.
The control measures you decide to implement will be based on a risk assessment that incorporates the types of flammable liquids you use and store, other Dangerous Goods held onsite, and the amount of direct contact workers, contractors and other personnel have with the fuels and other chemicals.
Identifying ignition sources
Let’s begin with a quick list of the different types of ignition sources to help you identify the ignition and fire hazards at your own worksite.
Possible ignition sources include:
- Matches, cigarettes, cigarette lighters, flames, blow torches, gas appliances and heaters
- Welding and flame cutting equipment
- Static electricity generated by during fuel decanting and dispensing, clothing, or electronic equipment like mobile phones, thermostats, keyless remotes, light switches.
- Hand tools, machinery and equipment that generate sparks eg, grinders
- Operating plant and machinery that generates heat: boilers, steam pipes, engines, furnaces.
When identifying ignition sources it’s essential to take into account how they might interact with the flammable liquids held at your own worksite. Always consult the Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for known hazards and control measures.
Risk Control Measure 1: use chemical safety cabinets designed for flammables
Storing your Class 3 Flammable Liquids in a compliant safety cabinet is an excellent way of isolating the chemicals from potential ignition sources. Flammable storage cabinets are constructed from double-walled sheet steel and have a space of at least 40mm between the walls. Gaps around the doors and into the walls are sealed to prevent the entry of flames and radiant heat, and any insulation materials used during construction are non-combustible.
Shelving inside flammable storage cabinets is always perforated to allow the free movement of air and each unit is fitted with a spill containment sump (at least 150mm deep). Doors on safety cabinets for flammables are self-closing to ensure that the flammable liquids within the cabinet are insulated from ignition sources when packages are not being retrieved from the cabinet. High quality indoor units are also designed to fit mechanical ventilation systems ensuring that vapours don’t escape into other rooms, while outdoor units are protected against corrosion, the weather and traffic damage.
IMPORTANT: Ignition sources must not be brought within 3 metres of a flammable liquids storage cabinet (that includes putting them inside the cabinet).
Risk Control Measure 2: isolate your flammable liquids store
Isolating your flammable liquids store away from site operations reduces the likelihood of your flammables being exposed to oxidisers or ignition sources, and helps you enforce minimum segregation distances between chemicals. Minimum distances are usually between 3-5 metres.
Though flammable liquids can be stored both indoors or outdoors, outdoor storage is often more suitable (maximising natural ventilation) for keeping vapours within safe exposure levels and flammable limits.
When deciding on the location of your flammable liquids store your risk assessment must take into consideration:
- What combustible vegetation, refuse and waste materials are onsite
- The location of site boundaries; plus any drains, creeks, ponds and waterways onsite as well as on neighbouring lands
- Other commercial buildings, administration areas, public access points, warehouses and production floors, laboratories, dispensing stations, and Dangerous Goods stores
- The quantities of flammable liquids being held and the type of fuel containers being used
- Delivery access and drop-off points
- Leak and spillage control
Ultimately the location of your flammable liquids stores will be determined by a detailed risk assessment using an industry-based methodology like the STOREMASTA Identify - Assess - Control - Sustain approach.
REMEMBER: Safely storing flammable liquids also involves housing incompatible substances correctly. For example, Class 5.1 Oxidising Agents and Class 5.2 Organic Peroxides should be completely isolated from flammables and stored in their own dedicated chemical store.
Risk Control Measure 3: train your staff and contractors
Australian Standard AS1940:2017 - The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids requires that all personnel (employees and contractors) handling flammable liquids must be properly trained and maintain sufficient job knowledge and safety awareness. The training must include the properties and hazards associated with the substances they use as well as the control measures in place at the facility.
Staff training is key to controlling ignition sources and can be delivered via a mix of induction training, walkarounds, formal sessions, toolbox talks, and safety forums. The three important things to remember when training is to first ensure the staff fully understand what is expected of them when they finish the training, second have mechanisms in place to observe and test the workers in their competencies, and third conduct follow up training and observation so they maintain their knowledge.
At a minimum your training program should cover:
- Site rules (location of NO SMOKING areas, restricted areas, prohibited activities, banned personal equipment)
- Flash points of flammables used on the site (referring to Safety Data Sheets)
- Known ignition sources (static electricity, hot work, flames, plant and machinery)
- Job specific training (decanting and fuel transfer, where to carry out repairs and maintenance, banned equipment, task specific PPE)
- Deeper dive on specific hazards like static electricity (what it is, how it is generated, how to ground dispensing equipment, maximising static-free fabrics and clothing)
IMPORTANT: Many workplace deaths and accidents occur because staff don’t understand the flashpoint of the flammables they were using. It’s essential your training program outlines how climate, temperature, water and other chemicals, as well as confined spaces can change the way flammable liquids ignite.
To learn more about controlling the hazards associated with flammable liquids at your worksite why not download our free eBook How to Reduce the Risk of Flammable Liquids in the Workplace. The eBook takes a deep dive into the risk management process and introduces the STOREMASTA methodology for controlling risks and maintaining a compliant workplace. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below: