4 Essential steps for keeping flammable liquids in the laboratory 

Jul 31, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

Laboratories are often hazardous environments that contain numerous chemical, biological and safety hazards. The presence of Class 3 Flammable Liquids can increase the risks even further if the laboratory regularly carries out procedures that use heat, flames and reactive substances. In this blog we share four essential steps when keeping flammable liquids in the laboratory. 

 

1. Understand the hazards

Most Class 3 Flammable Liquids don’t just burn, so the first step when introducing flammable liquids into the lab is to get a full understanding of the hazards associated with each chemical. Check the Safety Data Sheet so workers are aware of both the physical and health hazards.  

 

Here are some common examples:  

Chemical 

Physical Hazard 

Health Hazard 

Acetone 

Highly flammable. Can explode and auto-ignite at certain temperatures/concentrations. 

Serious skin and eye irritant. Causes drowsiness and dizziness. Toxic. 

Benzene 

Highly flammable. Can explode and auto-ignite at certain temperatures/concentrations. 

Skin and eye irritant. Carcinogenic. Mutagenic. Fatal if swallowed or enters airways. Toxic.  

Pentane 

Highly flammable. Can explode and auto-ignite at certain temperatures/concentrations. Can react violently with strong oxidising agents, nitric acid and halogens. 

Toxic. Specific organ toxicity. Aspiration hazard. Fatal if swallowed or enters airways. Causes drowsiness and dizziness. 

Methanol 

Highly flammable. Can explode and auto-ignite at certain temperatures/concentrations.  

Oral, dermal and inhalation toxicity. Causes damage to organs.  

Ethanol 

Highly flammable. Incompatible with oxidising agents, peroxides, acids, acid chlorides, acid anhydrides, alkali metals and ammonia. 

Serious eye irritant. Can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea. Dermatitis risk with repeated exposure. 

 

IMPORTANT: These are generic hazards and should not be used in a risk assessment without first consulting the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) issued by the chemical manufacturer. 

 Once you are familiar with all the chemical’s hazards you can put measures in place to minimise fire hazards and ensure that incompatible substances aren’t stored together. It is critical that all lab workers understand how the chemicals could ignite or explode. 

 

2. Manage ignition sources carefully

Many chemicals in the laboratory are highly flammable and have very low flash-points, so your workers and supervisors should be familiar with their explosive range, autoignition temperatures and how they could react dangerously with another substance.  

 You will also need to manage potential ignition sources very carefully. These include: 

 Sparks - what tools, machinery or laboratory procedures could generate sparks? Don’t forget faulty electrical equipment or power chords. 

  • Naked flames - have a strict policy for procedures that involve the use of naked flames.  
  • Heat - consider the equipment, machinery and processes in the lab that produce heat. 
  • Static Electricity - could clothing or personal electronics generate static electricity? 

 When you are aware of potential ignition sources, measures can be introduced to ensure that flammable liquids are isolated and we always recommend putting them away safely inside a compliant Class 3 Flammable Liquids cabinet. 

 

3. Use compliant Class 3 Flammable Liquids cabinets

 When we talk about a ‘compliant’ flammable liquid cabinets, we mean a double-walled safety cabinet manufactured to Australian Standard AS1940:2017 –- The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids. Compliant cabinets have the following features:  

  • Double walls constructed from sheet steel, with at least 40mm between the walls. 
  • Gaskets and other componentry capable of enduring temperatures of up to 850°C. 
  • Close-fitting doors with and all gaps sealed. 
  • Automatic closing doors. 
  • Perforated interior shelving. 
  • Shelves strong enough to safely hold the maximum container size. 
  • Lower compound acts as a liquid containment sump and is at least 150mm deep. 
  • Clearly marked with appropriate warning placards, and manufacturer’s details. 

 A flammable liquids cabinet will contain flammable vapours and fumes, keep the chemicals isolated from ignition sources, enable you to keep benches and work areas clear, contain any leaks or spills. 

4. Implement consistent housekeeping practices

Proper housekeeping can have a huge impact on lab safety. Make sure you have clear procedures and supervisors who enforce them consistently. As a minimum your daily housekeeping should include:  

  • Keeping work areas and bench tops clear and uncluttered, don’t leave chemical containers without lids, caps or covers. 
  • Minimising combustible materials by throwing away packaging material and cardboard cartons before storage. 
  • Ensuring power chords have been tagged and tested and are not discharging. 
  • Monitoring power points and light switches for electrical discharge. 
  • Putting chemicals away in safety cabinets as soon as you finish using them. This also includes chemical deliveries from suppliers. 
  • Using efficient purchasing policies to minimise chemical stocks in the lab. 
  • Segregating chemicals correctly 
  • Keeping cabinet doors closed and never propping them open with foreign objects. 
  • Not allowing workers to bring personal items into the lab — eg, providing lockers outside the lab for backpacks, mobile phones, clothing and cosmetics. 

Housekeeping can be enforced by carrying out regular inspections and swiftly following up policy breaches.  

Next steps

If you are looking for a more efficient way to store your flammable liquids in the laboratory (or anywhere indoors) why not download our free eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors. Our detailed guide will help you carry out a risk assessment on the flammable liquids at the job site, then select and install a suitable cabinet. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below:

Essential Considerations when Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors download Free eBook

 

Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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