5 ways to avoid fires, explosions and other dangerous incidents involving flammable liquids 

Aug 28, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

Class 3 Flammable Liquids are quick to ignite and can escalate into a catastrophic fire in just seconds. In this blog we are looking at 5 real-world incidents involving flammable liquids and suggesting some actions you can take to prevent similar fires, explosions and dangerous incidents occurring at your own workplace. 


1. Conducting pre-operational checks

A worker was spraying the area under a gas water heater with a flammable paint primer — to kill mould and bacteria. The worker failed to shut off the pilot light on the gas heater before spraying, and the flame ignited the paint causing a flashback. The worker was hospitalised with burns to the face, neck and upper body. 

Develop clear work procedures (including pre-operational safety checks) for all work that involves Class 3 Flammable Liquids. These work procedures and safety checks should include as a minimum: 


2. Carrying out preventative Maintenance

While a worker was adjusting the flow of fuel in between two strainers, pressurised oil began to leak from a boiler. Oil sprayed across the room and covered a wall — as well as the worker. The oil ignited and the worker suffered 2nd degree burns and was hospitalised. Another worker (uninjured) was trapped at height and had to be rescued by Fire Services using a ladder. An investigation found that the equipment regularly leaked oil. 

Schedule preventative maintenance on plant and machinery. Apart from regularly checking the integrity and functionality of your production equipment, you should also be checking, clearing and repairing: 

  • Vents and air ducts - a build-up of dust and debris in these areas can ignite. 
  • Lubrication - insufficient lubrication can create friction, heat and sparks. 
  • Oil and liquid sumps - don’t allow flammable waste to accumulate. 
  • Belts, filters, seals, gaskets - worn parts and consumables can create friction and equipment malfunctions. 
  • Calibration - uncalibrated machinery can overheat or malfunction. 
  • Electrical connections - faulty connections and discharge and spark. 


3. Training workers to understand hazards

A diesel mechanic was cleaning a metal workbench with liquid alcohol and a rag. The alcohol was sitting on the bench in a plastic container with the lid off. A torch fell off the bench and sparked. This ignited the alcohol vapours on the bench and inside the container. The worker was burned and hospitalised for 12 days — they had not received any training in chemical usage and safety. 

Train your workers so they know how to use chemicals safely and understand how the materials and substances stored nearby can cause flammable liquids to burn, explode or react dangerously. Your training and induction program should include: 

  • Fire and explosion risks associated with the chemical's workers handle during their daily work tasks. 
  • What causes a chemical to ignite, burn, or explode. 
  • Specific examples of ignition sources. 
  • Proper Housekeeping procedures (eg, keeping chemical containers inside a safety cabinet with the lids in place). 
  • Personal equipment, materials and substances that are banned from work areas. 


4. Segregating chemicals

A worker was cleaning implements and componentry with toluene. Working in an enclosed mixing room, the worker began transferring toluene from a drum into 2 x smaller plastic containers. Next to the toluene was an (almost) empty drum of methyl isobutyl ketone. An ignition occurred near the toluene (still unsure how it happened) and a flashback travelled toward the methyl isobutyl ketone which exploded. The worker suffered burns to more than 90% of their body and died 11 days later in hospital. 

Refer to Safety Data Sheets and employ proper chemical segregation in all chemical mixing, handling and storage areas. Make sure that you: 

  • Carry out a risk assessment on all highly flammable liquids at the worksite.  
  • Segregate Dangerous Goods according to Australian Standards and the ADG Code. 
  • Even in the mixing room, keep high risk flammables in a dedicated flammable liquids cabinet. 
  • Clearly label chemical containers and remove empty drums/containers without delay. 


5. Using a flammable liquids cabinet

A worker was carrying out some welding, when a spark flew into an open jerry can of fuel. The vapours immediately ignited, and the worker was burned in the fire. They required hospitalisation. 

Keep the lids on chemical containers, and when they aren’t being used — put them away in a compliant Class 3 Flammable Liquids cabinet. Implement safe work procedures so that workers who carry out maintenance involving hot work, first check the area for flammable and combustible items.  

At the same time enforce good housekeeping procedures, such as: 

  • Replacing leaking and damaged chemical containers. 
  • Wiping down chemical containers before putting into the cabinet. 
  • Never allowing welding and other hot work near any type of flammable chemicals (or the flammable liquids cabinet). 


Next steps 

Are you ready to step-up flammable liquids safety at your workplace? We encourage you to download our new eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors. It details the critical fire and explosion hazards created by Class 3 Flammable Liquids and it’s absolutely free. Download now, 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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