Why flammable liquids cannot be stored in plastic or wooden cabinets

Aug 27, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

Flammable liquids are volatile substances that give off flammable vapours at temperatures below 60 °C. If these substances came into contact with an ignition sources, they will ignite and cause a severe fire that could harm people, property and the environment. To prevent these risks, it is very important to ensure that flammable liquids are stored in a safe and compliant manner.

A lot of people in the workplace are unaware of the potential risks associated with flammable liquids. This lack of awareness often causes people to store flammable liquids in wooden and plastic cabinets which are an unsafe and non-compliant method of flammable liquid storage.  

What makes wooden and plastic cabinets unsafe?

The reason why plastic and wooden cabinets are unsafe for the storage of flammable liquids is because they don't provide enough protection against the risks that flammable liquids have upon the workplace.

A flammable liquids storage cabinet is intended to:

  • Protect the flammable liquids inside the cabinet from damage
  • Provide segregation between incompatible substances
  • Contain spillages
  • In the case of a fire, allow time for people to escape or use firefighting equipment to contain the fire.

If a flammable liquids storage cabinet is constructed from a combustible material such as plastic or wood, it will lack the ability to adequately protect the workplace from the risks associated with flammable liquids. The factors that make wooden and plastic flammable liquids storage cabinets unsafe are outlined in more detail below.

Wooden cabinets are permeable

One reason why wooden cabinets are unsafe for storing packages of flammable liquids is because they are permeable. Permeable materials are materials that will allow liquids and gases to pass through it. When a flammable liquids storage cabinet is constructed from permeable material, it reduces its ability to;

  • Contain flammable liquids spills
  • Segregate flammable liquids from other incompatible substances

If flammable liquids spilled inside a wooden cabinet, the cabinet would not have the ability to contain the flammable liquid. The flammable liquid would seep through the wood and into the workplace. Uncontained flammable liquid spills increase the risk of slip and fall incidents. Also, if flammable liquids leak into the workplace, there is a risk that they will come into contact with other incompatible substances. The mixing of incompatible substances can cause violent chemical reactions that can harm people and property. To avoid these risks, flammable liquids must never be stored in a cabinet made from a permeable material.

Inadequate fire protection

Another factor that makes plastic and wooden cabinets unsafe for the storage of flammable liquids is that plastic and wood are both combustible materials. If wood and plastic are subject to enough heat, they will start to burn. In the event of a workplace fire, a wooden or plastic cabinet would not protect the flammable liquids inside the cabinet from igniting. A wooden or plastic cabinet will start to burn and the flammable liquids inside the cabinet would ignite and the fire will intensify. The ignition of the flammable liquids inside the cabinet would prevent people in workplace from safely escaping the fire. To prevent this risk, packages of flammable liquids must never be stored in a cabinet constructed from combustible materials such as wood or plastic.  

How to safely store packages of flammable liquids

To safely store packages of flammable liquids in the workplace, you must follow the requirements outlined in AS1940. AS1940 is the Australian Standard that outlines the requirements for the storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids. Section 4 of AS1940 outlines the design and construction requirements for flammable liquids storage cabinets. This section states:

“The walls, floor, door and roof of the cabinet shall be a double-walled sheet steel construction, with a space of at least 40 mm between the walls.”

It also states:

“The materials of any components that are critical to the cabinets structural integrity shall not melt at temperatures less than 850 °C. Seals or gaskets are excepted, but their use should be avoided if their failure could affect the protective function of the cabinet.”

A sheet steel construction with a 40mm air gap allows the cabinet to provide adequate protection against heat in the event of a workplace fire. This prevents the flammable liquids inside the cabinet from immediately igniting and allows personnel in the workplace to safely escape the fire. Metal cabinets are also impervious and will prevent flammable liquids spills from leaking into the workplace.

Next Steps

As flammable liquids pose many risks upon people and property in the workplace, it is very important that you store and handle flammable liquids in a safe and compliant manner. This can be achieved by always storing your flammable liquids in a cabinet that has a double walled sheet steel construction with a 40mm air gap between the walls. A cabinet with a double walled sheet steel construction will comply with AS1940, and you will not be at risk of financial liability due to non-compliance. If you would like more information on how to reduce 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 Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Adviser. He loves helping businesses 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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