How to prevent workplace fires involving flammable liquids 

Aug 22, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

Class 3 Flammable Liquids are Dangerous Goods that introduce a range of complex fire hazards to a workplace. Flammable liquids fires are very difficult to contain and (once certain temperatures have been reached) lead to explosions and the release of toxic smoke. At first glance, the thought of addressing all those hazards can be overwhelming, so in this blog we’ll be breaking down the risk management process into four steps and demonstrating how to apply the principles to the fire hazards associated with flammable liquids. 

Using a risk management methodology 

The first step in preventing flammable liquids from causing a fire at your workplace is to gain an understanding of the hazardous properties of the chemicals, and what can cause them to ignite, burn and explode. After that you assess the likelihood of a fire or explosion actually occurring. Giving priority to the areas that present the biggest risk, you then introduce preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of a fire, or explosion incident. 

Here at STOREMASTA we use a 4-step risk management methodology to systemise this process and ensure that all hazards are identified and dealt with. Here’s how it works: 

  • STEP 1 Identify. Physically identify the fire hazards associated with the chemicals, and how each hazard could play out at the workplace. 
  • STEP 2 Assess. Now assess the magnitude of a potential incident, and the likelihood of it occurring.  
  • STEP 3 Control. Using the Hierarchy of Controls, look for ways to either eliminate (ideally) or minimise the risks and hazards.   
  • STEP 4 Sustain. Review the hazard controls you introduced in Step 3, and ensure they are all working properly. At the same time, introduce auditing systems to check for emerging hazards and system failures. 

Our risk management methodology can be applied to single hazards (eg, fires), the hazardous associated with dangerous goods (eg Class 3 Flammable Liquids), or work areas (eg, warehouse and loading dock).  


Applying the risk management methodology 

To demonstrate how the methodology works, we are going to apply it to a simulated fire hazard associated with the chemicals stored in a Class 3 Flammable Liquids cabinet. We’ll walk you through each step in detail below. 

STEP 1 Identify. 

Referring to Safety Data Sheets, identify the flashpoint and auto-ignition temperatures of the flammable liquids. Identify potential ignition sources. Identify the chemical quantities, where they are currently kept and how they are used. 

Example: Your site keeps enamel paints, solvents, varnish and a portable container of unleaded petrol (mower fuel) in a small flammable liquid’s cabinet. Each of the chemicals is highly flammable and has a flashpoint indicating they could easily ignite at room temperature.  

The cabinet also contains paint brushes, rags and rollers. Sometimes the paint tins aren’t closed properly, and one is missing a lid. The cabinet is inside the maintenance manager’s office, and the top of the cabinet is often used as a shelf for files and cleaning agents. Inside the office is a computer, modem and printer (plugged into a power board), wall mounted air-conditioner (plugged into the wall) and various light switches. 


STEP 2 Assess. 

Based on the information you have gathered in step 1, now assess the likelihood of flammable liquids igniting, and if they did, the likely impact and damage. 

Example: If the flammable liquids were to ignite the maintenance manager’s office would be quickly destroyed as it is full of combustible items. Workers could be killed or injured, and the entire workshop building threatened. It’s a relatively uncontrolled area, and because of the large number of electrical appliances, power points and combustible items — a very high fire risk.  


STEP 3 Control. 

See if you can find a way to eliminate the fire hazard completely. If that is not possible, work through the Hierarchy of Controls to determine how you could prevent (or reduce the likelihood) of a fire occurring.  

Example: You immediately determine that the flammable liquids cabinet cannot remain in the Maintenance Manager’s office. It is too close to ignition sources (electrical appliances, power points and light switches) and there are too many combustible materials stored close by. You decide on a number of controls. 

Substitute: moving the cabinet to another location in the warehouse. This reduces the overall risk of fire, but the hazard will still exist in the new location. 

Isolate: the cabinet is moved to a quiet area of the warehouse, and has a 10 metre gap between other materials, substances, and equipment. 

Administrate: introducing better housekeeping policies to ensure that lids on paint tins and chemical containers are properly closed, and all combustibles are taken out of the cabinet and transferred to a steel cabinet away from the flammables. 


STEP 4 Sustain. 

Once the control measures have been implemented, conduct audits and other systems to check that the risk controls have been installed correctly and remain safe and effective.  

Example: one month after the flammable liquids cabinet has been moved to the warehouse you conduct a site inspection. Despite the policy not to allow materials within 10 metres of the cabinet, the top of the cabinet is now being used as a shelf for chemical containers. You also see that warehouse staff are overloading the cabinet past capacity. Also, empty pallets are being stacked next to the cabinet. 

You flag these issues of non-compliance and introduce weekly inspections followed up by monthly safety audits. Audits are reviewed by a newly appointed Safety Committee who are charged with looking for ways to minimise the amount of flammable liquids kept onsite. Supervisors begin carrying out spot checks in chemical storage areas, and proper storage equipment is purchased for the maintenance manager’s office. 

Risk assessments look great on paper, but often don’t play out during delivery, installation and adoption by site crews. The risk management methodology simply will not work without ongoing reviews and system checks. 


Next steps 

This is a simple example of how you use a 4-step risk management methodology to prevent fires associated with flammable liquids. Now it’s your turn. To support your own risk assessment, why not download free eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors. In this step-by-step guide, we outline the health and fire hazards associated with Class 3 Flammable Liquids and provide instructions for selecting, installing and maintaining a compliant safety 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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