Things you need to know about fires that involve flammable liquids (Part 3) Fire combustion and escalation. 

Aug 19, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

This is the final blog in a short series on fires involving flammable liquids. In our previous articles we discussed the importance of conducting a fire risk assessment and how to identify ignition sources. Now in part 3 we’ll be looking at what actually causes a flammable liquids fire to burn then intensify. Even small quantities of Class 3 Flammable Liquids can create catastrophic fires, and we provide a number of simple chemical fire prevention strategies.

1. What makes a fire burn

Where are flammable liquids stored in relation to combustible materials? 

If you’ve read our previous blogs, you’ll know that flammable liquids can be easily ignited from heat, sparks, and even electrical discharge. But once ignited, a fire requires both oxygen and fuel to keep burning.  

‘Fuel’ refers to the flammable and combustible materials that keep a fire burning once it has ignited. Examples include: 

  • Flammable and combustible chemicals. 
  • Vegetation, tree litter and plant debris. 
  • Refuse and waste stations. 
  • Pallets, plastic containers, IBCs, packaging materials, and plastics. 
  • Office equipment, documents and files, stationery, IT hardware. 
  • Cleaning utensils, hand tools, toilet paper, PPE, uniforms, signs, rags etc. 

Any fire prevention strategy must acknowledge the types and quantities of combustible items at the job site, and look at ways to minimise, secure, or remove them completely. 

TIPS FOR FIRE PREVENTION 

1. Apply Elimination and Substitution controls 

Use the Hierarchy of controls to find ways to eliminate the need for flammable chemicals. If this cannot be achieved consider chemicals with a higher flashpoint. A few quick examples (for demonstration purposes). 

  • Switch to water-based paints. 
  • Use electric-powered forklifts instead of diesel. 
  • Use diesel fuelled outdoor appliances instead of petrol fuel. 

2. Minimise chemical quantities

Keep the least amount of flammable chemicals that is practicable for the work you do. This can be achieved in two ways. First, implement a solid purchasing policy and develop supply chain relationships so you can order smaller quantities of chemicals, more often. Second, keep only immediate requirements in work areas (eg, labs and warehouses), store the remainder of the flammable liquids in an isolated outdoor store. 

3. Strategize combustibles

Look at ways to either eliminate (or reduce the amount of) combustibles held onsite. Remember also, the principles of elimination and substitution (risk) controls can also be applied to combustible items and materials. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Remove wooden cupboards (or combustible shelving) and replacing with stainless steel cabinets (shelving) to store combustible sundries (PPE, brooms, rags). 
  • Increase the frequency of waste removal from the jobs site. 
  • Keep combustible items away from flammable liquids and other Dangerous Goods stores. 
  • Minimise paper files and store archives digitally, or in the cloud. 
  • Use fire resistant construction materials where possible. 

4. Implement good housekeeping

Good housekeeping means keeping the job site tidy and streamlining your storage equipment and cabinets. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Reduce tree litter onsite (and around the perimeter fences). This includes regularly clearing roofs, guttering and vents of combustible debris. 
  • Never storing combustible materials (archive boxes of files) and refuse (even temporarily) in escape routes (walkways, corridors, stairways, foyers).  
  • Regularly inspect unoccupied and ‘dead’ areas of the job site (eg, storerooms, empty offices, basements) — don’t allow them to become a dumping point for non-essential combustible materials.  
  • Clear undergrowth, tree debris and dry grass from wastelands on adjoining properties (if possible). 

 

2. What makes a fire intensify

What incompatible chemicals and substances do you have onsite? 

Once a fire has started burning — and it has plenty of oxygen and fuel — it will intensify if it penetrates other chemical and Dangerous Goods stores. You must especially consider where you use and store:  

  • Oxidisers 
  • Organic Peroxides 
  • Explosives 
  • Gas cylinders 
  • Unstable substances 

We always recommend conducting a full risk assessment and consulting a Dangerous Goods specialist on complex sites that carry multiple classes of Dangerous Goods as well as Class 3 Flammable Liquids.

TIPS FOR CHEMICAL FIRE PREVENTION 

  • Keep Class 3 Flammable Liquids in a sealed safety cabinet. 
  • Don’t load cabinets past their maximum capacity. 
  • Segregate incompatible chemicals according to Australian Safety Standards. 
  • Don’t store anything but Class 3 Flammable Liquids inside the cabinet.  
  • Remove excess packaging before putting chemicals into the cabinet. 
  • Clear the spill compound immediately after leaks and spills. 
  • Don’t use the top of the cabinet as a shelf for storing paperwork, folders, more chemicals, and other combustible items. 

 

Next steps 

This was the last in our series on fires involving flammable liquids. If you haven’t already done so, please download our free eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors. It provides all the information you need to store flammable liquids indoors legally and safely. Download and read it today by clicking on the image below:  

Essential Considerations when Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors download Free eBook

Read the whole series 

  1. Things you need to know about fires that involve flammable liquids (Part 1) Workplace and Community Impacts. 
  2. Things you need to know about fires that involve flammable liquids (Part 2) Ignition Sources. 
  3. Things you need to know about fires that involve flammable liquids (Part 3) Fire combustion and escalation. 
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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