Things you need to know about fires that involve flammable liquids (Part 1) Workplace and Community Impacts. 

Aug 16, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

Here at STOREMASTA our #1 goal is to give you the information, tools and equipment you need to store Dangerous Goods (including Class 3 Flammable Liquids) legally and safely. When storing flammable liquids, preventing fires is a primary concern — so to help you assess the fire risk from flammable liquids, we’ve created a short blog series. 

Fires involving flammable liquids 

What is the potential impact of a flammable liquids fire at your workplace? 

If your worksite holds even small quantities of flammable liquids — petrol, diesel, kerosene, turps, toluene (or similar) solvents, acetone, alcohols, paint, degreasers, cleaning chemicals, adhesives, varnish, lacquers — your worksite has a fire risk. 

Fires involving flammable liquids burn hot, spread quickly and are very difficult to control.  And because burning liquids can travel down stairs, under doors and storage cabinets, the flames can easily penetrate offices, buildings, vehicles and storage facilities located near the original source of the fire. 

A flammable liquids fire could impact your workplace in a number of ways, including: 

  • Human costs - deaths and injuries to workers, fire and emergency responders, site visitors, members of the public are devastating (and the most difficult to bear). When people die at work, co-workers as well as family and friends are left traumatised. Injured workers may spend months or years in rehabilitation and therapy and may never be able to work again. 
  • Property costs - chemical fires can quickly lead to the destruction of buildings, operating plant, machinery, files and data, computer servers and IT hardware. Even with insurance, the loss of data, production equipment and raw materials can be the end of many businesses. 
  • Environmental costs - fires that escape into native forests, parklands, or agricultural properties can destroy crops, kill native wildlife and livestock. Fires can force the long-term closure of national parks or nature reserves, and limit community access to other public places. 
  • Health hazards - burning materials (eg, plastics) and chemicals often produce toxic gases and smokes — very often carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and nitrogen oxides.  
  • Community costs - fires can damage public buildings and community facilities, but also cause public interruptions to essential services like electricity, water, gas and broadband.  
  • Financial costs - of course there are financial costs associated with the damage to buildings and property, but consider also interruptions to production and trade, time lost during rebuilding, increase in insurance premiums and workers compensation, penalties from your WHS Regulator, loss of reputation. 

 

Assessing fire risks from flammable liquids 

Class 3 Flammable Liquids are Dangerous Goods, so we recommend conducting a fire risk assessment on each of the chemicals. You will need to gain an understanding of: 

  • Physical properties of the chemicals and how they could ignite or explode. Eg, flashpoint, auto-ignition temperatures, explosive range, incompatible substances.  
  • Overall site conditions that could support or intensify a fire. Eg, combustible materials, neighbouring vegetation, reactive or oxidising chemicals also kept onsite, other Dangerous Goods stores. 
  • Quantities of flammable liquids and the potential size/reach of a fire. Eg, 6 tins of enamel paint kept in a flammable liquid’s cabinet vs 2,000 litres of unleaded petrol kept in bulk tanks. Could the fire impact the whole site, or be quickly contained? 
  • Location of flammable liquids stores in relation to workplace operations. Eg, 4 drums of fuel sitting outside on an unbunded pallet near the loading dock — vulnerable to forklifts, delivery vehicles and tampering. 
  • Likelihood of a fire occurring at different areas of the jobsite. Eg, chemicals decanted from fuel drums once a week vs once a day. 
  • Fire protection equipment and emergency procedures in place at the worksite. Eg, mandatory inductions and reviews, fire evacuation drills and fire equipment training. 
  • Attitude and awareness of workers toward fire safety and prevention. Eg, workers always wear PPE, report system failures, and are proactive about fire safety. 

REMEMBER: Risk assessments are an essential step in a compliant Risk Management Methodology that systematically identifies, assesses, eliminates (or controls) and reviews each chemical hazard at the workplace.  

 

Preventing fires involving flammable liquids 

Even without a fire risk assessment, there are measures you can put in place immediately to reduce the likelihood of flammable liquids igniting or contributing to a fire. We suggest as a minimum: 

  • Using compliant flammable liquids cabinets (indoors) or erecting a dedicated outdoor store for larger quantities. 
  • Don’t overload chemical cabinets or exceed the aggregate quantities specified in Australian Standard AS1940:2017 –- The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids.  
  • Restrict access and allowable activities near flammable liquids storage and decanting areas. 
  • Implement strict housekeeping procedures and hold both workers (and supervisors) accountable for instances of non-compliance. 
  • When chemicals cannot be stored inside cabinets, use bunding and secondary containment to hold leaks and spills. 
  • Use only portable containers that are manufactured and approved for the fuel or chemicals being stored inside. 
  • As far as possible, minimise quantities of flammable liquids held onsite.  

Next steps 

Keeping Class 3 Flammable Liquids inside a safety cabinet that has been manufactured to AS1940:2017 –- The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids is a key control measure for ensuring the chemicals don’t ignite or contribute to a workplace fire. For more information about choosing a suitable safety cabinet for your chemicals, we invite you to download our free eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors. 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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