Flammable Liquid Safety
- Define and describe the characteristics of flammable liquids.
- Recognize hazards inherent with work involving flammable liquids.
- Identify the safety requirements for the use of flammable liquids on the job.
- Describe what to do if you experience health effects from exposure to, or accidents involving, flammable liquids.
- Recognize the storage requirements for flammable liquids at a work facility.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), around 1,400 fires occur annually in which flammable or combustible liquids first were ignited. Direct property damage is approximately $76 million dollars each year.
We’ve all seen a vehicle explode in the movies, right? Environmental Health & Safety magazine writes that 1 gallon of vaporized gasoline can explode with the same force as 20 sticks of dynamite.” That is one explanation as to why the hazards of often volatile flammable liquids like gasoline are mostly well known.
Flammable and combustible liquids have many uses. For example, they are used in day-to-day operations at industrial and commercial sites as fuels, solvents, and cleaners. However, flammable liquids are also very volatile and under the right conditions they can start a fire.
The flashpoint of a flammable or combustible liquid is the lowest temperature at which the liquid gives off enough vapor, at or near its surface, to start burning. OSHA defines a flammable liquid as any liquid having a flashpoint below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Examples of flammable liquids include gasoline and turpentine.
You should become familiar with each flammable and combustible liquid that is used at your jobsite, know the hazards involved, and follow the safe handling and storage practices to prevent accidents. You should always examine the Safety Data Sheet for any flammable and combustible liquid used as part of your work routine.
The OSHA Standard for Flammable and Combustible Liquids lists specific safety procedures that are required for handling flammable and combustible liquids. Because safety is so critical when working with these liquids, OSHA recommends dealing with the smallest amount necessary to do the task. That’s a common sense tip.
Taking the necessary precautions to work with flammable liquids safely is critically important because if handled safely, the level of risk involved in using these supplies is cut dramatically. If you take the right steps and don’t cut any corners, you can keep your involvement with such substances incident free.
OSHA requires using only approved containers and portable tanks for storing and transporting these substances, and provides guidelines for flammable and combustible liquid containers based on the size of the container and the type of liquid it holds.
Safety precautions must be followed even when flammable and combustible liquids are not being used. For example, they must be kept in covered containers. Approved 5 gallon containers with spring-closing lids can even be made of plastic. Areas where flammable or combustible liquids are transferred from one tank or container to another must be adequately separated from each other, especially if in the same building. In fact, walls or barriers having suitable fire resistance should separate these areas—that’s an important engineered control.
Another critical control involves disposal and drainage; only drainage to a closed system sump is allowed, otherwise spills or leaks must be contained with the storage area for cleanup. Flammable liquid storage areas must also have secondary spill containment to prevent liquids from getting into the ground or the sewer system.
Because of the hazards associated with spills of flammable or combustible liquids, it’s important to promptly and safely handle any leakage or spills that may occur during normal working activities until these materials are removed and disposed of by qualified personnel.
Use absorbent materials to clean up a spill. Once a spill has been absorbed, the combustible scraps, debris, and waste materials, such as oily rags, and so on, should be stored in properly labeled and covered metal receptacles. These covered receptacles should be fire-resistant and designed to safely contain solvent wastes and residue from flammable liquid until these materials are removed by licensed cleanup experts. To prevent spills, keep flammable or combustible liquids covered when not in use.
Because the mere presence of flammable or combustible liquids at a jobsite creates the likelihood that explosive vapors may also be present, adequate room ventilation should be provided at floor level to prevent the accumulation of hazardous concentrations of heavier-than-air vapors where Class I liquids, such as Ether, Pentane, Gasoline, or Hexane are stored, pumped, or dispensed. Air circulation keeps flammable vapors moving onward and upward through the ventilation system, which removes the danger of respiratory distress from noxious gases and combustion.