One of the most common fire hazards I encounter while doing business walk-throughs is the presence of flammable materials. These are substances that can ignite easily and burn rapidly. Larger industrial and manufacturing operations are often well-aware of the hazards posed by these materials, and have the most updated safety procedures and storage facilities to mitigate the risk these pose on their operations.
On the other hand, many small businesses can overlook or are simply unaware of the risks involved with poor control of flammable materials. All business owners and employees should be aware of the types of chemicals they may encounter while working. Consult labels or safety data sheets (SDS) for hazard information. Common liquids include fuels and oils for equipment, cleaners and aerosols, and paints and solvents. Common gases include propane, butane, and natural gas. Solids include gunpowder, matches, and pyrophoric metals.
All these materials require special precautions in storage, handling, and use. For small quantities, keep the materials in their original packaging which should contain warning information as well as proper use and storage tips. If removed from their original packaging, ensure that the new storage container is clearly labeled and free of holes or leaks.
The flammable liquid itself doesn’t burn, but rather the invisible vapor it emits. One tool to help reduce the hazards associated with flammables is the use of safety cans. These cans minimize spillage and control vapors related to carrying, dispensing, and storing flammables. When not actively being used, the materials should always be covered or closed. Avoid or eliminate potential ignition sources wherever flammables are being used or stored.
When storing flammables, the best option is to use a dedicated storage cabinet. They contain spills and protect liquids against flash fires. A small fire starting by other means can quickly become a large fire when it encounters flammable materials. Typical cabinets are made of high-grade metal with self-closing doors, flame arrestors, and ventilation. Painting an old filing cabinet yellow probably won’t offer much protection.
Ideally, any storage container should be Factory Mutual (FM) or Underwriter Laboratory (UL) approved. These two organizations are nationally recognized, independent testing laboratories to which manufacturers submit products for evaluation of their ability to meet safety requirements under intended use.
When transferring materials, use proper grounding and bonding procedures such as a wire that connects to the storage container allowing static or other energy to travel through the wire instead of sparking near the fumes. Keep liquids and other flammables separated by type and away from high traffic areas.
Taking these basic steps and training employees on the hazards associated with flammable materials is a simple, inexpensive way to improve the safety of your small business. Contact your independent agent for additional loss control resources on fire safety and more.