When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created regulations governing the use, storage and handling of flammable liquids, they incorporated the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Code 30 Standard into regulation by reference. This comprehensive industry consensus standard addresses many different facets of flammable and combustible liquids storage, including storing and handling liquids in containers like drums and pails.
Requirements in this standard aren’t exclusive to the containers themselves. Because of the hazards presented by having flammable liquids in a facility, where and how containers are stored and handled need to be carefully considered. Even factors such as electrical and ventilation systems play roles in flammable liquids safety.
Here’s a brief look at things to consider according to NFPA 30 when storing and using flammable and combustible liquids in your facility.
General Storage of Flammable Liquids
Larger quantities of flammable liquids are typically stored in tanks, intermediate bulk containers (totes) or drums. Smaller quantities that are used at work stations are usually stored in containers of five gallons or less. Depending upon the class of the liquid, there are limitations on how much can be stored outside of tanks, flammable safety cabinets or designated storage areas.
There are also prohibitions on where some flammable liquids may be stored. For example, Class I flammable liquids cannot be stored in basements. If wooden shelving is used to store flammable liquids, it needs to be at least 1” thick. All storage must be at least 36” from beams, girders, roofs and ceilings, and it may not interfere with the operation of any fire suppression equipment.
When flammable liquids are stored with other materials, care needs to be taken to separate them from any incompatible materials by a distance of at least 20 feet or by a partition. Flammable liquids also need to be stored at least 25’ from oxidizers and away from water-reactive materials.
All exit routes must meet NFPA 101 Life Safety Code requirements. This includes minimum height and width requirements for all points of the exit routes. It also includes ensuring that no part of the exit route is obstructed by the storage of flammable liquids or any other product.
Fire extinguishers must be available near storage areas and employees must be trained in their use. All fire extinguishers must be inspected monthly and tested at least annually to ensure that they are in working order.
Housekeeping of Flammable Liquid Storage Areas
Combustible materials such as cardboard, paper towels, sawdust and debris need to be kept away from flammable storage areas to prevent them from becoming involved and spreading a fire. To further help prevent fires, all containers of flammable liquids must be kept closed when they are not in use.
When dispensing from containers or collecting waste liquids, bonding and grounding containers helps to channel static electricity and prevent explosions. Bonding and grounding assembles need to be checked regularly to ensure that they make firm, direct connections.
Even the best of plans and the most well-written procedures sometimes fail. Being prepared for anything from small leaks to large spills protects the environment and provides employees with the tools and equipment that they need to take care of these problems quickly and safely.
Secondary containment systems in storage areas keep spills from spreading, allow them to be quickly absorbed or vacuumed and minimize the amount of area that needs to be decontaminated after a spill. Stocking spill kits in storage, processing, fluid dispensing and waste handling areas and training employees to use them will help to ensure that small spills are handled quickly and efficiently so that vapors don’t build up and present problems, and slippery puddles don’t present a floor safety hazard.
Flammable liquids are so commonly used in workplaces that they can sometimes be taken for granted. Storing and handling them properly and being prepared for spills and fires are essential to workplace safety.
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