The safe storage of flammable liquids is extremely important. The lives of employees, the safety of your community and the future of your company depend on it.
The primary hazard associated with flammable liquids is explosion. Flammable liquids are particularly dangerous because they can produce vapors. When these vapors mix with air and they reach their flashpoint, they can ignite, causing an explosion with disastrous consequences.
When storing flammable liquids in your warehouse, it is important to take into account several factors, from industry regulations to the layout of your facility. Keep in mind these 5 tips for the safe storage of flammable liquids in warehouse facilities:
- Know a liquid’s flash point
- Choose the right container
- Store chemicals in secure cabinets
- Make sure containers are grounded
- Do not store chemicals unnecessarily
1. Know The Liquid’s Flash Point
Before you put any health and safety protocols in place, you must know more information about the flammable liquid you are storing in your warehouse facility. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) classifies a liquid based on its flash point.
What is a flash point? A flash point is “the lowest temperature at which a substance generates a sufficient amount of vapor to form a vapor/air mixture that can be ignited.”
Based on the NFPA guidelines, flammable liquids have a flash point under 100 degrees F, and combustible liquids have a flash point at or above 100 degrees F. The lower the flash point, the easier the vapors will ignite.
- Flammable liquids will catch on fire and easily burn at normal working temperatures.
- Combustible liquids need heat before they can ignite.
Why is a flash point important to know when it comes to flammable liquid storage and handling? How carefully you control the environment around the flammable liquid will help prevent that liquid from reaching its flash point. Consider these two examples:
- Ethanol has a flash point of between 52 and 54 degrees F. That means it should be stored in a cool, dry area where there is adequate ventilation.
- Diesel, on the other hand, has a much higher flash point of up to 125 degrees F. While this liquid still requires careful storage, its flash point is high enough to be non-flammable in several environments if all other safety protocols are followed.
It’s important to be aware of how the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) classifies flammable liquids as well since its definition is somewhat different from the NFPA. Under the RCRA:
- Liquids that have a flashpoint of less than 140 degrees F are considered ignitable and are regulated with a D001 waste code.
- Liquids that have a flash point of greater than 140 degrees F are considered combustible and are not subject to federal regulations as flammable.
2. Choose The Right Container
Only containers approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may store flammable liquids. Depending on the chemical, container materials include metal, plastic or glass. In general, metal is most widely used unless metal can adversely affect the container’s contents or the container’s contents could erode the metal.
The right container size is also important. The state of California requires that any company storing a flammable liquid on its premises must follow the appropriate guidelines for container size.
A glass container, for instance, can hold 1 pint of a Class IA liquid (Our article, What Is The Primary Hazard Associated With Flammable Liquids breaks down the classification system.) However, a glass container can hold 1 gallon of a Class II liquid.
Approved containers and portable tanks that these hazardous materials arrive in from a supplier are acceptable, however, even if they do not meet size requirements as long as they are compliant with U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements.
Just as important as the containers themselves are the labels that go on them. All containers for regulated hazardous waste should be properly labeled and should include:
- The start date of which the waste began accumulating
- The type of liquid
- A Hazard Class 3 flammable (or other appropriate) logo, which is a picture of a raging fire
- Contact information in the event an emergency occurs
While this information covers some federal requirements, check with your state and local authorities as well to determine if any other information is required on labels.
3. Store Chemicals In Secure Cabinets
Flammable liquids should be stored inside safe, secure cabinets. In fact, most local regulations require that companies keep flammable liquids in fire-proof storage cabinets.
According to OSHA, no more than 25 gallons of flammable or combustible liquids can be stored outside of a storage cabinet. OSHA also requires that metal cabinets be designed to meet specific requirements. These include:
- A cabinet must be double walled and include 1.5 inches of airspace.
- Joints must be riveted, welded or tightened effectively.
- Doors must include a 3-point latch.
- Cabinets must include the proper statements warning there are flammable liquids inside.
- Door sills must be raised at least 2 inches above the cabinet bottom. This helps keep any liquid that has spilled inside the cabinet.
When placing a chemical inside a cabinet, ensure it is tightly sealed to prevent any leaks or reactions with the air.
If a chemical must be refrigerated, specific storage cabinets must be used - not an everyday use fridge found in an office breakroom, for example. These refrigerators must be properly labeled as well.
4. Make Sure Containers Are Grounded
In addition to ensuring that flammable liquids are properly stored in containers, these containers must also be grounded to minimize the risk for static electricity.
Static electricity can spark a fire or explosion by raising the vapor temperature to above the flash point.
Investigators discovered static electricity was the cause of a fire and series of explosions that occurred in 2007 at a Des Moines, Iowa, chemical distribution facility. Inadequate electrical bonding and grounded sparked static electricity as crews filled a portable steel tank with ethyl acetate.
The incident was a costly mistake for the company … it was fined $1.1 million in civil penalties.
Containers should also be away from doorways, free of lakes or deterioration, and away from any ignition sources. These include sparks from electrical tools, open flames or incinerators.
5. Do Not Store Chemicals Unnecessarily
If a flammable liquid is no longer needed or you have met the maximum amount of flammable liquid permitted in a particular category under OSHA regulations, you will need to move some of those liquids from storage to disposal.
Any time a flammable liquid is stored on a property, there are inherent dangers. There are risks for chemical spills, fires, explosions, toxic gases and more. If a particular flammable liquid is no longer of use, it should be properly disposed of.
At the same time, even if you continually use a type of flammable liquid, you are required by law to limit how much of that liquid you keep on the property. For example, OSHA does not permit the storage of more than 25 gallons of flammable liquids outside of an approved cabinet. The governing agency also does not allow more than 60 gallons of a category 1, 2 or 3 flammable liquid or 120 gallons of a category 4 flammable liquid in a single storage cabinet.
If you have hit your storage capacity and must make room for other flammable liquids necessary for your operation, safe disposal may be required.
Make sure you choose a certified hazardous waste disposal company that will safely dispose of your waste, and consider how you want that waste to contribute to your sustainability goals. Just because the flammable liquid waste is no longer housed on site does not mean your responsibility for what happens to that waste ends.
Temarry Recycling Can Help
Companies like Temarry Recycling can help you take your sustainability goals one step further by recycling your solvents at its distillation facility. Known as closed loop recycling, our process:
- Converts high BTU organic solids to steam through a waste to energy process. This steam is then used as energy onsite.
- Uses the steam to power solvent recovery stills through a solvent distillation process. Spent solvents are re-manufactured and sold back into industry for their original solvent properties.
- Extracts usable water from industrial hazardous wastes during a water treatment process. This water is used onsite for industrial needs, including the waste to energy equipment and a cooling tower.
How does a recycling facility, such as Temarry’s, benefit companies that use flammable liquids?
- Companies enhance their sustainability plans by preserving more resources. This helps ensure companies are less likely to rely on natural resources in the future.
- Companies decrease transportation costs since they do not need to transport their flammable waste across the country to states like Kansas and Arkansas, where fuel blending facilities are located. Instead, Temarry has a Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facility just across the U.S.- Mexico border. This also reduces a company’s carbon footprint since less fuel is needed for transportation.
- Companies can gain economic incentives, since the state of California offers grant, payment and loan programs for businesses that improve the sustainability of their waste stream management.
Safely storing flammable liquids and disposing of your flammable liquid waste is key to building a safe environment for your employees and community, as well as securing a safe future for your business.