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Safety first - June 2018

10 August 2018

Alan Murray warns of the dangers of failing to ensure that hazardous and combustible substances are properly stored.

IN MOST laboratories and industries, the use of hazardous and combustible materials is part of the regular routine and is unavoidable. On a daily basis the improper storage of such materials puts people, the environment and property in danger.

A worst case scenario, such as the one described in the following example, could happen to anyone. As a result of a minor accident in a laboratory or industrial premises, a small fire breaks out. Quantities of flammable material stored incorrectly on a shelf quickly accelerate the speed of the fire. In this instance, evacuation times and fire extinguishing times are reduced, resulting in potential injury and damage to the premises. In such cases, the negligent handling and storage of hazardous materials has serious consequences. The general lack of safety measures, along with the failure to mitigate the risk of fire spread, could possibly lead to insurance issues.

Additionally, the laboratory manager and safety manager could face prosecution, and the personal liability of the company’s senior management may be involved. Substantial costs for disposal and renovation would arise and incalculable production losses would ensue. Furthermore, the associated damage to the company’s reputation could have potential long-term effects.

Hazardous materials are therefore always very much a current topic for every business. In order to avoid accidents and to protect employees in the best possible way, hazardous materials must be stored in the correct way, for example in a safety storage cabinet. Particularly strict storage regulations concerning the handling of hazardous materials must be observed, as defined in global regulations such as GHS (Globally harmonised system) directives and guidelines of the European Union and the rules and laws of the individual country.

Safe storage cabinets

In this context the most important regulation is BS EN 14470-1:2004: Fire safety storage cabinets. Safety storage cabinets for flammable liquids. Safety storage cabinets with a proven fire resistance class in accordance to BS EN 14470-1 help provide industries with a less risky local storage of toxic, flammable or potentially explosive substances in modern workplaces.

A safety storage cabinet manufactured to BS EN 14470-1 provides a series of safety measures that protect the stored hazardous materials against the fire. First of all in the event of fire, the drawers as well as the doors close automatically through thermal release. If no door open arrest system is used, the doors must close automatically from every position when released. The doors close at 122° F maximum and the closing sequence is completed within 20 seconds – starting from any position. The automatic closing works using a fusible link. These fusible links are located within the door open arrest system. The ventilation spigots and the drawers. As a consequence, in the event of fire all mechanisms close automatically.

Once the automatic drawer and door have closed, the air ducts will automatically shut. Following this, the gaps of the safety storage cabinet become totally sealed between the door and frame through special intumescent seal protection strips which, when exposed to fire, expand and seal hermetically to avoid heat entering the cabinet.

Jointly, the steel body and the insulation within prevent a critical temperature increase inside the cabinet – the steel body alone does not offer any protection and in fact it is a strong heat conductor. Underneath the robust steel surface are multiple layers of fireproof mineral fibre insulation material and these insulation boards prevent temperature increase within the cabinet.

Some safety storage cabinets can with stand fire over a time period up to 90 minutes. In spite of the fact that this heavy exposure to temperatures exceeds 1,000°C, the containers used for storing flammable liquids and hazardous materials remain safe and perfectly intact.

Only such cabinets will allow sufficient time for the personnel to evacuate the premises and the firefighters to enter the building, preventing a minor and extinguishable fire from turning into an uncontrollable one.

Alan Murray is chief executive of the British Safety Industry Federation. For more information, visit www.bsif.co.uk