One of the most common fire hazards I encounter when doing business breakthroughs is the presence of flammable materials. These are substances that can be easily ignited and burn quickly. Larger industrial and manufacturing operations are often aware of the dangers these materials pose and have the most up-to-date security procedures and storage facilities to mitigate the risks they pose to their business.
On the other hand, many small businesses may overlook or simply not be aware of the risks of 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 risk information. Common fluids include fuels and oils for equipment, detergents and aerosols, as well as colors and solvents. Common gases include propane, butane and natural gas. Solids contain gunpowder, matches and pyrophoric metals.
All these materials require special precautions for storage, handling and use. For small quantities, keep the materials in the original packaging, which should contain warning information and appropriate usage and storage tips. If removed from the original packaging, make sure that the new storage container is clearly labeled and free of holes or leaks.
The flammable liquid itself does not burn, but rather the invisible vapor it emits. One tool for reducing the risk of flammable substances is the use of safety cans. These cans minimize waste and control vapors in connection with transportation, dosing and storage of flammable substances. When not used actively, the materials should always be covered or closed. Avoid or eliminate potential sources of ignition where flammable substances are used or stored.
When storing flammable substances, the best option is to use a dedicated storage cabinet. They contain spills and protect liquids from lightning fires. A small fire that starts with other means can quickly become a big fire when it meets flammable materials. Typical cabinets are made of high quality metal with self-closing doors, flame retardants and ventilation. Painting an old filing cabinet yellow will probably not offer much protection.
Ideally, all storage containers should be approved by Factory Mutual (FM) or Underwriter Laboratory (UL). These two organizations are nationally recognized, independent test laboratories to which manufacturers send products for evaluation of their ability to meet the safety requirements of their intended use.
When transferring materials, use appropriate grounding and bonding procedures as a conduit connecting to the storage container which allows static or other energy to travel through the wire rather than sparking near the smoke. Keep liquids and other flammable substances separated by type and away from high traffic areas.
Taking these basic steps and educating employees about the hazards of flammable materials is a simple and inexpensive way to improve the safety of your small business. Contact your independent agent for additional loss control resources on fire safety and more.