Guide to the Safe Handling of Flammable Liquids

It is sad to say, that one of the most misunderstood area of industrial safety is the safe handling of Flammable Liquids and Flammable Chemicals. They give off a small amount of unpleasant odor, but they don’t look dangerous. They look no more dangerous than a glass of water or a can of house paint. But one should know, looks can be deceiving.

Flammable liquids do not need much to be explosive at room temperature. When vapors of these flammable liquids and flammable chemicals reach lower explosive limit (LEL), they can catch fire or explode. These vapors then need only oxygen and a source of ignition. Oxygen is all around us when we handle flammable liquids. The air we breathe is 21% Oxygen. The source of ignition can be something as small as a spark from your finger tip due to static build up! After vapor contact with a source of ignition, the explosion only takes a few milliseconds to develop.

So, how does one go about storing flammable liquids and dispensing them properly? Flammables need to be stored and dispensed in rooms designed for that purpose. These rooms must have adequate ventilation to keep vapor concentrations low. The containers with flammable liquids and flammable chemicals need to have provisions for bonding and grounding. The electrical equipment should be classified so there are no sources of ignition. There also needs to be provisions in the room for the eventuality that an explosion does occur. These rooms are often built with explosion relief panels that allow the explosion energy to escape the room rather than destroy it.

Safe Handling of Flammable Liquids is governed by our current applicable safety codes and standards. Compliance to these codes and standards represents due diligence by the owners and management of industrial establishments. In Ontario, a licensed Ontario Professional Engineer must examine the storage and dispensing of flammable and develop a report called a Pre-Start Health and Safety Review that documents their findings. This is the Law.

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