The handling and storage of flammable or explosive materials in the workplace is a subject that requires careful consideration if businesses are to stay safe AND be compliant with government legislation. The potential for injury or death, substantial property damage and risk to public safety runs very high with the use of these types of materials, so it is critical that strict guidelines for handling and storage are followed to the letter.
Due to the inherent danger of using hazardous materials in the workplace, all businesses must adhere to legislated standards that help to ensure the safety of everyone. WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) is a Canada-wide program that provides information on hazardous materials of all types that are used in the workplace. This system was developed through collaboration between government, industry and labour organizations, and is supported by both federal and provincial regulatory legislation. Although WHMIS deals with hazardous materials of all kinds, this article is focused on flammable and explosive materials only.
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In order to create national industry standards, the WHMIS program includes 3 keys elements for all hazardous materials:
- Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
- Worker Education
All efforts are legislated federally under the Hazardous Products Act and locally through Occupational Health and Safety Act regulations. It is the responsibility of all employers to communicate with, and adhere to, all safety guidelines as specified.
The employer must develop work procedures for the use, storage and transportation of flammable materials and ensure workers are trained on these procedures. Because of the potential fire hazard, the employer will also need to have additional procedures in place to deal with fires and spills. Work procedures should address:
- Storage & dispensing
- Control of ignition sources
- Spill clean up & maintenance
- Environmental controls (eg. ventilation)
- Personal protective equipment
- Fire protection & prevention
- Special training & procedures (eg. confined spaces / hot work etc.)
- Emergency procedures
The WHMIS classifies chemicals into a variety of types. Flammable or explosive materials would include:
Class A - Compressed Gas
Class B - Flammable and Combustible Material
Division 1: Flammable Gas
Division 2: Flammable Liquid
Division 3: Combustible Liquid
Division 4: Flammable Solid
Division 5: Flammable Aerosol
Division 6: Reactive Flammable Material
Class C - Oxidizing Material (can contribute to how severely other materials burn)
Aside from following WHMIS guidelines, there are a variety of things that workers can do everyday to help minimize risks.
- Consult the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for information about the hazards and necessary precautions for the materials you are using. Fully understand how each material ‘behaves’ under certain circumstances and how best to control them.
- Use only in well-ventilated areas
- Keep containers closed when not in use
- Keep the smallest amount of flammable liquid necessary in work areas
- CLEAN up spills immediately and use good housekeeping practices in work areas to eliminate any potential sources of combustion
- Use approved and properly labeled containers only
- Keep materials away from all sources of heat and ignition, including cutting or welding tools, boilers, pipes and ducting, high intensity lights etc.
- Do not use flammable or combustible liquids for anything other than their intended uses
- Always wear proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including eye and face protection, specific gloves for the type of material being handled, clothing, aprons, footwear etc.
- Transport drums using specialized lifting and cradling equipment only and ensure that they are adequately vented and grounded
- Store waste liquids in the same way as unused materials, and use proper containers for other waste including rags and spill clean-up
Storing flammable and combustible materials safely is a controlled practice that is based on a variety of laws, in addition to building, fire and electrical codes. All companies that use and store hazardous materials have the responsibility of complying with these regulations. Check with local authorities for regulations regarding storage areas and the types and volumes of materials stored.
- Storage areas should always be cool, dry and well ventilated
- Store in approved containers only and clearly label according to WHMIS standards
- Restrict access to authorized personnel only
- Storage areas should be inspected regularly for signs of leaks, corrosion, moisture or damage to containers
- Keep an inventory of materials in storage, including their amounts and locations
- Store flammable and combustible materials away from production areas, main access aisles, building and room exits and elevators
- Store flammable and combustible liquids away from incompatible materials (e.g., oxidizers)
- There should be no direct heat or ignition sources close to storage areas
- Storage areas should be situated so that they are easily accessible to firefighters
- Storage areas should be well set up with adequate firefighting and spill control equipment
- Keep the amount of materials stored as small as possible (in keeping with local fire codes)
- Post suitable warning signs for access, required protective equipment and ignition risks
- Properly bond and ground metal containers/cylinders to eliminate static electricity and the potential for ignition
Every company that deals with hazardous materials must have a well-defined emergency plan in-place in order to minimize the risk to workers.
- Have a written emergency and escape plan that is reviewed regularly, clearly communicated to workers and is part of training protocol. Practice your plans on an ongoing basis as ‘dry run’ scenarios to ensure effectiveness.
- Ensure that the facility or job site is equipped with all necessary emergency and first aid gear. This may include fire suppression systems, fire extinguishers, approved first aid kits, specialized PPE, emergency blankets, eyewash and chemical wash stations etc.
- In the event of an emergency involving chemicals or flammable materials, have only specially trained personnel, equipped with the proper tools and protective equipment, handle the situation
- Call the fire department immediately, even if you think you may be able to handle the situation yourself. Incidents involving explosive and flammable materials can get out of hand very quickly and it’s always best to bring in the experts to assess the situation.
- Evacuate the premises immediately (according to your emergency plan) and also warn others in the area
- Fully document and report and incidents involving hazardous materials