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How to Store Flammable Substances Safely

Storing flammable substances safely is very important to reduce the risk of fires breaking out on your premises. If you are working with or regularly use substances that can be ignited easily, then here are some tips to ensure you are looking after them properly.

What are flammable substances?

To start with, let’s explain what flammable substances are. Take a look around. Chances are you encounter these on a daily basis. Flammable or combustible substances range from basic cleaning fluids and cooking oil to aerosols, fuel and gases such as propane.

The definition of a flammable substance is one that ignites or burns easily. These materials can be either in solid, liquid or gas form and are common in both domestic and commercial environments.

Clear labelling should be used to indicate those materials that are highly flammable. If you are storing a large volume of these substances, then you should make sure that appropriate hazard labelling is used in storage areas.

Why do fires start?

For a fire to start, there are three key ingredients that must be present – fuel, heat and oxygen. All it takes is a spark to start it off. So the key to preventing fires is to keep these components apart and away from ignition sources.

What are flash points?

All flammable liquids and gases have a flash point, which is a temperature that their vapour will ignite at, if exposed to a spark.

If you’re storing flammable liquids and gases, you should be aware of their flash point and make sure they are kept safely below this temperature.

Ventilate storage areas

If vapours from flammable liquids or gases escape and build up this can cause an explosion, therefore if you are storing large quantities of these, you’ll need to make sure there is a constant flow of air to diffuse any vapours.

Heat and ignition sources should not be present

Fires can start from something as simple as a tiny spark. Common ignition sources include electrical appliances, heaters, lights, naked flames and cigarettes. Effort should be made to keep ignition sources as far away from stores of flammables as possible.

If smoking is allowed on your premises, it’s best to enforce strict rules keeping smokers in certain specified areas, so that accidents do not occur.

Containers should be secure

Flammable liquids and gases should be stored in secure containers. Regular checks for damage should be carried out to minimize the risk of leaks. Canisters should be placed on a flat surface, ideally on the ground and kept upright. If a container shows signs of damage, including denting or bulging, it should be replaced immediately. Don’t attempt to repair or remove faulty valves or unless you are properly trained to do so.

Exchange for less flammable materials

The safest way to minimize the risks associated with flammable materials is to remove them all together, or replace with less dangerous substances. If you can’t avoid or replace substances, only store the amount you intend to use. Don’t stock up on flammables unnecessarily.

Separate storage areas

Keep storage locations for flammables away from areas where there are people, doors, exits, stairways and other means of escape. Ideally dangerous substances should be spread out, so that large quantities aren’t stored in one place.

Storing a large quantity of flammable substances?

In some environments it may be necessary to store large volumes of flammable substances. There are special guidelines for this. Containers must be kept securely, with emergency valves for metal tanks or containers. The volume of substance will dictate the most appropriate type of container.

  • 5 litres – glass
  • 25 litres – plastic or metal

Keep fire extinguishers near stores of flammables

Fire extinguishers should be located nearby places where flammables are stored. These should be visible and within easy reach if needed. As your first line of defence against fire, having extinguishers on hand can prevent a small fire getting out of control.

The type of fire extinguisher you require will depend on the type of fire that is most likely to occur. Generally dry powder extinguishers are good to have around flammables as they can tackle Class A, B and C fires.

Risk assessments

Inevitably when storing flammable substances, particularly large quantities in commercial and public environments, this will need to be identified in your fire risk assessment. You should outline, the steps that you will take to reduce the potential danger around the presence of these materials.

It’s highly recommended to have a full risk assessment carried out on your premises, particularly if you are storing substances that present a fire risk.

Storing flammables on your premises? We can provide advice and full fire risk assessments to protect you against the threat of fire.

Call us today on 08000 515 199.

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5 Common Fire Hazards in the Office

Fires in the workplace can have a devastating impact on businesses. The potential loss of data and even lives can mean that some organisations never recover from a fire. Office environments provide numerous fire risks and if a fire starts, it will spread very quickly if there are no fire protection systems in place.

Minimising the risk of office fires and trying to prevent them is very important. The first stage is to identify the key fire risks associated with this particular environment. Here are five of the most common office fire safety issues and how you can take steps to protect your business.

Damaged power cords can result in fires

Offices typically have a whole host of electrical equipment including computers, monitors, photocopiers, printers, lamps, kettles and other appliances. Over time electrical wire casing can become damaged and worn exposing the wiring inside. This carries the risk of electric shock as well as sparks, which can catch onto flammable materials and start a fire.

To reduce the risk of a fire starting due to damaged cabling, the wiring for all electrical equipment should be inspected on a regular basis and replaced if it is becoming worn.

Combustible materials present in the office

One of the reasons that fires spread so quickly in offices is due to the abundance of combustible materials. Loose paper, discarded packaging, waste bins and furnishings provide plenty of fuel for fires. Add into the mix highly flammable adhesives and aerosols and it’s clear to see why offices fires can quickly become so devastating.

Although the risk created by these materials cannot be completely removed as many of these items are necessary in the workplace, it can be significantly reduced by taking steps to keep the office tidy and free from paper and packaging.

Any waste should be collected regularly and stored securely outside the building so it is not allowed to build up. Where possible, a clean desk policy should be adopted and papers stored away in filing cabinets unless they are needed.

Care should be taken when using flammable liquids and aerosols. Staff should be made aware of the potential danger and safe usage. If possible, usage should be restricted to a separate room and these materials should be kept away from sources of heat at all times.

Soft furnishings such as sofas are becoming more common in offices. These are often made of flammable fabrics, which can burn rapidly. When choosing furniture for your office ensure it is compliant with legislation on fire resistant materials and manufacture. This also applies to desks, as there are now many fireproof desks on the market and opting for these reduces the amount of flammable materials in your office.

If a fire does break out, having an appropriate type of fire extinguisher on site is essential to catch fires early on before they get the chance to spread.

Blocked walkways and fire escapes can delay evacuation in a fire

It’s essential that all office corridors and walkways are kept clear so that access to fire escapes is not restricted, which could delay the evacuation of a building. Furniture, waste and other objects must not be placed close to or in front of fire doors, as these must be easily accessed at all times.

Staff vigilance is a must to ensure that these safety guidelines are followed and proper training should be given to educate employees on their role in preventing and reporting fire hazards.

Extension leads overheating present a threat of fire

Improper use of extension leads carries a risk of electric shock and fire. Overloading electrical sockets can cause them to overheat and burst into flames. For this reason extension leads should only be used if necessary. Attention should be paid to ensure that these are evenly distributed and that not too many appliances are plugged in and in use at once.

As with all electrical equipment, extensions should be bought from reputable suppliers to guarantee that they are safe for use. If you suspect that an extension lead is faulty or is overheating, you should stop using it immediately.

Fire dangers of computer equipment and laptops

Computers play a fundamental role in the majority of modern offices. Generally speaking, they are considered to be very safe and not present much of a fire risk. However there are a few fire safety considerations associated with the use of computers and measures that you can take to protect your office.

The main issue is due to the heat that computers produce and the potential for overheating. Although there are mechanisms built into computers to cool them down, these can fail. Therefore you should make sure that papers and other combustibles are kept at distance from monitors and CPUs so that they are not ignited.

Laptops can also present an issue if they are placed on soft surfaces (such as the office sofa) for a long period of time. This is because the cooling vents are usually based on the bottom of the laptop and blocking these means that the laptop is more likely to overheat. For this reason laptops should only be used on hard surfaces such as desks and breathing space allowed so the cooling systems can work properly.  

All employees should be instructed to turn computers and monitors off when they leave the office at the end of the day. This reduces the risk of a fire starting in the office after hours when there are less likely to be people around to raise the alarm.

Fire Risk Assessments are essential to preventing office fires

All offices and workplaces are unique, so it’s important to have a proper risk assessment on your premises to establish the potential for fire to break out and how to combat this.

Euro Fire Protection are fire protection specialists and can provide a full fire risk assessment  for your business premises. Call now on 08000 515 199.

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Fire Safety Advice for Your Business during Colder Weather

The threat of fire breaking out exists all year round but winter brings with it specific fire safety concerns that need to be addressed. By following these guidelines you can reduce the likelihood of a fire occurring in your workplace during the colder winter months and ensure your business is best protected.

Be prepared for power cuts and use a torch instead of candles

Unsettled, stormy weather particularly like the treacherous conditions many parts of the UK have experienced this winter; result in a higher risk of power outages. It’s worth being prepared in case electricity supplies are cut off and your workplace is plunged into darkness. Keeping battery powered torches on your premises is advisable so you have a back-up plan if all else fails. This is a far safer option than using candles, which can pose a significant fire threat.

If candles are your only option during a power cut, follow these essential safety guidelines:

  • Make sure candles are positioned in a place where they are away from materials such as curtains or other flammables that could be catch alight.
  • Place candles somewhere safe where they won’t be knocked over. Avoid window sills.
  • Don’t leave candles unattended and make sure they are completely extinguished before you leave the premises.

Take care when using portable heaters

Portable heaters are one of the biggest causes of domestic fires during the winter, but they can also pose a threat to commercial properties too if they are brought into the workplace. Fires can start if the heater is placed too near to furniture or other combustible items. During periods of cold weather, space heaters are a popular choice as they are great at quickly boosting the temperature of a room.

To reduce the fire risk:

  • Check the wiring and plug for damage before using, especially if you’ve had the heater for more than 5 years.
  • Do not use extensions cords with portable heaters.
  • Keep at least 3 feet distance around the heater, making sure it is kept away from desks, cardboard packaging and paper which may be present in an office environment.
  • Ensure that heaters are not left on for an extended period of time and the last person to leave the premises at the end of the day turns the heater off.
  • Do not place any items on top of the heater.
  • If you are buying a heater for your workplace, choose one that includes safety features, such as a time safety switch, so that it cannot overheat or one that automatically turns the heater off if it falls over.

Keep flammable materials away from sources of heat

It goes without saying at all times of the year that any materials that are flammable should receive special attention regarding their storage. If you have highly flammable materials on your premises you’ll need to check that they are kept away from heat sources such as radiators and electrical equipment.

This is a concern as the weather turns colder, as items may have been stored near radiators and boilers that were previously not in use. Therefore every year, before you turn on your heating for the winter it’s advisable to have a general inspection to ensure that all flammable materials present on site are stored properly and safely.

Ensure smokers keep to designated smoking areas

Ok so it may be snowing outside and the temperature may be below freezing but that doesn’t mean that smokers shouldn’t uphold your smoking policy! If your regulations state that staff should only smoke in designated areas, then this rule should be observed even though your smoking areas are outside the building and the weather is bad.

Discarded cigarettes are one of the top causes of fires in the workplace so it’s important to enforce your rules and ensure smokers aren’t compromising safety.

The designated area should be properly kitted out with proper cigarette disposal bins to make this safer. Employees should be encouraged to follow your smoking guidelines and make sure their cigarettes are put out properly.

Make sure your fire evacuation procedure is winter-proof

A change in the seasons can bring very different conditions so you should make sure that your fire evacuation plans are effective all year round. For example during a spell of cold weather fire assembly points may become slippery due to ice or snow. Appropriate measure must be taken to ensure the safety of employees, especially during a fire evacuation.

Therefore assembly points and pathways leading to these should be gritted, cleared of snow or alternatives found that are less dangerous to employees. Staff should also be encouraged to keep coats or warm items of clothing on hand so that in the event of a fire, they will be able to keep warm if forced to be outside for long periods of time.

The best way to ensure that your fire evacuation policy is effective year round is to test it regularly and have regular workplace fire drills, even in winter. This may mean that employees will have to venture outside into the cold but it is all in their best interests to protect their safety.

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