There’s a another way to protect your business and staff from fires – one that has nothing to do with fire escape plans, sprinklers, or hoses!
If you deal with hazardous materials on a daily basis, think about how you handle, store and transport your cargo and wares – this can directly influence your risk of fire at your workplace.
Today, we’ll explain just how hazchem safety can protect you from fires, and how you can reduce your risk of fire with proper hazchem safety such as hazchem signs, training and handling procedures.
The link between hazchem and fire
We know what you’re thinking: what does hazchem have to do with fire?
It’s simple: many hazardous materials are hazardous because of their fire potential!
We’ve talked before about the different classes of hazardous substances, and the associated hazchem signs.
If you read that article when we published it, you’ll no doubt remember that several of those categories are dedicated to flammable materials…
Class 2.1(flammable gas)
Hydrogen, methane, propane, butane… each of these gases is highly flammable and combust when exposed to flame.
Class 3 (flammable liquid)
In addition to being flammable, flammable liquids like petrol, kerosene, alcohol and diesel can also cause irritation if they come into direct contact with skin.
Class 4.1 (flammable solids)
While all solids are technically flammable, materials like coal and sulfur are especially combustible.
Many of these substances are thermally unstable, and in some cases, they may not even need a flame, combusting when exposed to friction.
Class 4.2 (spontaneously combustible)
Like the name suggests, these substances can catch alight seemingly randomly, even without any heat being applied!
That’s because these chemicals or items such as phosphorus will burn on contact with air. When exposed to oxygen, a chemical reaction is triggered, which can create flames.
Class 4.3 (dangerous when wet)
As noted above, class 4.2 hazchem substances react when exposed to oxygen.
Likewise, when exposed to water, class 4.3 substances will also undergo a chemical reaction which makes them more flammable than they would be in a dry state. In some cases, contact with water may also emit toxic gases.
Class 5 oxidising agents)
While not flammable themselves (or at least, not more flammable than any other substance), oxidising agents can contribute to the combustion of other materials.
In hazchem, oxidising agents create an oxygen-rich environment, which can fuel fire and increase the flammability of other substances.
Hazchem safety is fire safety!
As you can see, certain hazardous substances come with an elevated risk of fire. By putting in place proper hazchem safety procedures and signage however, you can bring down your risk of a fire.
At Signsmart, our guiding principle is that prevention is better than cure. While emergency response and preparation are certainly important, ideally, you should never be in that situation to begin with.
So, what can you do to prevent workplace fires relating to hazardous materials?
Eliminate fire hazards
As you’re no doubt aware by now, it isn’t just heat and friction that can cause hazardous materials to catch alight – fires can also be started by contact with water, and even direct exposure to air!
As such, you’ll want to isolate the substances in question from the substances it reacts to.
Let’s look at substances that are class 4.3 (flammable when wet) substances as an example.
Preventing a fire with these substances can be as simple as storing them indoors and placing a warning or hazchem sign informing workers to dry off before handling.
For more reactive substances however, you may want to think about putting them in a room with a dehumidifier and investing in a special fire extinguisher, just in case.
The exact measures you’ll need to take depend on the substance you’re handling, and how reactive it is. You can learn these details if you…
Read the Safety Data Sheet
Manufacturers of hazardous goods are required by law to provide Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for all the substances they produce.
These sheets outline a wide range of information:
- Manufacturer information
- Health effects and first aid procedures
- Fire risk and identify other hazards
- Proper handling and storage procedures
This is the first step when it comes to reducing your fire risk. Using this information, you can devise a storage system that reduces the chance of a fire affecting your workplace.
If it’s your first time handling a particular hazardous substance, we strongly suggest digging up an SDS, or requesting one from the manufacturer.
Train and educate your staff
The best way to prevent a hazchem fire is to ensure that all your staff are aware of the risks, and know what to avoid doing.
Hazchem signs can help alert workers to the risks present. However, the best way to go about this is to include it in your training, induction process and safety briefings.
Be sure to outline exactly what can cause fires, as well as how they should be handled.
For example, if you deal with oxidising agents, be sure to talk about the minimum distance required from other substances to reduce the risk of fire.
Think about storage
When it comes to hazchem storage, certain substances and chemicals simply don’t play nice together.
This is especially important if you deal with oxidising agents. As we’ve mentioned before, oxidising agents can contribute to and enhance the flammability of other substances.
Naturally, you’ll want to ensure that oxidising agents are kept apart from flammable substances.
Think about signage
As with all things hazchem, signage plays a crucial role in preventing hazchem-related fires. Hazchem signs are a vital part of hazchem safety, and should be present no matter what substance your business deals with.
If you ask us, hazchem signs should be hung up:
- Near storage areas
- On containers
- On the shipping racks themselves
Additionally, hazchem signs should be backed up by other workplace safety signs.
For example, if your business acts as a middleman, you’ll need to provide emergency information panels (EIPs) for drivers and couriers so that they know what they’re dealing with.
Another good idea is to support hazchem signs with mandatory signs.
These signs mandate what your staff should and shouldn’t do. For example, if you deal with substances that are flammable when wet, you might mandate that all staff dry their hands thoroughly and don gloves before handling.
Shop hazchem signs with Signsmart!
Hazchem signs are a vital part of protecting your business from hazchem-related fires.
Of course, simply hanging up hazchem signs and warning signs isn’t enough. There are a whole range of other things you’ll need to think about if you’re to meet your OHS obligations and keep your staff safe, including:
- Sign size
- Sign location
- Sign materials
It can be hard to figure all of this out on your own. Luckily, you don’t have to with Signsmart on your side.
We don’t just make Hazchem signs – we also work closely with you to ensure that your signage is compliant with Australian laws and standards, and that your staff are safe around hazardous substances and goods.
Our team also produce custom safety signs – just tell our team what you’re storing, and we’ll create a tailored sign that outlines all the hazards for your employees and staff.