Toolbox Topic: Flammable Liquids
Flammable liquids can obviously be very dangerous. In today’s episode, we have 10 safety tips so you can stay safe when working with flammable liquids.
Definition of Flammable Liquids
Flammable liquids can catch fire and burn at temperatures below 100°F.
They vaporize at normal temperatures and pressures. When the vapors mix with air, they can ignite and cause fires or explosions. Some examples include gasoline, acetone, diethyl ether, and alcohol.
History of Flammable Liquids
Flammable liquids have been essential to human civilization for thousands of years.
In ancient times, oil and naphtha were used to provide heat and light and were even used in warfare. For instance, the Greeks used a crude version of naphtha, called ‘Greek Fire,’ in naval warfare as far back as the 7th century (The British Museum, 2005).
The Industrial Revolution
Fast forward to the 18th & 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution brought on an explosion in the demand for energy to fuel new inventions and factories. Flammable liquids would transform the economy.
Gasoline was a byproduct of making kerosene and was seen as useless before automobiles. In the early 20th century, cars became increasingly popular, and the demand for fuel increased dramatically. At the time, the refining process simply didn’t make enough of it. This was almost a massive problem for the growing car industry. William Burton and Robert Humphreys at Standard Oil of Indiana solved this problem. Burton had the idea to add pressure to the heating process used in distillation. This made the heavier kerosene molecules split into lighter gasoline molecules. This method, called thermal cracking, made refining nearly twice as efficient.
In later years, the refining process was improved even more. In the 1920s, Charles Kettering and Thomas Midgley found that adding a type of lead to gasoline made it burn more smoothly. However, by the 1970s, lead was phased out due to environmental concerns.
Revolutionizing Modern Life
Gasoline and kerosene found all kinds of uses in a growing economy. They were used for lighting, heating homes, powering machines, and fuel for transportation. They even revolutionized many manufacturing processes. Kerosene was used extensively in lighting, replacing less efficient and more hazardous alternatives like whale oil and candles. Other flammable liquids like paint thinners, solvents, and alcohols also became widespread due to advancements in chemistry and industrial processes.
Oil is now part of our everyday life. It’s found in clothes, medicines, computers, and many household items. These substances today can be found in manufacturing processes, from producing paints and varnish to developing pharmaceuticals and cleaning supplies. These products have undoubtedly shaped our modern world.
Flammable Liquid Injury Statistics
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2010 to 2020, accidents involving flammable liquids resulted in over 5,000 workplace injuries in the United States. These include burns, inhalation injuries, and impact injuries from explosions.
Statistics have indicated that more than 21 percent of industrial fires and 15 percent of office fires start with the ignition of a flammable or combustible liquid. Contributing factors often include:
- Lack of a formalized safety program
- Improper storage
- Inadequate training
- Inadequate bonding and grounding procedures
- No preventive maintenance programs for emergency equipment and devices
- No procedures to control ignition sources during maintenance and contractor activities
- No established hot work procedures
- No employee smoking policy
Safety Tips for Working with Flammable Liquids
Safety Tip #1 Proper Storage
Always store flammable liquids away from ignition sources. They should be stored in approved containers and in UL or FM approved flammable liquid cabinets, or in flammable liquid storage room that complies with NFPA 30.
Safety Tip #2 Ventilation
In areas where flammable liquids are stored or used, ensure good ventilation to prevent the buildup of flammable vapors.
Safety Tip #3 No Smoking
Enforce a strict no-smoking policy in areas where flammable liquids are stored or handled.
Safety Tip #4 PPE
When handling these liquids, use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves and safety glasses.
Safety Tip #5 Regular Training
Employees should receive proper training on handling flammable liquids, focusing on recognizing hazards and following safe work practices.
Safety Tip #6 Emergency Preparedness
Have an emergency action plan in place, including accessible fire extinguishers and clearly marked evacuation routes.
Safety Tip #7 Spill Control
Have absorbents readily available to manage spills quickly and safely.
Safety Tip #8 Proper Disposal
Dispose of flammable liquid waste according to local regulations to prevent environmental hazards.
Safety Tip #9 Proper Handling
Only trained, authorized employees should handle and dispense flammable materials.
Safety Tip #10 Grounding
Always use proper grounding techniques when transferring flammable liquids.
The British Museum. (2005). Greek Fire, Byzantine. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/x28886
History. (2009). Industrial Revolution. https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution
Britannica. (2021). Gasoline. https://www.britannica.com/science/gasoline
Science History Institute. (2016). The Story of Solvents. https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/magazine/the-story-of-solvents
“Industrial Revolution: Definition and Inventions.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 18 Jan. 2018, www.history.com/topics/british-history/industrial-revolution.
“The Great Chicago Fire.” The Newberry, newberry.org/collections/great-chicago-fire.
Davis, Kenneth C. “Flammable Liquids.” Encyclopedia.com, Encyclopedia.com, 16 June 2021, www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/political-science-and-government/military-affairs-nonnaval/flammable-liquids.