How To Handle Flammable Materials Safely

You probably handle flammable materials in your home or place of work every day without even knowing it.  Flammable materials are simply any materials that can catch fire or ignite easily.  There are different types of flammable materials:

  1. Liquid – certain liquids produce vapors that, when mixed with air, can ignite.  Gasoline, alcohol, thinner, acetone, and lacquer are considered flammable liquids.  Paint, kerosene and diesel fuel are examples of combustible liquids. The only difference between a liquid that is flammable and one that is combustible is the temperature at which the liquid will ignite.
  2. Solid – anything made of paper, fibers like clothes, linens, and rags, wood and wood products, fireworks, gunpowder, pyrophoric metals (these ignite upon contact with air like sodium and potassium metals) and others items that are soaked in flammable liquids.
  3. Gas – examples are butane, propane, methane, and acetylene.

Here are some tips for safely handling flammable materials:

  1. Always have a working fire extinguisher at hand.
  2. Be informed of the hazards posed by the different flammable materials you work with. Always read the warnings posted on the labels of cleaning products, paint cans, alcohol bottles, match boxes, and others.  Know what to do when you come in contact with these materials.
  3. Store all flammable materials, especially liquids away from sunlight and heat sources. Make sure to keep them in their original storage containers.  If you need to transfer the materials, label them properly.  At home, place them in the proper locked storage cabinet.
  4. If you handle a great amount of chemicals in your line of work, your company should have a separate flammable liquid or chemical storage building for hazardous materials.  Make sure you know where this is located.
  5. Always check the containers for any signs of corrosion or damage as this may lead to the dangerous goods seeping out.
  6. Never store acid and base solutions near and around each other. Bases like ammonium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide are found in common cleaning products.  Some cleaning products also contain acids.  Examples of acid solutions are sulfuric acid, acetic acid, and hydrochloric acid.  These two types of substances are incompatible. When they come in contact with each other, they can cause an explosion or produce toxic fumes.
  7. Keep flammable materials away from ignition sources as their vapors can ignite.  Some ignition sources include electrical switches or outlets, matches, lighters, and so on.
  8. When working with flammable liquids, use only the amount you need and properly store the rest immediately in sealed containers.  Make sure your work area is well ventilated.  Fumes from these materials are poisonous; if you feel faint or light-headed, go outdoors to catch some fresh air.
  9. Use only the proper tools/equipment in handling flammable materials.  This includes using protective gear (gloves, goggles and the like).
  10. Dispose of materials that were in contact with flammable goods properly.  These include gas, paint and thinner cans, chemical containers, cleaning rags and others.  Flammable chemical and liquid disposal should always conform to the safety standards set by the government.
  11. Post a list of emergency numbers (911, the fire department, poison control, and your local hospital) near the telephone.

There are a lot of flammable materials found in homes and buildings. Because they are so common, people tend to forget the hazards of misusing them.  Knowing how to properly store and handle these materials can save property and lives.


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