Storage Guidelines for Flammables and Combustibles in Your Lab

FlammableDanger comes in many forms. In labs, danger can hang out quietly on a shelf, waiting for just the right set of circumstances to occur. If you don’t have proper lab storage procedures in place and appropriate cabinets installed, you could run the risk of developing unseen lab safety issues.

For example, hazardous liquids require specialized cabinets for safe lab storage. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Fire Protection Association have approved specific types of furniture that can safely store combustible liquids. It’s one of the reasons why we always recommend dedicated lab furniture as a way to address appropriate lab safety needs.

Defining Combustible Materials

First things first: What do lab safety experts consider flammable? The two key concerns here are the flashpoint and the boiling point. Flashpoint is the minimum temperature at which a flammable liquid releases sufficient vapor, in combination with the air adjacent to the liquid’s surface, to spontaneously ignite. OSHA defines flammable liquids as those with a flashpoint at or beneath 93 °C or 199.4°F.

If the flashpoint is at or below 23°C or 73.4°F, the boiling point of the liquid (above or below 35°C or 95°F) is also considered in determining its flammability. Other elements that affect flashpoints include vapor density and pressure, specific gravity, and ignition temperature. Lab storage of any material considered flammable must follow certain procedures to prevent a lab safety incident.

Lab Storage Containers for Flammable Materials

OSHA recommends using safety cans for lab storage of flammable materials. They define a safety can as a container “of not more than 5-gallons capacity, having a spring-closing lid and spout cover, and so designed that it will safely relieve internal pressure when subjected to fire exposure.” Naturally, over the years, many such containers have shown up on the market. Numerous insurance companies’ lab safety recommendations (along with municipal laws) require that such safety cans carry either FM (Factory Mutual) or UL labels. Depending on the flashpoint range, these cans must range in maximum size between two and five gallons.

Other types of lab safety containers are also evaluated, both for storage and for transport. Glass or approved plastic containers range in size from one pint to one gallon, while metal drums with DOT specs are approved at 60 gallons and portable tanks are approved at 660 gallons.

Specialized Storage Cabinet Parameters Promote Lab Safety

In addition to storing flammable liquids in approved containers, those containers also need to be placed in lab storage cabinets specially designed to safely hold the containers. The cabinets must be clearly labeled “Flammable: Keep Fire Away” and be constructed in such a way that after ten minutes of exposure to fire, the cabinets’ internal temperature will not exceed 163°C or 325°F.

Such storage cabinets designed to these parameters are most frequently constructed of at least 18-gauge sheet iron on all sides and are double-walled with a 1.5-inch airspace between the walls. The wall joints are most often riveted or welded, although other appropriately strong bonding options can be approved. Doors on these lab storage cabinets must have a three-point latch, and the bottom of the door must be at least two inches above the bottom of the cabinet itself, so the cabinet will retain any liquids that might spill during a lab safety accident.

Dedicated to the Best and Safest Lab Furniture

Being dedicated to lab safety means we are constantly educating ourselves and striving to inform you about all the best practices for your lab. Supplies and furniture that meet safety requirements are part and parcel with those practices—whether we sell them or not. Every task in your lab brings with it some possibilities for danger. With safe containers and lab storage, as well as our IonBench solutions for safely using your MS and HPLC, you will minimize many lab safety risks.

To learn more about our dedicated lab furniture, and how it can configure into your lab safety game plan, contact us today.