Tag Archives: fire safety

Welding of drums or other vessels – the potential for explosion

Lots of businesses which we visit have an oil drum or two lying around the workplace.  It may seems like a good idea to make use of one of these unwanted items and we’ve seen them made into bins and even barbecues.

However, depending on what used to be inside them cutting them open or welding something onto them can result in a powerful explosion.  If you want some more information of what we mean by this take a look at the video from WorkSafeBC; Drum Explodes During Welding, Killing Worker

The problem in this instance was that the original substance, acetone, a solvent used in the manufacture of fiberglass items and many other productions, remained in the vessel. Even a trace amount after the drum was washed through could still be present in sufficient quantity to create an explosive atmosphere. in the case of the video above this was less than a tea spoonful of the original acetone.

Looking at the safety aspects here you can see how likely it is that vapours will remain, even after washing out a drum.  Add into that the heat generated by cutting, grinding or welding the drum allowing the remaining substance to ‘gas off’ and you have a potential bomb on your hands.

The best route to reducing risk is to avoid this situation altogether but sometimes people do need to work in situations where welding will need to take place.  If you can’t avoid it then make yourself familiar with the best practices to reduce risk.

For more information please have a read through the free HSE guidance on the subject here;  Hot work on small tanks and drums INDG314(rev1)

Most importantly, consider if you really need to do this.  Replacing rather than repairing may be your better option.  If you do need to make repairs don’t forget that cold cutting or cold repair techniques may also be an option and will avoid the key risk of hot works and potential explosions.

As always, if you need advice then please call us quoting your Safety~net membership number or company name and we’ll be pleased to offer some more specific advice.

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Highly flammable liquids fire burns spray booth operator

We have to be truthful and admit that we sometimes carry out tasks which in hindsight we could have done with far less risk.  It could be driving to work or what we do at home at the weekend away from the eyes of our colleagues and managers.

The case below highlights how susceptible we are to complacency.  We work with items everyday which carry with them great risks but we rarely suffer consequences for taking shortcuts. That in turn leads to greater and greater risk taking until an accident finally occurs.  Read the case below to find out what happened in this instance.

A paint manufacturing company in Manchester has been fined for health and safety failings after a worker suffered burns while trying to clean the floor of a spray booth.

Manchester Crown Court heard how an employee of HMG Paints Ltd was using a highly flammable solvent to clean the floor of a spray booth on site, a job he had done several times since the spray booth was installed.

After complaints about how difficult it was to remove the dried paint he was allowed to purchase an industrial floor scrubber to carry out the task. On 18 November 2014 electric motor on the floor scrubber ignited the cloud of flammable vapour that had built up in the spray booth.

The employee was seriously injured, receiving 26% burns, and was treated at the specialist burns unit at Wythenshawe Hospital.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the planning for cleaning floors using solvent failed to recognise the hazards and level of risk associated with the use of highly flammable solvents to clean floors. The employee who was injured had not been trained to clean floors and was not adequately supervised when carrying out the cleaning activity.

HMG Paints Limited, of Collyhurst Road, Manchester, pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, and was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay costs of £39,669.40.

Speaking after the case HSE inspector David Myrtle said:

“This is a company that handles large quantities of flammable solvent, the hazards are well known and the company has a duty to control the risks arising from the hazards.

“It was custom and practice to clean floors using highly flammable solvents applied using a mop and bucket. In this instance the company failed to adequately control the risks and an employee was seriously injured.” [source HSE]

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Fire Safety – Assessing the means of escape

Fire risk assessment – assessing the means of escape

The range of workplaces covered by these regulations is huge and so the following information is intended as a guide to get you started on an assessment.  Our advice is to get expert help from one of our experienced safety consultants conducting a fire risk assessment at your premises, please call us on 01453 800100 or contact us for more information on our safety consultancy and fire risk assessment / fire risk audit services.

Please note that in some cases, it may be necessary to provide additional means of escape or to improve the fire protection of existing escape routes. At this point you should consult the fire authority and, where necessary, your local building control officer before carrying out any alterations.  The distances given below should ensure that people are able to escape within the appropriate period of time. You can of course use actual calculated escape times but should do so only after consulting a fire safety consultant with appropriate training and expertise in this field.

Fire risk categories for assessing the means of escape

In general, most workplaces can be categorised as high, normal or low risk. Examples of the type of workplace or areas within workplaces likely to fall within these categories are:


  • Where highly flammable or explosive materials are stored or used (other than in small quantities).
  • Where unsatisfactory structural features are present such as:
  • lack of fire-resisting separation;
  • vertical or horizontal openings through which fire, heat and smoke can spread;
  • long and complex escape routes created by extensive subdivision of large floor areas by partitions, or the distribution of display units in shops or machinery in factories; and
  • large areas of flammable or smoke-producing surfaces on either walls or ceilings.
  • Where permanent or temporary work activities are carried out which have the potential for fires to start and spread such as:
  • workshops in which highly flammable materials are used, e.g. paint spraying;
  • areas where the processes involve the use of naked flame, or produce excessive heat;
  • large kitchens in works canteens and restaurants;
  • refuse and waste disposal areas; and
  • areas where foamed plastics or upholstered furniture are stored.

or, where there is a significant risk to life in case of fire, such as where:

  • sleeping accommodation is provided for staff, the public or other visitors in significant numbers;
  • treatment or care is provided where the occupants have to rely upon the actions of limited numbers of staff for their safe evacuation;
  • there is a high proportion of elderly or infirm people, or people with temporary or permanent physical or mental disabilities, who need assistance to escape;
  • groups of people are working in isolated parts of the premises such as basements, roof spaces, cable ducts and service tunnels etc; and
  • large numbers of people are present relative to the size of the premises (e.g. sales at department stores) or in other circumstances where only a low level of assistance may be available in an emergency (e.g. places of entertainment and sports events).


  • Where any outbreak of fire is likely to remain confined or only spread slowly, allowing people to escape to a place of safety.
  • Where the number of people present is small and the layout of the workplace means they are likely to be able to escape to a place of safety without assistance.
  • Where the workplace has an effective automatic warning system, or an effective automatic fire-extinguishing, -suppression or -containment system, which may reduce the risk classification from high risk.


  • Where there is minimal risk to people’s lives and where the risk of fire occurring is low, or the potential for fire, heat and smoke spreading is negligible.
  • The work you have done on assessing the risks and reducing the risk of fire occurring, together with the knowledge you have gained about the location of people at risk, should generally provide you with the information you need to establish the risk category or categories of your workplace.

General principles for escape routes

Other than in small workplaces, or from some rooms of low or normal fire risk, there should normally be alternative means of escape from all parts of the workplace. Routes which provide means of escape in one direction only (dead-end) should be avoided wherever possible as this could mean that people have to move towards a fire in order to make their escape. Escape routes should be independent of one another and arranged so that people can move away from a fire in order to make their escape and should always lead to a place of safety. Remember that they should also be wide enough for the number of occupants and should not normally reduce in width and be kept clear of obstruction at all times.

Evacuation times and length of escape routes

The aim is, from the time the fire alarm is raised, for everyone to be able to reach a place of relative safety, i.e. a storey exit (see ‘Technical terms relating to means of escape’), within the time available for escape.The time for people to reach a place of relative safety should include the time it takes them to react to a fire warning.

This will depend on a number of factors including:

  • what they are likely to be doing when the alarm is raised, e.g. sleeping, having a meal etc;
  • what they may have had to do before starting to escape, e.g. turn off machinery, help other people etc; and
  • their knowledge of the building and the training they have received about the routine to be followed in the event of fire.
  • Where necessary, you can check these by carrying out a practice drill.

To ensure that the time available for escape is reasonable, the length of the escape route from any occupied part of the workplace to the storey exit should not exceed:

Where more than one route is provided

  • 25 metres – high-fire-risk area;
  • 45 metres – normal-fire-risk area;
  • 60 metres – low-fire-risk area.

Where only a single escape route is provided

  • 12 metres – high-fire-risk area;
  • 18 metres – normal-fire-risk area (except production areas in factories);
  • 25 metres -low-fire-risk area.

Where the route leading to a storey exit starts in a corridor with a dead-end, then continues via a route which has an alternative, the total distance should not exceed that given above for ‘Where more than one route is provided’. However, the distances within the ‘dead-end portion’ should not exceed those given for ‘Where only a single escape route is provided’.

People with disabilities

You may need to make special arrangements for staff with disabilities, which should be developed in consultation with the staff themselves. British Standard 5588: Part 8 gives guidance and provides full information.

Premises providing residential care and/or treatment

The distances shown in the paragraphs above may not be suitable for workplaces providing residential care – you should seek specialist advice from your fire safety consultant in this situation.

Number and width of exits

There should be enough available exits, of adequate width, from every room, storey or building. The adequacy of the escape routes and doors can be assessed on the basis that:

  • a doorway of no less than 750 millimetres in width is suitable for up to 40 people per minute (where doors are likely to be used by wheelchair users the doorway should be at least 800 millimetres wide); and
  • a doorway of no less than 1 metre in width is suitable for up to 80 people per minute.
  • Where more than 80 people per minute are expected to use a door, the minimum doorway width should be increased by 75 millimetres for each additional group of 15 people.

For the purposes of calculating whether the existing exit doorways are suitable for the numbers using them, you should assume that the largest exit door from any part of the workplace may be unavailable for use. This means that the remaining doorways should be capable of providing a satisfactory means of escape for everyone present.

Inner rooms

You should avoid situations where the only escape route for people in an inner room is through one other room (the access room). The exception to this is where the people in the inner room can be quickly made aware of a fire in the outer one and this is not an area of high fire risk. Where there is no automatic fire detection system, it may be reasonable to provide a self-contained smoke alarm which is solely within the access room, as long as it is clearly audible within the inner room.


Corridors should generally be a minimum of 1 metre wide (although wheelchair users will need a width of 1.2 metres and a width of 1.5 metres is preferable). The doors should be aligned with the walls of the rooms so that the floor area is effectively divided into two or more parts. To avoid having to travel long distances in corridors affected by smoke, those corridors which are more than 30 metres long (45 metres in offices and factories) should be subdivided into approximately equal parts by providing, close-fitting, self-closing fire doors.

Where a corridor only leads in one direction, or serves sleeping accommodation, it should be constructed of fire-resisting partitions and self-closing fire doors (this does not apply to toilets).

If you would like assistance with any aspect of fire risk assessment please call one of our expert fire safety consultants on 01453 800100.  We can complete a comprehensive fire risk assessment / fire risk audit for your workplace, just contact us to find out more.

Storage of petrol and diesel fuel in the workplace

Storage of petrol and diesel within the workplace

Do you need help on this issue?  If so please contact us on 01453 800100.  As highly experienced safety consultants we are able to offer clear guidance and advice on your specific situation.


May businesses store quantities of petrol fuel within the workplace.  They could be for plant and equipment used on site such as lift trucks, or for maintenance needs, strimmers, lawnmowers and the like.  However, you are storing a highly flammable substance and certain precautions are required but what are they?

Since the introduction of DSEAR (Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations), there are no longer any specific controls over the storage of petrol at workplace sites other than at petrol filling stations. However, you will need to follow the requirements of DSEAR as petrol is classified as a ‘dangerous substance.’  If you would like to read through the Environment Agency’s guidance on the subject please visit; http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/business/topics/oil/default.aspx

Key requirements

If the petrol is being stored in a place which is also a workroom then no more than 50 litres of highly flammable liquids should be stored – this is a general requirement which applies as much to thinners or any other highly flammable liquids as it does to petrol.

If the storage area is not a workroom, then DSEAR also requires, as far as is reasonably practicable, risks from ‘dangerous substances’ are controlled and to mitigate against the effects of any fire or explosion arising from these dangerous substances. This means conducting a risk assessment and recording its findings then acting on them. Identifying how you can reduce risks to a minimum – look at the storage area to ensure that:

  • It does not have any sources of ignition and none should be bought into the area (compressors, electrical switching)
  • It should be properly ventilated (large vents in doors and on one outside wall would be good practice)
  • It should be secure (padlocked and not able to be accessed except by authorised persons – consider arson risks also)
  • Refilling of equipment should preferably take place in the open air and away from sources of ignition (you could refill on hard standing outside and clear of the building – something your insurers will appreciate as well as the environment)
  • Care is taken to avoid spills and the consequences of a leak or spill is assessed(could a spillage leak to surface water drains – the consequences could be serious for the environment and your business)
  • Containers should be kept closed when not in use.

Storing diesel

There are no specific legal requirements on how to store diesel or the quantity allowed either in workplaces or domestic premises. It is not, from a health and safety point of view, a particularly hazardous substance within the meaning of the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 – its vapour flash point is too high. This means that its vapour will not ignite at normal room temperatures.

That said, there are some general issues you’ll need to take into account:

  • no ‘hotwork’ should be performed on the vessel unless it is emptied and purged of any remaining vapour.
  • the drum should be positioned away from any source of direct heat.
  • the drum should be located in an area where there is no risk of collision with vehicles, fork-lift trucks etc. (diesel splashing onto a hot engine will probably ignite).
  • leaks and spills should be contained to the vicinity of the drum and mopped up quickly, to lessen the risk of slipping.
  • refilling and dispensing activities need to take account of manual handling issues etc.

While diesel is not a particularly dangerous substance from a health and safety point of view, it is an environmental hazard, with considerable clean-up costs if it should leak into a drain, watercourse or the soil. You may, therefore, wish to contact the Environment Agency for further information .

More good advice on storage

Cans and drums can provide an adequate means of storing petrol. When considering this method of storage remember to take into account the method by which the petrol will be used or disposed of and whether the use of small containers increases the overall risks and handling problems during their filling and emptying (think about manual handling). Where you need to store larger quantities than 300litres you should consider installing tanks and referring to the more detailed advice in HS(G)51. You should not store more than 50 litres of petrol within a workroom and then only when it is kept in a properly labelled metal cabinet or bin with adequate spillage retention.

Containers should, where reasonably practicable, be stored in the open air at ground level (singularly or in stacks). This enables leaks to be quickly seen and any vapours to be easily dispersed. They should not be stored on the roof of a building. Where the best option of storing containers outside is not reasonably practicable they should be kept in suitable storerooms, preferably separate buildings, specifically designed for the purpose.

Finally, remember that other activities, including filling and emptying containers, must not be carried out in the designated storage area. This is to prevent other activities that are a higher risk causing a fire, which then spreads to involve the larger quantities in storage.

Notes on application

Information should be incorporated into your Risk Assessments, Health and Safety Policy or Construction Phase Health and Safety Plan (CDM Regulations).  If you have questions please post below, more information can also be found from manufacturers safety data sheet (MSDS).  Don’t confuse this with COSHH Risk Assessment but you can refer to section 16 – Storage Requirements.

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Please complete the form below and we promise to respond within 24 hrs. If you need more urgent help just call 01453 800109 and ask for Andrea.