Laboratory Fire Safety
Due to some of the inherent hazards in a lab environment, additional fire safety measures must be observed at all times. Flammable liquids, compressed gases, oxidizers, and a lengthy list of other chemicals can prove to be deadly in the event of a laboratory fire. The best defense against these hazards is prevention and safe operating procedures.
The Ontario Fire Code includes regulations for storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids. Please observe the following regulations within your laboratory: [Note:These regulations apply to laboratories ONLY. More stringent requirements are enforced for non-lab occupancies.]
- Flammable liquids may be stored in containers of up to 5L in volume. Metal containers (ULC approved) of up to 25L are also acceptable. Bear in mind that these all contribute to the total quantity permitted in the lab.
- Approved glass or plastic containers (those the liquid was shipped in) of up to 5L in size are permitted ONLY if metal containers would cause a chemical reaction or would affect the liquid’s purity. Otherwise, glass or plastic containers may not be used for volumes greater than 1L.
- The maximum volume of flammable AND combustible liquids permitted in any given laboratory is 300L, of which only 50L may be flammable (this means you can have up to 50L of flammable liquids in the “open lab” area). Storage of quantities in excess of this within labs MUST be within approved metal “flammable liquids” cabinets.
- Flammable liquid storage cabinets may contain up to 500L of flammable AND combustible liquids, of which 250L may be flammable.
- For multiple flammable storage cabinets, please contact our office for review.
- Where flammable are refrigerated, refrigerators or freezers MUST be properly labeled as flammable storage and MUST be electrically approved for use in hazardous locations.
- flammable liquids are to be stored separately from corrosives or oxidizers
- ALL storage containers containing flammables MUST be labelled with a conspicuous flammable symbol or wording
- flammable storage cabinets MUST be labelled to indicate that the cabinet contains flammable materials, and that open flame must be kept away
- when flammable liquids are dispensed, metallic containers are to be electrically connected to the fill stem, or rest on a conductive floor that is electrically connected to the fill stem (in the case of non-conductive containers, other measures to minimize static buildup must be taken)
- flammable liquids are NOT permitted to be stored in corridors under ANY circumstances
The following Fire Code regulations address compressed gas cylinders:
- Compressed gas cylinders are required to be secured in the upright position by a suitable retaining strap or chain.
- Any cylinders that are not in use are required to have a protective valve stem cap in place.
- Cylinders of gases that may react with one another are not to be stored in the same area.
Cylinders of flammable gases are not to be stored with oxidizing materials or with cylinders containing gases that support combustion.
Bunsen burners are part of everyday operations in many labs. As well as keeping flammables away, ensure that long hair is tied back during use of a controlled flame. Never leave a Bunsen burner lit in an unattended lab.
Another source of potential fires in labs can be the presence of large quantities of combustible materials. Any materials not required for laboratory use should be located elsewhere, since any significant buildup of combustibles represents an additional hazard.
If combustibles are required in the lab for daily usage, maintaining them in an organized and tidy manner will help to reduce the associated risk.
Self-closing fire doors will protect the corridor and exiting system from smoke and toxic gases in the event of a lab fire. Because of this protection associated with the fire doors, it is a violation of the Ontario Fire Code to prop them in the open position (See ‘Policies – Fire Doors’ and ‘FAQ – I’ve been propping my lab door open…‘)
Fire extinguishers are installed in laboratories where hazardous processes are carried out, or significant quantities of flammable liquids are used or stored. Familiarize yourself with the extinguishers in your area before you have an emergency, and ensure that they are visible and accessible at all times. For an introduction to using fire extinguishers, see Fire Extinguishers.
- locate flammable storage cabinets away from your door, so an accident won’t cut off your exit
- don’t locate an autoclave within 10 horizontal feet of a ceiling-mounted fire detector
- don’t use a Bunsen burner within 5 horizontal feet of a ceiling-mounted fire detector
- make sure any electrical equipment you use is CSA Approved or ULC Listed
- use a ‘buddy system’ whenever possible if you’re involved with hazardous processes or flammable liquids
- if your clothing catches fire, STOP, DROP, and ROLL
- storage of equipment in corridors is not permitted (see ‘Policies – Corridors, Exits & Stairs’)
- ensure that all chemicals and chemical waste containers are accurately and legibly labelled
Remember, you owe it to yourself, your family, and your colleagues to keep your workplace safe.