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Safety Data Sheets: Knowledge is Power!

May 30, 2017

Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are key to understanding/selecting the most appropriate containment device. In this article, Chemstore’s Stephen Mansell offers some advice on how to interpret Safety Data Sheets to help you specify the most appropriate containment equipment.

Identifying the substance and hazard

Section 1: of an SDS sheet is the identification of the substance. It provides the product name, product use, possible supplier details and manufacturer contact details. It should also contain emergency telephone numbers.

If you are unsure of anything with the product why not contact the manufacturer?

Section 2: covers the Hazard Identification.

Section 2.1 of the SDS sheet gives the classification of the substance or mixture.

Acetone as an example:

  • Classified as Flammable Liquid Category 2
  • Eye Irritant Category 2
  • Specific Target Organ Toxicity Single Exposure Category

2.2 Label element

Usually provided with the Global Harmonised System (GHS) pictograms and in the case of Acetone:




Signal words, hazard classes and hazard statements such as:

  • H225: Highly Flammable liquid and vapour
  • H319: Causes serious eye irritation
  • H336: May cause drowsiness or dizziness

Precautionary statements:

  • P210: Keep away from heat/sparks/open flames/hot surfaces – No smoking
  • P305+351+338: IF IN EYES: Rinse cautiously with water for several minutes. Remove contact lenses if present and easy to do – continue rinsing

Within the first two sections we have identified the following: –

The liquid itself is highly flammable as is the vapour, it can cause serious eye irritation and may cause drowsiness or dizziness.

It should be kept away from not just flames but also heat and if it does enter the eye this should be rinsed with water continuously.

I now need to find out further information for example the process that a business uses this liquid for. If we continue with acetone and suggest that Company X uses acetone on rags for cleaning metal parts (a widespread use of acetone due to its degreasing properties).  I would ask the following questions and provide theoretical answers: –

  • Q.What size containers do we stock? A. 205L as its cheaper than 25L.
  • Q.How many 205L drums do we have onsite? A. 32.
  • Q.Where are they stored? A. In a shipping container in the yard near boundary fence.
  • Q.How do we transfer the drums into the container? A. Lower using forklift and manually handle from pallet into position.
  • Q.Are we storing or decanting? A. Both. We decant inside the store into smaller containers.
  • Q.What are the smaller containers? A. Fire rated, Justrite plunger cans.

If the company purchases 205L drums, they are usually delivered on a pallet and are handled multiple times before placing them by hand in their final storage location. This provides multiple opportunities for a spill to occur from over-handling. If the product is delivered securely on a pallet why not keep it on the pallet?

Containment and Storage

Section 7: When selecting the appropriate secondary containment device, section 7 of a Safety data sheet is a suitable place to start. The SDS sheet section 7.1 provides details on safe handling. When using Acetone as an example, precautions for safe handling include:

  • Use in a well ventilated area
  • Avoid inhaling vapour
  • Avoid contact with eyes, skin and clothing
  • Keep container tightly closed when not in use

Section 7.2 Provides conditions for safe storage, including any incompatibilities

  • Storage should be cool, well ventilated away from sources of ignition or heat
  • Prevent accumulation of static charge (see our static article)

Using the Company X example,  Acetone was stored and decanted/dispensed inside the shipping container, a cheap option but this commonly DOES NOT provide: –

  1. Good ventilation
  2. Good thermal protection (the shipping container will dramatically increase in temperature in summer months)
  3. Any protection against static charge the during dispensing process. (see our static article)
  4. Any secondary containment in the event of a spill

Section 9: of the SDS sheet provides physical and chemical properties of the product. In our example case Acetone, we now know is flammable. There is potential in the shipping container for raised temperatures so in the first instance I would investigate the flash point.

A common misunderstanding in my experience occurs between flash point and auto ignition: –

  • Flash point: “The temperature at which a particular organic compound gives off sufficient vapour to ignite in air”
  • Autoignition: “The autoignition temperature or kindling point of a substance is the lowest temperature at which it spontaneously ignites in normal atmosphere without an external source of ignition, such as a flame or spark”

Taking Acetone again as an example the Flashpoint and Autoignition temperatures are shown below:

  • Flashpoint 18 °C (closed cup)
  • Auto Ignition 465 °C

This information provides us with the knowledge to understand the risks involved with company X’s processes onsite. Storing 205L drums in a shipping container, in the summer could easily reach 40 °C. The drums of acetone will produce sufficient vapour that could then be ignited. The shipping container had little to no ventilation which contributes to a build-up of vapour particularly during dispensing/decanting.

The container was also placed near a boundary fence which goes directly against HS(G)51 guidance:

Table 1 Minimum separation distances:

  • One solution to the storage of Acetone at Company X is to provide a Firevault (Fire Rated Store) product that will protect the Acetone in the event of a fire. The unit should either be well ventilated naturally, or provide forced extraction that removes any build up of vapour from the store and away from any external hazard. The fire rated store could also be temperature controlled to make sure the product is kept below the Flashpoint preventing any flammable vapour from being created (any electrical components are EX-rated appropriately). The distances are based on what is considered to be good practice and have been widely accepted by industry. Although these distances may not provide complete protection to people or structures from a fire in the flammable liquid storage area, they should allow time during a developing fire for people to evacuate to a place of safety. If these distances cannot be met then typically a Fire Rated storage solution would be required.

    During a recent site visit I witnessed flammables stored next to a boundary fence in open racking.

    On the particular day in question a maintenance company were patching up potholes on the road next to the boundary fence. In doing so they used a gas canister and what can only be described as a flame thrower!

    What would happen if the vapour/boundary vegetation ignited on that day?

    Do you know what processes take place outside of your boundary?

    Think about smoking areas/policy, vandalism, even acts of God, for example lightening?

    Why risk your business’s assets when all the information to protect it is at your fingertips?

    Contact us today for a free site assessment and our expert assistance.

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