Hazard Material Safety Prevents Fires
in Homes and Workplaces

by Paul Davis

If you work in a home office, you might not think hazardous material safety is something you need to worry about. Your home, however, likely has quite a few products containing chemicals that could fuel a fire or pose other dangers. Here's advice on how to safely store hazardous materials.

Paul Davis
On Crime & Security

Like a good number of small business people, I work at home.

I own a great, old, historic home in South Philadelphia. I have a large basement where I have my office and library in one walled section, a storage area in another walled area, and a tool room in a third walled area.

As my library is considerable (I’ve been collecting books since I was a preteen), I have to be more concerned about fire than most people. I’m very careful about storing flammables and combustibles in my basement, as my books would fuel a very big fire.

Unlike professional office buildings and industrial parks, a small businessperson’s home office is not regularly inspected for fire and safety. As a young sailor I was trained by the U.S. Navy in safety, fire fighting and fire prevention. Later as a Defense Department civilian employee, I coordinated security and safety programs for a field command, so I’m able to maintain a safe environment in my home, and in my home office.

But for those who don’t have experience or formal training, the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) offers some sound advice on how to prevent fires in your home. This advice applies to the workplace as well.

USFA, a part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, tells us that residential hazardous materials (hazmat) safety is vital in preventing fires in and around your home.

Hazmat safety involves the proper handling and storage of combustibles and flammable liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, propane, oil, aerosols, certain household cleaning products and painting supplies.



According to the USFA, there are about a half million different products containing chemicals available for use in homes, and the average household contains between three and ten gallons of materials classified as hazardous.

The USFA warns that every home can be a warehouse of hazardous materials. Many homes contain cleansers, bleach, oil, paints, thinners, batteries, medicines and pesticides. All of these materials are classified as hazardous.

The USFA lists four major classifications of hazardous materials:

Corrosive materials are capable of dissolving or wearing away gradually. A few common corrosives include metal cleaners, drain cleaners, spot rust removers and oven cleaners.

Ignitable materials pose a fire hazard during routine handling. Items in the home that are ignitable include gasoline (or gas/oil mixture) kerosene, diesel fuel, propane tanks, home heating oil, lighter fluid, ammunition, matches, and any items containing alcohol.

Reactive materials are those that during routine use tend to react spontaneously with air and water. They are unstable to shock or heat and can generate toxic gases or explode.

Toxic materials are usually identified with a skull and crossbones. Toxic materials release poisons in sufficient enough quantities to pose a risk to humans.

To ensure that home hazardous material are stored and disposed of properly, follow the USFA tips listed below:
  • To reduce the amount of hazardous materials in storage, buy only the amount that you need for the job at hand.
  • Store hazardous materials in their original containers. If the label is peeling off, reattach it with transparent tape.
  • Use proper storage containers for flammables and combustibles: buy products with safety closures whenever possible.
  • Store flammable products, such as gasoline, kerosene, propane gas, and paint thinner in containers away from the house.
  • Never store flammable products in direct sunlight or near an open flame.
  • Because of flammability, store liquid pesticides containing a petroleum-based carrier or solvent in a garage or in a locked cabinet.
  • Inspect storage areas regularly and be on the lookout for leaky containers, poor ventilation, and the smell of fumes.
  • Store hazardous materials out of reach of children and pets.
  • Aerosol containers are pressurized products that sometimes contain flammable or poisonous chemicals. If you dispose of these pressurized containers in the trash, they can be punctured and explode. They can also start a fire. A can is empty and safe for disposal if you no longer hear air being released from the container.
  • If a household cleaner contains a solvent, do not dump it down the drain or put it in the trash. It contains solvents if the label includes the words flammable, combustible, caution, warning, and danger or contains petroleum distillates or aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • Don’t store chemicals near food.
  • The USFA further recommends that everyone should have a comprehensive fire protection plan that includes smoke alarms, residential sprinklers, and practicing fire escape plan.

I’ve witnessed the horror and destruction of industrial and residential fires. Fire takes a great financial as well as a great human toll, but by maintaining proper care of your hazardous materials you can prevent fire in your home and your workplace.

About the author: 
Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime & security for newspapers, magazines and the Internet. He can be reached at pauldavisoncrime@aol.com

Paul Davis on Crime & Security

 
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