Faulty heating or electrical equipment, defective wiring, and human error may all come to mind when thinking of things that can lead to fires. But what you may not realize is that the mishandling of rags and cloth soaked in oil, solvent, thinners, or paint can be just as dangerous. They can also cause fires, as they can easily become flammable materials. Because of this, they require special attention for safe handling.

What makes oil and solvent-soaked material so dangerous?

When a rag or cloth becomes soaked in oil or solvent oxidation can occur. This is the process of substances chemically reacting with the oxygen in the air. Heat builds up until it finally bursts into flames, also known as spontaneous combustion. In the right moisture and temperature conditions this can quickly spread fire.

Does your work regularly require the use of oil or solvent-soaked material? For example, using cloth with adhesives, rubber compounds, and aerosols to repair tires.

Here are a few key tips to remember when handling oil and solvent-soaked material to help prevent fire:

  • Safe storage in safety containers

Oil and solvent-soaked rags or cloths should be placed in airtight, self-closing metal containers referred widely as Oily Waste Containers. This way the oxidation process is contained in this closed space and prevents any chemical reaction. The containers should be clearly labelled and stored away from elevators or room exits. Material that is cleaned and reused should be kept away from work that involves heat.

Try to use storage containers that have been approved by a recognized testing agencies such as Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC), Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Factory Mutual (FM). Listed oily waste containers are available in variable capacities from five (5) Imp. Gal. to seventeen (17) Imp. Gal. Approved storage containers can be readily purchased at a safety equipment retailer. Make sure to also inspect containers regularly for damage and replace them when necessary.

  • Safe waste disposal

If you are disposing of oil and solvent-soaked material, the same storage process outlined above should be followed. Do not overfill the containers and make sure they are clearly labelled. Make sure to empty the container regularly, to prevent overfilling and improper closure of the lid. The exact waste disposal process varies depending on where your business is located. You can find out what the regulations are by contacting a certified hazardous waste collection and disposal company or your local environmental office.

  • Good housekeeping

Fire prevention starts with maintaining a clean, organized space where oil and solvent-soaked material is used or stored. Try to keep materials away from other flammable sources such as welding sparks or discarded smoking materials, and distance them from hot work activities like cutting torch slag. Make sure to clean up spills immediately, and ensure all storage containing flammable substances are properly sealed.

It’s best practice to regularly inspect your equipment to assess how effectively your business could contain a fire hazard. Be sure to avoid using defective equipment and if it can’t be fixed, it should be discarded. A good housekeeping program involves all employees and regular maintenance, and can go a long way in preventing loss and damage from a fire.

  • Good ventilation

The way you work with fire hazards like oil and solvent-soaked material will determine the type of ventilation system you have in place. Some businesses have a single well-placed exhaust fan while others may install a complete system of hoods and ducts. A good system will keep vapour levels below the occupational exposure limit of a chemical and will lower the risk of fire.

No matter how effective your fire prevention measures are, accidents can happen. It’s important to have a plan in place that outlines what to do in the case of an emergency.

  • Have a plan in place

Here are examples of things to consider doing in case a fire occurs:

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Immediately locate emergency exists (which should have clear signage) and calmly leave the building.
  • If you have been exposed to harmful chemicals, let emergency response personnel know and get first aid.

Keep portable fire extinguishers nearby in clear view, and train employees on how to use them. Your local fire department can help map out an effective emergency plan and provide additional training. Other helpful sources of information include provincial safety associations, health and safety enforcement agencies and insurance companies.

For more helpful information, The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has created a fact sheet to help your business understand how to safely work with flammable substances and materials.

Protect your business

If you need insight and industry specific expertise on what coverages best protect your business, we can help. Whether you work with oil and solvent-soaked material or not, we can help guide you to a policy that will give you peace of mind! Visit our business insurance landing page today to learn more about how we can help your business.

This blog is provided for information only and is not a substitute for professional advice. We make no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information and will not be responsible for any loss arising out of reliance on the information.