by Zachary Jay, Writer Staff
October 2, 2023 4:24 PM

As you progress in your career, you might find yourself in charge of managing hazardous materials (hazmat) and mitigating associated risks. It’s crucial to grasp the fundamentals, even if you’re not currently dealing with hazmat, particularly understanding the significance of the diamond-shaped symbols you may encounter in your work.

AASP’s Fire Protection and Public Sector Practice Specialty communities recently hosted a webinar featuring Christopher Butts, P.E., CFPS, ARM, a seasoned property risk specialist at Sompo International. During this webinar, he shared valuable insights on establishing and executing an effective hazmat safety program.

Identifying and Categorizing Hazardous Materials

Various sources provide definitions of hazardous materials, such as the International Building Code, the International Fire Code, and the National Fire Protection Association. Nonetheless, the common thread in these definitions is that hazardous materials present physical or health risks.

Materials posing physical hazards are typically classified as either flammable or combustible based on their flash point and/or boiling point. For instance, a flammable substance could fall into Class 1A (e.g., acetaldehyde), Class 1B (e.g., isopropyl alcohol, gasoline, acetone, and methanol), or Class 1C (e.g., turpentine). Combustible materials are categorized as Class II (e.g., formaldehyde, mineral spirits, and primer thinner), Class IIIA (e.g., diesel fuel and kerosene), or Class IIIB (e.g., motor oil and hydraulic oil).

Health hazards hinge on the point at which a material becomes lethal by weight or volume and include toxic (e.g., chlorine and ammonia), highly toxic (e.g., formaldehyde and nicotine), and corrosive (e.g., hydrogen peroxide and sulfuric acid) substances.

To simplify this classification, the red, yellow, white, and blue diamond-shaped FISH diagram is a visual representation:

  • F: The red diamond denotes fire hazard flash point temperatures.
  • I: The yellow diamond signifies instability points.
  • S: The white diamond identifies specific hazard types (e.g., oxidizer, acidic, alkali, corrosive).
  • H: The blue diamond indicates the degree of health hazard on a numeric scale.

It’s imperative to maintain safety data sheets (SDS) for all hazardous materials in your facility. SDSs provide comprehensive information, including the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number, composition data, firefighting measures, handling and storage instructions, and physical and chemical properties like boiling and flash points, as well as toxicological information.

Butts also recommends utilizing electronic programs like the Hazardous Materials Expert Assistant (HMEX) program, which offers information similar to SDSs but with additional international fire code-related classifications to assist in determining maximum allowable quantities.

Locating Hazardous Materials in Safe Quantities

Hazardous materials can be found in various settings, including homes, and it’s essential for safety professionals to understand their quantity and location within a facility for proper management. To calculate the maximum allowable quantity (MAQ), refer to IBC Table 307.1(1). For example, if a company has 30 gallons of a Class IA flammable liquid, they can increase their storage capacity by 100% with full sprinkler systems and another 100% with approved storage cabinets, resulting in a total MAQ of 120 gallons.

Exceeding the MAQ leads to a shift to a high-hazard occupancy classification (H1 through H5), which entails additional safety measures like spill control, secondary containment, ventilation systems, robust sprinklers, explosion control, standby power, limit controls, and emergency alarms. However, organizations aim to avoid this classification due to its associated costs.

To prevent this, organizations can establish multiple control areas, each with its individual MAQ, separated by fire-resistant barriers like fire walls or fire barriers, as detailed in IBC sections 706 and 707. For more specifics on control areas, refer to IBC Table 414.2.2.

Developing a Comprehensive Hazmat Program

Owners must be aware of the hazardous materials in their facility, their associated hazards, and protection strategies. This is where hazmat safety programs play a crucial role.

  1. Safety Data Sheets (SDS): SDSs are not only mandatory per OSHA but should also be readily accessible for every hazardous material on-site and may be required for permit applications.
  2. Identification: Hazardous materials’ individual containers, cartons, and packages must be labeled for easy identification. Buildings, rooms, and spaces housing hazardous materials should have warning signs.
  3. Training: The individual responsible for areas with hazardous materials should lead hazmat training programs. This person should be well-versed in the nature of the materials and appropriate actions in case of fires, leaks, or spills. Additionally, designated liaisons to the fire department are essential to preplan emergency responses and identify hazardous material locations.
  4. Hazardous Materials Inventory Statement: This statement has two parts, a summary report detailing control areas or high-hazard occupancy areas, amounts in storage, hazard classes, inventory quantities, and the MAQ per control area. The inventory report includes specific details about each hazardous material on-site.
  5. Hazardous Materials Management Plan: This plan comprises three elements – SDS, Facility Site Plan, and Emergency Action Plan – outlining the facility’s layout, emergency equipment, meeting locations, hazard classes, control areas, group H occupancies, and emergency exits. This plan must be continuously updated to reflect changes in materials.
  6. Facility Closure Plans: Contingency plans for temporarily out-of-service facilities and those requiring permanent closure, outlining the safe transport or disposal of hazardous materials to eliminate potential threats to public health and safety.
  7. Written Hazard Communication Program: This program must adhere to OSHA 1910.1200(e) and include labels, SDS, employee information, and training procedures.

Butts suggests that safety professionals seek professional certifications and training programs to enhance their knowledge, thereby improving risk control and safety within their organizations.

Understanding Risk Management and Assessment

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