Storing toxic & flammable substances in drums & cylinders

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 Gas cylinders

The information below covers the storage and handling [link?]of toxic and flammable substances in drums and cylinders[/link] and refers to relevant UK codes of practice and standards in force as of October 2018 and is line with guidance and materials made available by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) at that date.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) have published several related Technical Measures Documents and these are listed below for your information. You can view the documents on the HSE website by clicking on the document name.

Does your business or organisation store or transport compressed or liquefied toxic gas in cylinders or drums? 

If you do, we hope you find this information a useful resource that will help to manage the hazards associated with the handling, storage and transport of these containers and will give you the knowledge to assist you in following the relevant codes of practice and standards associated with them.

How will reading this article benefit you, your business or organisation?

Storage of drums and cylinders - mitigate riskThere are many types of toxic and flammable gases and chemicals that are in everyday use throughout the UK. Many of these gases and chemicals are often stored and transported in containers such as cylinders and drums. Whilst individual containers may hold relatively small amounts of a particular gas or chemical, compressed or liquefied gas held in such containers can present a real and significant hazard to, for example, staff and individuals handling them, or to anyone who may come into contact with them. It is, therefore, vitally important that the necessary precautions and procedures are taken to reduce those hazards and, to keep to a minimum, the potential for human error to cause accidents and incidents.

Where large quantities of cylinders and drums containing any such flammable, toxic or compressed gases and liquids are stored or transported together, then the potential hazards, as one might obviously expect, are very likely to increase. The correct and careful management of the movement of these containers is extremely important and we cannot stress highly enough the importance of following the relevant codes of practice and standards.

What are the main considerations and general principles for dealing with relevant substances and containers?

What do you need to consider when deciding on the storage location of toxic and flammable substances in drums and cylinders?

Before deciding where and how and where to store these materials, there are several things that you should consider, including:

Warning - Flammable area sign- The particular hazards of the material(s);
- The size of the inventory (amount) that needs to be stored;
- The distance from other stored materials;
- Process plant;
- Traffic Routes.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) provide several Codes of Practice that can you give you guidance on separation distances such as:

Gas cylinders and drums firewallFirewalls can also be made use of where separation distances are inadequate. These should help to reduce the impact of any incidents that might occur. The HSE also provide guidance in their Technical Measures Document, Active / Passive Fire Protection, that covers active and passive fire protection systems and refers to relevant codes of practice and standards.

The operator should be able to demonstrate that:

  • the storage location, and its design, has taken into account any site-specific security requirements
  • the potential for vandalism

Ventilation in the Storage Location of toxic and flammable substances in drums and cylinders

The preferred location for the storage of drummed flammable liquids and compressed / liquefied gases is in the open air, to allow vapours to be dispersed effectively.

Gas cylinders stored outdoors

When located in buildings, the operator should demonstrate that there is an adequate level of ventilation achieved by either;

  • the presence of a sufficient size and number of permanent openings such as louvres, or
  • mechanical ventilation.

If stored indoors, flammable gases such as LPG, may only be stored in;

  • purpose built compartments, or
  • buildings constructed with fire resistant walls and explosion relief.

Compatibility of toxic and flammable substances, in drums and cylinders, with other stored materials

Multi-coloured gas cylindersToxic, flammable or self-reactive materials should not, in general, be stored in the same location (see HSE Technical Measures Document Segregation of Hazardous Materials).

The operator's risk assessment should demonstrate the compatibility of the substances stored and the suitability of the arrangements. The HSE provides guidance on storage arrangements for warehouses and storage compounds. We strongly recommend you read and familiarise yourself with their guidance in the link that we have provided for you: HS(G)71 Chemical warehousing: the storage of packaged dangerous substances.

The Layout of the Storage Location for toxic and flammable substances in drums and cylinders

Drums and cylinders should be stored in a safe mannerDrums and cylinders should be stored in a safe manner. When considering the layout of the storage location, account should be taken of:

- the height of any stacking;
- the method of stacking
- the hazard of the material stored; and
- the construction of the container.

Racking, or freestanding multi-layer stacks, can be used for drummed materials storing low hazard liquids.

Chemical drum leakConsideration should be given to:

  • the detection of leaks from containers;
  • the method for collection and disposal of such spills to reduce the possibility of cross-contamination and domino effects;
  • Training should be provided to operators on dealing with spills and emergency procedures; Adequate access for forklift trucks should be provided;
  • Pressurised cylinders and drums should be stored with their valves uppermost in a secure manner;
  • The size of any particular stack should be limited, and separation distances should be provided between stacks;
  • Drums should not be filled or emptied within the storage area.

On-site transportation of toxic and flammable substances in drums and cylinders

Drums on a forkliftWhilst drums containing flammable liquids can be transported securely on a simple pallet, cylinders and drums containing compressed or liquefied gases require special care and appropriate means of transport should be used at all times, such as:

  • cylinder trolleys, or
  • purpose designed attachments for fork lift trucks.

The operator should maintain records demonstrating that personnel involved in the movement of drums and cylinders have received training in:

  • the hazards involved in handling them, and
  • in the operation of any machinery involved such as cranes and fork lift trucks.

Connection and discharge to process of toxic and flammable substances in drums and cylinders

  • Pipes and valvesDrums containing flammable substances should be adequately earthed prior to discharge (see the HSE Technical Measures Document on Earthing on the HSE website).
  • All containers should be secured in position before connection to process plant.
  • A procedure should be in place for making the connection and all employees should have received adequate training in the use of the procedure.
  • The materials used in making the joint, such as gaskets and lubricants, should be strictly controlled and an appropriate leak test should be carried out when the joint has been made.
  • The pipework that the container is connected to should be designed to an appropriate standard.
  • Where installations contain fluids at greater than 0.5 bar gauge pressure, they will usually be subject to the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 (the link takes you to the information on the HSE website) and such systems will usually be required to be subject to periodic examination at regular intervals.

Design and maintenance of containers for toxic and flammable substances in drums and cylinders

  • Appropriate maintenance and inspectionDrums and cylinders should be designed and constructed to an appropriate standard.
  • The operator should be able to demonstrate that an appropriate inspection and maintenance programme is in place in accordance with the relevant Regulations.

The Regulatory framework is complex with the following Regulations currently applying in parallel. We have provided you with links to these Regulations via the legislation.gov.uk website.

Essentially, CDGCPL2 applies to all types of transportable pressure receptacle, but there is currently a choice between complying with CDGCPL2 or TPVR in respect of cylinders, tubes and cryogenic receptacles (but not pressure drums).

As such, periodic inspection should be done at appropriate intervals as required under CDGCPL2 or, where inspection is in accordance with TVPR, at the intervals specified in RID and ADR (European Directives covering transport of dangerous goods by rail and road).

Containment of spills of toxic and flammable substances from drums and cylinders

Toxic waste spillageSuitable precautions should be in place for the containment of leaked materials.

  • Where liquids are handled, suitable spillage containment, such as bunding and drainage sumps should be in place.
  • Arrangements should be in place for the routine drainage of rainwater from sumps.
  • Where materials that react with water are stored outdoors, the operator's risk assessment should demonstrate the suitability of the arrangements. Follow the link to the HSE website for the Case Study Staveley Chemicals Ltd - Derbyshire (27/6/1982)).
  • For the storage of toxic gases, location of the containers in a purpose designed indoor store will reduce the rate at which gas is released to the environment.

Control of ignition sources around toxic and flammable substances in drums and cylinders

Gas cylinder storageWhere flammable liquids or gases are stored, the area should be subject to hazardous area classification for the control of ignition sources. This requirement should be reflected both in:

  • the equipment installed, and
  • in the control of operational and maintenance activities in the location.

The movement of drums and cylinders often involves the use of forklift trucks, which can provide a source of ignition for flammable vapours. Any vehicle operating in a zoned area should be protected to an appropriate standard.

Industry applications

Flammable liquids

Containers should be stored in the open air where practical, but if stored inside, five air changes per hour is considered a sufficient ventilation rate.

  • Standard 205 litre metal drums should be stacked no more than three high and preferably on pallets or racking.
  • The maximum stack size should be 300,000 litres with at least 4 metres between stacks.
  • Storage should be on an impervious surface such as concrete and be bunded with drainage towards a sump or other suitable handling system.

LPG cylinders

LPG cylinders - store on concreteCylinders should be stored preferably in the open air on a concrete or load-bearing surface.

  • Flammable liquids, combustible, corrosive, oxidising materials, toxic materials or compressed gas cylinders should, in general, be kept separate from LPG containers.
  • Containers should be stored with their valves uppermost.
  • The maximum size of any stack should not exceed 30,000kg.
  • For storage indoors, no more than 5000kg may be stored in each purpose designed building compartment and a maximum of five compartments may exist in a single building.

Chlorine cylinders

  • Chlorine cylinder storageThe vast majority of chlorine cylinder and drum stores are located indoors and should be solely used for storing chlorine.
  • Access doors should fit closely to help contain any leak.
  • These stores should be protected from any nearby radiant heat hazards.
  • The store should be at least 5 m from any roadway.
  • A cylinder store should be at least 20m from the site boundary and a drum store 60m.
  • Chlorine gas detectors / alarms should normally be provided.
  • Risk assessments should be carried out to consider hazards arising from mishandling (dropping of containers in transport/handling), incorrect operation of valves and failure to connect correctly, maintenance errors and damage by external sources (domino, vehicle impacts, etc.)

Codes of Practice relating to drum and cylinder handling

Best practice for storing cylinders and drumsAny links provided below to Codes of Practice are to information provided on the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website.

 Case studies illustrating the importance of drum / cylinder handling

Staveley Chemicals Ltd - Derbyshire (27/6/1982)


The content on this page contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

Please note that any images forming part of this advice article are for illustrative purposes only and may not be indicative of colours, labelling or markings relating to any country specific legislation, guidelines or standards. Written information and guidance relate to the United Kingdom and specifically to information provided by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other UK public sector bodies.
Information herein is primarily provided for the purposes of managing fire risk. However, in order to give the reader a more complete understanding of the storage and handling of toxic and flammable substances in drums and cylinders, we have provided additional information. If you need specific advice or information on matters not directly related to fire risk management, you should consult an expert with the appropriate knowledge and/or the supplier or manufacturer.

Disclaimer: INFORMATION PROVIDED ON THIS WEBSITE IS NOT INTENDED TO BE TREATED AS PROFESSIONAL ADVICE AND SHOULD NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES BE USED AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL ADVICE. ALWAYS CONSULT A FIRE PROFESSIONAL, OR OTHER RELEVANT PROFESSIONAL, FOR ADVICE ON YOUR PARTICULAR CIRCUMSTANCES AND REQUIREMENTS.

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