Time for an Update?

NFPA-30 goes much farther in protecting employers and employees than OSHA's outdated 1910.106 regulations.

EVEN though the OSHA flammable and combustible storage regulations at 29 CFR 1910.106 have been around for 30 years, there is still confusion about exactly how to comply with the requirements. This article will answer some of those burning questions and provide insight into how OSHA's regulation dovetails with what the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has to say in its Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code.

Flammable Liquids 101
First, let's look at OSHA's definition of a flammable liquid. 1910.106(a)(19) indicates a flammable liquid is any liquid having a flashpoint below 100° Fahrenheit, except any mixture having components with flashpoints of 100° F or higher, the total of which makes up 99 percent or more of the total volume of the mixture. Flammable liquids are categorized as Class I liquids and have a lower flashpoint than combustible liquids.

Class I liquids are divided into three classes as follows:

  • Class IA includes liquids having flashpoints below 73° F (22.8° C) and having a boiling point below 100° F (37.8° C).
  • Class IB includes liquids having flashpoints below 73° F (22.8° C) and having a boiling point at or above 100° F (37.8° C).
  • Class IC includes liquids having flashpoints at or above 73° F (22.8° C) and having a boiling point below 100° F (37.8° C).

A combustible liquid is any liquid having a flashpoint at or above 100° F. Combustible liquids are divided into two classes: Class II and Class III. They are not as apt to ignite as flammable liquids.

OSHA vs. NFPA
The NFPA Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code has been around since 1957 in its present form and since 1917 in the form of a model municipal ordinance. Many editions have been published as warranted by experience and advances in technology.

OSHA adopted the 1969 NFPA-30 edition when it promulgated its 1910.106 standards. However, there have been some substantial revisions to the code since OSHA adopted the 1969 NFPA-30 edition (especially the revisions in 1984, 1987, 1990, 1993, and the latest in 1996) which are not referenced by OSHA.

NFPA-30 goes much farther in protecting employers and employees than OSHA's 1910.106 regulations. The outdated OSHA regulation provides basic information, whereas the NFPA code is more comprehensive. There is also the Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code Handbook, which goes into detail on how comply with NFPA-30.

What's Your Question?
There are certain questions that seem to come up frequently in the course of a discussion on storing flammable liquids. Some of those questions include:

Question: Is it permissible to store compressed gases and flammable liquids in the same cabinet?
Answer:
No. OSHA requirements at 1910.253(b)(2) indicate that compressed gases must be stored at least 20 feet from flammable liquids.

Q: How much liquid can be stored outside of an inside storage room?
A:
The OSHA regulation at 1910.106(e)(2)(ii)(b) requires that the quantity of liquid that may be located outside of an inside storage room or storage cabinet in a building, or in any one fire area of a building must not exceed a total of:
a) 25 gallons of Class IA liquids in containers;
b) 20 gallons of Class IB, IC, II, or III liquids in containers;
c) 660 gallons of Class IB, IC, II, or III liquids in a single portable tank.

Some OSHA area directors interpreted these requirements to permit employers the choice of one of the three options. In other words, if 25 gallons of Class IA liquids was stored in containers outside of an inside storage room or storage cabinet in a building, no additional quantity of Class IB, IC, II, or III liquids would be allowed. This is contrary to the intended meaning of the standard.

NFPA 30-1969 requires the following:

"The quantity of liquid that may be located outside of an inside storage room or storage cabinet in a building shall not exceed that given in (a), (b) and (c). This means that any combination of the permitted quantities of various classes of flammable liquids is allowed so long as the maximum permitted quantity for any one of the three categories is not exceeded."

Q: Are there separate regulations governing the use of flammable and combustible liquids?
A:
There are no separate regulations governing the use of flammable and combustible liquids. The use of these liquids is governed by the same regulations, specifically 1910.106.

Q: Can flammable and corrosive chemicals be stored in the same storage cabinet?
A:
Yes, assuming the chemicals are being stored:

  • According to the manufacturers' requirements;
  • In approved containers; and
  • Inside an approved storage cabinet.

Refer to the chemical's Material Safety Data Sheet for specific storage requirements. Also, there are certain quantity limit requirements for the storage of flammable liquids in storage cabinets at 1910.106(d)(3). You can't store more than 60 gallons of Class I or Class II liquids, or more than 120 gallons of Class III liquids, in a storage cabinet.

Q: Can I comply with the NFPA 30 standard instead of OSHA's 1910.106 regulation?
A:
Yes. According to OSHA, "Employers who comply with a proposed standard or amendment or a consensus standard rather than with the standard in effect at the time of the inspection will receive no citation, provided that the method of compliance provides equal or greater employee protection to that of the existing standard."

Q: If our company follows the NFPA standard where the method of compliance provides equal or greater employee protection to that of the existing standard, will we be in a technical violation of any of the OSHA standards?
A:
No, but you could be cited for a "de minimis violation." A de minimis violation is an administrative device that is used by OSHA, in addition to other policy applications, to allow employers to abide by the most current consensus standard applicable to their operations rather than with the standard in effect at the time of the inspection, when the employer's action provides equal or greater employee protection.

De minimis violations are violations of existing OSHA standards that have no direct or immediate relationship to safety or health. These violations of the OSHA standards result in no citation, no penalty, and no required abatement.

Q: The OSHA regulations call for self-closing fire doors. Does the NFPA standard require them?
A:
No. NFPA 30-1996 paragraph 4-4.2.2 indicates, "Openings in interior walls to adjacent rooms or buildings and openings in exterior walls with fire resistance ratings shall be provided with normally closed, listed fire doors . . . ." OSHA's 1910.106(d)(4)(i) says, "Openings shall be provided with approved self-closing fire doors."

Q: Why do the OSHA regulations not require deflagration venting for storage rooms?
A:
OSHA's 1910.106 standard is based on the 1969 NFPA-30 standard. The newer NFPA standards do require deflagration venting for certain types of storage rooms "where Class IA or IB liquids or unstable liquids are dispensed or Class IA liquids are stored in containers larger than one gallon." Inside storage rooms are not required to have deflagration venting.

Q: The OSHA regulations don't indicate it is OK to store flammable and combustible liquids in polyethylene containers. Will we get a citation from OSHA if we do?
A:
No. OSHA indicates in an interpretation letter, "OSHA accepts as meeting the intent of its standards the requirements of Chapter 4-2.3 of NFPA 30, 1996, which allows the use of polyethylene portable containers. OSHA adopted the 1969 NFPA-30 standard when it promulgated its 1910.106 standards. At that time, NFPA did not recognize the use of polyethylene containers (DOT Spec. 34 or as authorized by DOT Exemption) for the storage of flammable and combustible liquids. Since that time, technology changes have occurred to warrant such recognition."

Q: What is OSHA's definition of a storage container?
A:
"A storage container is a container that is not an integral part or component of machinery or equipment. For example, a gas tank on a lawn mower or tractor is not considered to be a storage container, since it is part of the machinery or equipment, however, a gas can indoors or outdoors is considered to be a storage container. Please note that the ANSI/NFPA 30 (1993 Edition) definition of 'container' states, 'Any vessel of 60 U.S. gal (227 L) or less capacity used for transporting or storing liquids'."

Q: How long must a liquid be in a container to be considered stored?
A:
A 1996 OSHA Letter of Interpretation explains this: "According to the above definitions of 'storage' and 'container,' time is not a relevant factor. So long as the liquid is contained in a container which is an integral component of the equipment, it can be stored for any length of time and it would not be considered in 'storage.' Otherwise, if the liquid is kept in a storage container which is not an integral part of machinery, that container is considered 'storage' at all times."

As you can see, many people still are confused about how to comply with OSHA's flammable and combustible liquids regulations. Don't be one of them. A close look at 1910.106 and NFPA-30 will reveal numerous details about exactly what you need to do to comply.

This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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