When is “Approved” Not Approved? – Storing Flammables in IBC

NFPA has initiated an awareness campaign on dangers of storing flammable/combustible liquids in composite intermediate bulk containers (IBC)…

Earlier this month the US National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) launched a campaign to raise awareness regarding the fire risk posed by indoor storage of flammable or combustible liquids in IBC.

The hazards are considered particularly significant in plastic or the ubiquitous composite (“bottle-in-cage”- UN 31H’Z’1 type) IBC. These containers may not provide resistance under fire conditions and can release significant volumes of liquid; as well as the plastic itself subsequently contributing to the fire. The resulting intensity of heat may overwhelm fire protection systems and lead to catastrophic events in storage/processing buildings.

Although IBC may be “authorized” for shipping flammable/combustible liquids under transportation regulations, these approvals do not automatically extend to storage which is under the jurisdiction of other agencies. The UN standards on the design, testing and use of IBC do not specifically address fire resistance testing of IBC as part of the protocol. While in general PG I, and some PG II, Class 3 substances may not be transported in IBC, the testing required to qualify as UN standardized packaging are based on strength performance testing.

Many North American jurisdictions recognize or reference NFPA standards in their Fire Codes or other safety standards. In addition, insurance and loss prevention organizations may have restrictions similar to NFPA 30 (Flammable & Combustible Liquids Code) built into their policies.

The message in the campaign is to ensure, as a minimum, that IBC are “listed” according to Part 9.4 of NFPA 30 (e.g. as meeting UL 2368 criteria) if they are being used to hold flammable/combustible liquids in storage or processing buildings. NFPA 30 limits storage in “listed” plastic or composite IBC to liquids with a flash point at or above 38 degrees C.

As is true of regulations in general, what is suitable for one activity may not be appropriate in other applications.

Additional information on the NFPA campaign, including videos and other resource material, is available on the NFPA website:
http://www.nfpa.org/ibc

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