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Safe use and storage of cellular plastics: Controlling the fire risk

Introduction

Cellular plastics (CP) include a wide range of polymers such as polyurethane (PU) and polyisocyanurate foams that are used in a wide range of applications. They are used mainly for upholstering furniture, packaging and insulation. Most are fire hazards and may be ignited easily with a small ignition source. Once established a fire can spread quickly often producing a large volume of thick, black, toxic smoke. The smoke can contain chemicals that are hazardous to people and the environment. Some types of plastic can continue to smoulder once the main fire has been extinguished giving off thick black smoke.

These pages give guidance to manufacturers, converters and users of CP on controlling the risk of fire.

General guidance on fire safety in the workplace can be found on HSEs toolbox pages relating to fire safety and on the fire safety pages of the Gov.uk website.

HSE is responsible for enforcement of ‘process’ fire precautions e.g. fire hazards associated with particular processes. Local fire authorities are responsible for enforcing general fire precautions e.g. means of escape, layout of the building, fire alarm systems etc. Your local Fire Officer can also be a good source of advice on general fire precautions and design/layout of buildings. For further information on these areas of fire safety you should contact your local Fire Officer.

Please use the links below to find out more information about reducing the risks of using and storing CP.

Getting Started

When using and storing CP an assessment carried out under the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) should be completed to identify the package of controls that will be needed to reduce the risks. The DSEAR assessment should consider how to:

  1. prevent fires starting;
  2. restrict the rate of fire spread
  3. ensure that in the event of fire everyone can escape safely
  4. help fire brigades tackle any large fire; and
  5. reduce the cost of a fire.

More information on completing a DSEAR assessment can be found here.

General safety

The following general safety points along with guidance on storage and processes can be used to reduce the risks of storing and working with CP.

Workrooms:

Housekeeping:

Controlling Ignition Sources

One of the main ways to reduce the risks of fire when using CP is to control ignition sources. This includes ensuring other materials that can be easily ignited (e.g. loose paper) do not become an ignition source. Other ways to control ignition sources are below.

Updated 2014-06-27