Hazardous Materials 101

Hazardous Materials 101

4 years, 2 months ago

NOTE: This is the first installment in a multipart series on hazardous materials in industrial facilities. Part 102 can be found here, while Part 103 can be referenced here.


Ellen McCulley, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB

By Ellen McCulley, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB
Nelson Design, Inc.

We often find that our clients are uninformed of the building regulations regarding hazardous materials. Whether hazardous materials are part of an existing facility, added to an existing facility, or are included in a new construction project, code requirements must be met. In most cases Owners should refer to their local municipality or State Fire Marshal’s Office to determine the requirements as they are likely the authority having jurisdiction. Each State Fire Marshal’s Office varies in the code they adopt. For example, the Iowa State Fire Marshal has adopted the International Fire Code, 2015 edition and the Illinois State Fire Marshal has adopted the NFPA Life Safety Code 101, 2000 edition.

The first step is to determine whether or not hazardous materials are present at your facility. We have created a flow diagram to assist our clients in evaluating hazardous materials. The first question was “Do you have hazardous materials at your facility?” If they answered no to the question, the next question was “Are you sure?” This is because most industrial plants will have some type of hazardous material. Once the applicable code is determined, you can reference the various definitions within to see what meets the definition of hazardous. In the International Fire Code, there are two main classes of hazardous materials, physical and health.

Physical Hazard

  • Combustible
    • Dust
    • Liquid
    • Fiber
  • Consumer Fireworks
  • Cryogenics
    • Flammable
    • Inert
    • Oxidizing
  • Water Reactive
  • Flammable
    • Gas
    • Liquid
    • Liquid, combination
    • Solid
  • Inert Gas
  • Organic Peroxide
  • Oxidizer
  • Oxidizing Gas
  • Pyrophoric Material
  • Unstable (reactive)

Health Hazard

  • Corrosive
  • Highly Toxic
  • Toxic

In addition to the definitions of the various hazards, the MSDS of the material, HMeX Assistant Software, and Appendix E of the International Fire Code are great resources in determining the hazard classifications of the particular material(s).

Once you have determined what materials are hazardous, the second step is to identify the various usages. The International Fire Code outlines three usages: use-closed systems, use-open systems, and storage. In use means the material is placed into action by being handled or transported through an open or closed system. An open system is exposed to the atmosphere and a closed system is not. Tanks that are vented to the atmosphere of the building are considered use-open systems. Storage is defined as being stored in a static condition.

The final step is determining the quantity of each hazardous material by usage. For example, you might have 50 gallons of 12.5% sodium hypochlorite (bleach), which is a corrosive, being stored and 5 gallons in use. Once the quantity and usage of each type of hazardous material has been accounted for you are ready to ascertain what code provisions are applicable.

Ellen McCulley graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Architecture from Iowa State University where she received the Pella Architectural Award from the Department of Architecture. She is a registered architect in Iowa and Illinois. Ms. McCulley joined Carl A. Nelson & Company in 2012.