GHS Safety Data Sheets Explained: Section 5
Updated: May 4, 2020
Section 5: Firefighting Measures
Section 5 of the safety data sheet is dedicated to the prevention and fighting of fires. It is aimed primarily at professional firefighters but can be used to conduct proper fire risk assessments by a competent person.
This should be done before you allow yourself - or anyone else - to work with the product. A fire risk assessment will allow you to decide what emergency procedures to implement.
The information you find in this section is given to provide assistance to you, but your supplier does not know your exact circumstances and how you and your employers use, handle or transport the product. Because of this, you should take extra care when performing your fire risk assessments, as you may be required to include extra details that your supplier will not include in their safety data sheet (e.g. specific requirements due to plant layout, vehicle routes, locations of ignition sources, etc.)
5.1. Extinguishing Media
In this subsection the supplier will provide information on appropriate extinguishers to use on the product, should a fire occur.
These are several different extinguishers to choose between:
Using the wrong extinguisher on the wrong type of fire can cause even greater consequences (e.g. using water on a fire involving an immiscible liquid of lower density, then the burning liquid will float atop the water and the fire will spread, while other substances may react with the water and explode.)
Please note: Although now banned, you may - very rarely - see some mention of halons. However, you should only use these for extremely specialised applications.
This information is especially important for chemical storage areas. Where you store chemicals, you should ensure the correct extinguishant is placed nearby. This subsection will also provide information on the extinguishants you should never use on the product.
5.2. Special Hazards Arising from the Substance or Mixture
Generally, the very beginning of this subsection will indicate whether the product is combustible or not. If the SDS does not state whether the substance or mixture is combustible, it may still be.
Other descriptions should also appear here, if applicable. For instance, if flammable the substance or mixture may be described as (from least to most easily ignited):
Or extremely flammable.
Please note: A lack of a flammability descriptor does not indicate that a product is not flammable.
This subsection should also contain any information on additional hazards firefighters should be aware of before tackling a fire involving this chemical. For instance, many chemical products give off vapours which form explosive mixtures in the air and sealed chemical containers may explode due to a rise in pressure if they are stored close to where a fire occurs.
In some circumstances, you may need to contact the police. In the event that a fire occurs involving a chemical, the smoke may become extremely toxic or explosive. The police would need to know about the fire, the toxicity and how quickly the smoke is spreading in the event they need to evacuate members of the public.
In such cases, the firefighter would also need to know this so they can take the proper precautions before tackling a fire involving the substance or mixture.
5.3. Advice for Firefighters
Subsection 5.3 is specifically aimed at professional firefighters. The supplier should include specific advice on how to tackle a fire involving this product. Including special PPE requirements and which extinguishant they should use (e.g. as a jet or spray of water, the correct extinguishing media).
The supplier may also list precautions to take regarding polluting the environment with chemical-contaminated water run-off (e.g. spill kits, bunds, etc.).
Protective Equipment for Firefighters
For obvious reasons, firefighters are kitted out with thermal, fire-resistant clothing. In cases where firefighters must enter a smoke-filled area, they also use self-contained respiratory protective equipment.
However, with fire involving chemicals, it is often the case that extra, special protective equipment is required. These chemicals may be irritants, corrosives or toxic and can be protected against by using a chemical protective suit.
In certain cases, the exact type of chemical suit will be specified.
Confused by the many pieces of information provided in those safety data sheets? Join the International Association for Chemical Safety's completely free health and safety academy now and take the Safety Data Sheet Awareness Certification™.
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