FM APPROVALS Article: Research Prompts New Ignitable Liquid Standard

Approved flooring assembly can automatically capture and remove liquid spilled on its surface.

Thanks to an innovative manufacturer and an investigative research program conducted by FM Global Research at the Research Campus in West Glocester, Rhode Island, USA, a new FM Approved flooring assembly is now available to reduce the effects of ignitable liquid pool fires.

The new Approval Standard 6090, Ignitable Liquid Drainage Floor Assemblies (released in May 2017), was developed based on the research results and test protocols produced during the research program. The new standard was used to evaluate and approve a new type of flooring assembly from Houston, Texas-based manufacturer Safespill. The assembly can automatically capture and remove any liquid spilled on its surface, including chemicals and ignitable liquids. 

Difficult Challenge

Many industries use ignitable liquids, including fuels, process chemicals, hydraulic fluids, solvents, paints, coatings, adhesives, vegetable oils, waxes and polishes. Facilities that rely on ignitable liquids must balance the need to provide adequate protection for, and confinement of, ignitable liquids in case of fire with the need to freely access and move these liquids as required by production processes.

Managing the hazards associated with ignitable liquids requires a comprehensive approach, including proper transportation and handling, adequate sprinkler protection and passive construction features such as isolation (containment), and drainage. Ignitable liquids containment, in particular, presents a unique challenge because of the high heat release rate of the liquids and the fact that liquids flow freely past barriers that are not leakproof.

“One of the biggest challenges posed by ignitable liquids is the potential for a spreading pool fire that can open up a lot of sprinklers and potentially overwhelm the water supply,” explains John LeBlanc, vice president and principal engineer for FM Global Engineering Standards. “We have recommended drainage for years, but that drainage has usually been on a gross scale using pot or trench drains around the perimeter. You still have the potential for very large fires even though there may be drains in place.”


The FM Approved Safespill flooring assembly features a raised perforated aluminum decking that allows any spilled liquids to flow into a cavity below the deck and be safely removed to a separate containment tank by means of a flushing and suction system within  the floor.

According to Safespill founder and CEO, Tristan Mackintosh, the concept was derived from a specific type of helicopter landing pad used on some offshore oil platforms and drill ships. “Those landing pads have aluminum perforated decking to prevent pooling of spilled kerosene fuel. I realized that it was possible to design aluminum flooring profiles that are strong enough to take the weight of a jet or helicopter and still have a perforated top surface to drain away spills,” notes Mackintosh, a native of The Netherlands.

Safespill determined they could utilize the engineered flooring system for commercial and industrial applications.

“We began talking to some very large companies that deal with ignitable liquids and hazardous chemicals on a regular basis,” he says. “Of course, they asked us if our product was FM Approved.”

To Go Where No Standard Exists

According to LeBlanc, engineering standards saw the potential for the Safespill engineered flooring system as a means to mitigate the risk posed by ignitable liquids used in many client businesses. “The initial research effort, and the intent of the approval standard, was to find products that can reduce or eliminate the development of a spreading ignitable liquid pool fire. If the product could achieve that goal, then we have the potential to reduce the needed sprinkle design.”

Figure 1

An IBC filled with mineral seal oil releases its content onto the engineered floor system. The liquid quickly flows through the perforated aluminum surface and flows into the cavity below the deck where it is carried away to a remote storage container via suction pump.

In 2015, Safespill joined FM Global in a joint research program to assess the capabilities and limitations of its new engineered flooring system. In 2016, a series of 39 tests were conducted on the Safespill flooring system, including drainage rate tests, survivability tests, IBC (intermediate bulk container) discharge distance tests, and storage tests of single and multiple IBCs (see figures 1, 2 and 3).

“We looked at the existing Approval Standards and nothing really fit this product,” notes Seth Sienkiewicz, FM Global fire testing manager and lead research engineer. “We began a research project to first prove the efficacy of the system—to make sure it could do what they said it could do—and second, to develop the performance tests that we would need to be able to generically apply to other products as an FM Approvals test program.”

He adds, “It’s relatively easy to test a product you have in hand, but far more difficult to figure out what performance tests you would want to see for any other future product from another manufacturer.”

Figure 2

At 38 minutes into this test, the IBC is fully involved in fire; however, the spread of the pool fire is limited by the continuous drainage provided by the engineered flooring system.

The test program was conducted in the Large Burn Laboratory at the FM Global Research Campus. Sienkiewicz managed the two-month-long research program and was joined at various times by engineers from Safespill and FM Approvals. He notes that the entire process took less than 18 months, including planning the program, obtaining product from the manufacturer, performance testing, transferring the results to FM Approvals, and the subsequent issuance of Approval Standard 6090.

Figure 3

Diagram of flooring test apparatus. The liquid quickly flows through the perforated aluminum surface and into the cavity below the deck where it is carried away.

Rare Parallel Approval

“When we realized that this research work would probably result in a new Approval Standard, I began to witness the testing to make sure we could apply those tests for the approval,” explains FM Approvals senior engineering specialist Jeff Gould. “In most cases we receive a research report on a new product category and develop the approval standard in accordance with those findings. Then, manufacturers come to us with their products to be tested against the new standard. In this case, because it was a brand new product category, we did things a little differently to be more efficient.”

While research testing was ongoing, Gould traveled to the Houston area to witness the manufacturing of the Safespill flooring system as part of the approval program.

He developed the new Approval Standard 6090 based on the performance tests conducted on the Safespill flooring system as well as other tests to ensure that the standard can be applied to any other product submitted for approval testing.

New Standard Emerges

Approval Standard 6090 includes requirements for flooring assemblies that are part of an overall drainage system designed to prevent or minimize the consequences of an ignitable liquid pool fire or hazardous liquid spill in commercial or industrial facilities.

The purpose of the standard is to determine the maximum spill flow rate that the floor assembly can handle; ensure that the assembly is leakproof; determine if the assembly will function whether or not the spilled liquid has been ignited; and that it can withstand the expected dead and live loads.

The performance tests required by the new standard include:

  • Drainage flow rate test – upon completion of this test, the flooring assembly will be assigned a total maximum flow rate based on the test results using a simulated spill.
  • Survivability test – all liquid drainage floor assemblies will be evaluated to determine that the assembly can withstand a simulated ignitable liquid fire. At a minimum, two separate tests will be conducted using heptane as the ignition source. One test will be at a flow rate of 2 gpm (7.6 lpm) and a second test at a flow rate of 40 gpm (151 lpm). Each test will be conducted for a period of 20 minutes. Additional tests will be permitted using higher heptane flow rates if the system passes the first two tests.
  • Structural analysis – all drainage floor assemblies will be subjected to an analysis to determine that the assembly will not fail when subjected to a total dead load and live load of 125 lbs/in(0.86 MPa).

In addition, the manufacturer will be required to demonstrate a quality assurance program with specific controls for a range of product-related areas, including quality assurance testing, inspections, calibrations, change control and other elements. The manufacturing facility will be subject to initial and follow-up surveillance audits, installation inspections and other responsibilities.

Doors Opening

“There were definitely corporate buyers who were waiting for us to get our FM Approved certification,” Mackintosh notes. “We are actively working with an FM Global client right now who is interested in our FM Approved assembly. Right now, they have to shut down their line or process and call in their hazardous material team whenever they have a chemical spill. That results in significant downtime and lost production.”

Mackintosh notes that the Safespill team is continuing to work with FM Global and FM Approvals on a higher capacity system intended for the storage of stacked IBCs. The new system will feature a higher flow rate floor system that can handle up to 800 gpm (3,028 lpm), and provide a turnkey pre-engineering solution.

The current FM Approved Safespill floor assembly can handle up to 125 gpm (473 lpm) per 200 ft2 section. Multiple sections can be linked to cover larger areas. The flooring assembly can be used in many industrial applications where ignitable liquids or liquid chemicals are used in processes or handled in areas such as transfer stations, tote and drum filling areas, loading docks, and chemical staging or storage areas.

The Safespill system can reduce the risk of uncontrolled fires, and reduce the length and frequency of downtime resulting from workplace spills. “Our challenge now is to figure out what are the best applications for this new engineered flooring system,” says LeBlanc. “I could see this helping in many industries and it might even eliminate the need for a cutoff room in some cases. It could be a great solution where you have ignitable liquid mixing rooms, drum filling areas, and even some level of storage on it; even in areas where you might have a couple of IBCs sitting on the floor for a process.”