5 workplace accidents involving aerosols

Nov 29, 2018 Posted by Walter Ingles

A huge range of substances are housed in aerosol cans and their compact size (plus convenient dispensers) have created loads of commercial and industrial applications. Aerosol cans contain lubricants, insect repellent, paints, cooking oil, deodorisers, whipped cream, solvents, cleaning agents, and personal care products — and are found at nearly every workplace you can think of.

This blog post outlines 5 accidents involving aerosols and serves as a reminder that these little cans pack a lot of potential energy and can transform into dangerous projectiles or flamethrowers when they rupture or get too hot. It is also important to remember that aerosols are classed as Dangerous Goods and must be handled and stored according to the ADG Code and other Australian Safety Standards.

IMPORTANT: Aerosol cans are categorised as Class 2.1 Flammable Gases and should be stored in a dedicated aerosol cage that is properly ventilated and has projectile protection.

1. Aerosol can explodes and causes permanent facial injuries to warehouse employee

A worker was stacking cartons of aerosols full of whipped cream onto a pallet — the cartons were sealed. While the worker was moving the boxes, one of the aerosol cans ruptured and burst through the cardboard carton. The worker was struck in the face by the can which fractured his cheekbone and other bones around his left eye. He also suffered a damaged tear duct; detached retina and was left with multiple lacerations to his eyelid.

We introduced this particular accident first because often workers underestimate the dangers associated with seemingly benign products like whipped cream. This accident really demonstrates the force and potential energy contained in an aerosol can (even one carrying a popular dessert) and how necessary it is for staff to understand the potential hazards associated with the equipment or products they use, handle and store.

Aerosol cans are safe as long as the dispensing device remains intact. But a puncture, excessive heat, corrosion or a faulty valve can cause an aerosol can to rapidly dispense or explode— creating a dangerous projectile, a fire, an explosion, or expose nearby workers to toxic substances.

Each job task that involves the movement, handling or storage of Dangerous Goods like aerosols should be analysed carefully and included in the worksite’s risk assessment. Administrative control measures such as staff training and safe job design should be implemented while Engineering controls (like using dedicated safety cabinets and aerosol cages) should also be considered.

TIP: Download our free eBook Gas Cylinder Storage: compliance and safety requirements to learn more about how to identify, assess and control the risks associated with gas cylinders and aerosol cans at your workplace.

2. Can of cooking oil explodes and burns two kitchen workers

Two cooks were working in a commercial kitchen and an aerosol can of cooking oil had been left on the cooled hotplate (griddle) of the stove. When the stove was turned on the aerosol can heated and exploded causing a fire. Both cooks were injured and burned by the explosion and subsequent oil fire — they were hospitalised for burn treatment, therapy and required surgery.

This accident is an example of poor work practices and inadequate supervision. Like all Class 2.1 Flammable Gases, aerosol cans must be kept away from sources of heat and staff need to be monitored at their work stations to ensure they understand their individual WHS responsibilities and are correctly following safety procedures.

3. Can of marking paint explodes and burns asphalt worker

A paving machine operator was finishing an asphalt driveway. A can of spray paint used for marking the driveway had been left on the screed of the paving machine (which gets very hot). After about 30 minutes of operations the aerosol can of paint overheated and exploded, igniting the clothing of the machine operator. He suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns to his legs and calves.

Again this accident clearly demonstrates why aerosol cans (no matter what substance is stored inside) are classified as Class 2.1 Flammable Gases and must be kept well away from ignition sources and heat. It is important to work with your staff so you can agree upon safe working procedures that are both practical and effective.

IMPORTANT: Australian Safety Standards including AS4332-2004 - The storage and handling of gases in cylinders require that staff must be retrained whenever they have demonstrated substandard performance in safety procedures.

4. Paint can ruptures and sprays mining employee with burning paint

A worker at a mining site was using an acetylene and oxygen torch to cut a mounting hole. He had used an aerosol paint can to mark the location of the hole and lay the spray can at his feet while he used the cutting torch. During the cutting process a piece of molten metal fell onto the aerosol can which ruptured then ignited the paint inside. The worker was sprayed with the burning paint and he received 2nd degree burns to his arms and hands, neck and shoulders, as well as his face.

While this accident again demonstrates the dangers surrounding the aerosol can itself, the incident could have been a whole lot worse if the O2 and Acetylene had ignited and exploded. The Safety Data Sheets of all hazardous substances and Dangerous Goods should be consulted before designing job tasks — aerosol paint cans are usually extremely flammable and are nearly always incompatible with oxidisers and highly reactive gases

TIP: Read our detailed blog about acetylene and oxygen cylinder safety to learn more about your responsibilities under AS4332-2004 - The storage and handling of gases in cylinders.

5. Can of spray adhesive ignites and burns creative designer

A creative designer was dry printing onto a bag and had an aerosol can of adhesive on a table near where she was working. She was working with a heat gun and did not turn it off when she placed it on a stool next to the work table. The heat gun was inadvertently pointed toward the spray can which exploded about 10 seconds after the heat gun was set down. Flames rose a metre in height and ignited some other materials on the table — at the same time burning the designer. She was hospitalised at the burns centre for 10 days while she received treatment for burns to her arms and face.

This is another example of an employee not understanding what can happen when aerosol cans get hot. Apart from this particular accident, there have been many recorded incidents of aerosol fires and explosions in cars and on worksites (and in homes) all over the world (including Australia) — many occurring simply because the cans overheated.

TIP: Create aerosol safety awareness by holding regular tool-box talks and workplace safety forums.

Next Steps: handling and storing aerosol cans

Don’t underestimate the dangers of aerosol cans: make sure your staff know how to use them safely on-the-job; then keep them stored away from ignition sources and heat in a dedicated aerosol cage. If you would like more information on how to eliminate the dangerous associated with aerosols, download our free eBook by clicking on the image below: 

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Walter Ingles

Walter Ingles Compliance Specialist

Walter is STOREMASTA’s Dangerous Goods Storage Specialist. He helps organisations reduce risk and improve efficiencies in the storage and management of dangerous goods and hazardous chemicals.

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