Flammable liquids safety: using jerrycans and portable containers

Nov 8, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

Did you know that common flammable liquids like petrol, kerosene and turps can be ignited by static electricity? And we’re talking simple things — like the remote control from a keyless entry system, static from clothing, and even the courtesy light inside a vehicle. In today’s blog we’ll be discussing flammable liquids safety when using jerrycans and portable chemical containers — and highlighting some of the key hazards and compliance issues. 

REMEMBER: Across Australia (and in other parts of the world) there have a been many large fires and explosions caused by workers using jerrycans and other portable chemical containers incorrectly — in many instances people were seriously injured, vehicles destroyed and buildings totally damaged. 


1. Using approved containers

Two workers were refuelling compressors using a jerrycan fitted with a secondary funnel. The funnel didn’t create a full seal and fuel spilled onto the compressor’s hot muffler, then ignited. One worker suffered burns to the arms and face as well as smoke inhalation. 

Flammable liquids must only be stored in approved chemical containers that have proper seals, but it’s equally important to ensure that the decanting equipment you use (eg, funnels, pourers, and strainers) are also made from suitable materials. Precautions include: 

  • When purchasing jerrycans and other portable containers look for markings that indicate the container has been manufactured to Australian Standard ASNZS:2906 — Fuel containers - Portable - Plastics and metal or an equivalent.  
  • Make sure pouring equipment fits the container sizes perfectly without leaking.  
  • Allow machines to cool down before refuelling. 

IMPORTANT: Plastic oil containers, soft drink bottles, and other cheap plastics are not suitable for storing flammable liquids. 


2. Filling jerrycans and fuel containers

An Australian worker was at a service station refilling 20 litre fuel containers located in the back of a 4WD. The flammable vapours ignited and caused a major fire which destroyed 3 vehicles, seriously injured the worker and caused critical damage to the service station. 

When jerrycans and other fuel containers are being refilled, they are vulnerable to ignition sources — especially static electricity. The following precautions are recommended: 

  • Put jerrycans and portable fuel containers on the ground for refilling — never leave them in the car or even the back of the ute. 
  • Remove the lid or cap slowly to release vapours — point the opening away from the face and body of workers. 
  • While refilling, keep one hand on the fuel container to reduce static build-up and discharge — use an earthing strap if available.  

Refilling at a service station 

  • Don’t leave containers of fuel in the sun, anywhere hot, or near ignition sources. 
  • Replace the lid and ensure it creates a full seal before putting the container back in the vehicle. 
  • Don’t leave jerrycans and portable fuel containers in the boot of a car — shaking can cause petrol to vaporise and expand. The vapours may ignite when the cap is removed. 


3. Refuelling machines with portable containers

An Australian worker suffered serious burns while trying to re-fuel a compressor in the back of a ute. The jerrycan ignited without warning and the ignition source was never able to be established. 

Decanting and transferring fuel is always a hazardous activity, so have strict operating procedures in place — making sure workers are properly trained. Recommendations include: 

  • Never attempt to refuel compressors and other machinery while they are running. 
  • Take the machine away from the refuelling area before restarting. 
  • Ensure all ignition sources are at least 3-5 metres away. 
  • Take care not to overfill. 


4. Storing jerrycans and fuel containers

A worker was using a grinder when sparks ignited a nearby container of fuel that had been left open. When he tried to extinguish the fire, he slipped on the concrete floor and fell into the fire. Suffering second and third degree burns to his limbs, the worker was hospitalised for 11 days. 

Jerrycans and other portable fuel containers create unnecessary fire and explosion hazards when they are left lying around the job site or stored incorrectly. It is critically important to: 

  • Immediately replace the cap or seal whenever the jerrycan or fuel container is not being used. 
  • Check to ensure the lid or cap creates a liquid tight seal. 
  • Wipe down containers and remove chemical residue before putting away. 
  • Store jerrycans and fuel containers in a Class 3 Flammable Liquids cabinet that has been manufactured to Australian Standard AS1940:2017 –- The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids. 
  • Inspect the containers regularly for signs of leaks, corrosion, cracking and dents. 
  • Don’t allow ignition sources to brought within 3-5 metres of the flammable liquid’s cabinet. 


Next steps 

Only use approved jerrycans and portable containers for petrol and other flammable liquids and never decant or refill the containers from the back of a vehicle. For more critical information about flammable liquids safety and compliance, please download our free eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors. Download and read today by clicking on the image below:  

Essential Considerations when Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors download Free eBook

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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