Train your workers to understand why flammable liquids ignite 

Aug 28, 2019 Posted by Walter Ingles

Staff training is a critical when your workers and contractors handle Class 3 Flammable Liquids. In this blog we are going to look at 5 incidents involving flammable liquids that actually occurred at workplaces in the USA. Sadly, all of these incidents could probably have been avoided if the workers had a greater understanding of the flashpoint and explosive range of the Class 3 Flammable Liquids they were handling at the time. 

This blog was not written to establish blame or point fingers, our primary objective is to create greater awareness of flammable liquids safety and foster a better a better understanding of what can ignite solvents, adhesives and fuel.


Blow torches 

A worker was transferring biofuel from a tank to a truck until one the valves along the transfer line became blocked. The worker tried to clear the blockage by heating the valve with a blowtorch. While heating the valve, the transfer hose somehow detached from the truck and the worker was sprayed with fuel. The blowtorch ignited the fuel and the worker died from severe burns. 

This incident highlights the importance of carrying out thorough (and regular) training with your workers and onsite contractors. There are several possibilities that could have contributed to this incident: 

  • Worker didn’t understand the flashpoint and explosive range of the fuel. 
  • Worker didn’t factor the possibility that the transfer hose could detach. 
  • Maintenance had not been carried out on the fuel line and transfer equipment. 
  • Worker was improvising and didn’t follow procedures. 
  • Worker had not received sufficient training. 
  • Worker was working alone and unsupervised. 

Remember, it is a requirement of the WHS Regulations that workers (and external contractors) must be properly trained and supervised when carrying out work or maintenance at your workplace. 


Pilot lights 

Two workers were using a flammable solvent to remove linoleum and glue from the floor of an apartment building. They did not shut off the gas stove and water heater before they commenced work, and the vapours in the room soon ignited. Both workers suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns in the subsequent explosion and fire. 

Training your workers and having clear operating procedures is especially important if you have work teams that use highly flammable paints, solvents, adhesives and cleaning projects at temporary worksites. Don’t forget that remote work teams also require supervision. 

The workplace incident detailed above is not isolated — and in many similar occurrences — workers have simply forgotten to turn off electrical and gas appliances before applying flammable solvents or glues. Developing a set of work procedures and system checks is an essential safety measure. They should include: 

  • Pre-operational checks for ignition sources before commencing work with flammable liquids. 
  • Documenting actual work procedures, then submitting to onsite supervisors. 
  • Remedial training on hazard awareness, system checks and standard operating procedures. 


Hot surfaces 

A worker was refilling a petrol-powered compressor using a portable container with an attached plastic funnel. The funnel didn’t create a complete seal around the nozzle and petrol spilled onto the hot muffler of the compressor. The fuel ignited and the worker was hospitalised with 2nd and 3rd degree burns. 

One of the factors in this particular incident was the portable fuel container being used had only recently been purchased. It was a different style to previously used jerry cans. The primary reason for the purchase of the new jerry can was because the funnel/nozzle was adjustable and took up less space during storage. 

This incident immediately highlights the importance of: 

  • Testing new equipment before using in a live situation. 
  • When choosing chemical decanting equipment, making safety (rather than storage space) your priority. 
  • Conducting regular training with your workers so they understand the auto-ignition temperature of the fuels and other flammable liquids they handle.  

Training should consist of more than just telling workers, ‘don’t spill petrol on the muffler’. Explain to your workers how hot a muffler can get — as well as the auto-ignition temperature of petrol — and then what happens when heat meets petrol. 


Burning cigarettes 

A worker poured petrol over a stack of pallets to prepare them for burning. The worker was smoking at the time. The burning cigarette ignited the petrol and the worker died after sustaining burns to 97% of their body. 

It seems crazy that an incident like this could still be happening (and yes it happened in this very decade). So we’ll just mention briefly to please consider: 

  • Banning smoking onsite. 
  • Disposing of waste materials (including old pallets) safely. 
  • Never using petrol as a fire accelerant. 
  • Making sure your workers are trained and follow procedures. 


Cigarette lighters 

A worker was on the phone to a chemical supplier and wanted to check the existing stocks of flammable liquids stored in a fuel drum. The worker used a cigarette lighter to look inside the drum. The vapours immediately ignited, and the drum exploded. The worker died from injuries relating to burns and being struck in the head by the drum. 

Were you shocked when you read about this terrible workplace death? We were. There are so many system failures in play here — because it seems obvious that: 

  • The worker did not understand the flammable properties of the chemicals inside the drum. 
  • There was no effective procedure to prevent ignition sources being brought into flammable liquids storage areas. 
  • There was no safe procedure for estimating and measuring chemical quantities in drums. 
  • There were no inventory controls on the chemical stocks on hand. 
  • There was no clear procedure for purchasing. 
  • There was no effective supervision in the work area. 

Please make sure the workers at your job site know what they are doing and have clear procedures to follow. Even small quantities of flammable liquids must be managed carefully to prevent them from causing deadly fires and explosions. 


Next steps 

Flammable liquids safety in the workplace can only be achieved when the chemicals you carry are handled and stored correctly. Train your workers properly — so they understand how flammable liquids burn, and what could cause them to ignite. For more information about the fire and explosion hazards of Class 3 Flammable Liquids, why not download our new eBook Essential Considerations When Storing Flammable Liquids Indoors. Use it as the basis of your next training or induction program. Download and read it 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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