Mitigating the fire risks of hand sanitiser products

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Hand sanitiser has become a very popular – and very necessary - hand hygiene product, preventing the spread of germs and harmful bacteria.  It is now widely used in many settings and lots of people even carry hand sanitiser with them so they can keep their hands clean, particularly when they don't have access to soap and water.

However, most hand sanitiser products contain a high volume of alcohol, known to be a very important anti-microbial product.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that a 60-95% alcohol concentration is necessary for an effective hand sanitiser, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 70%.  Advice and testing show that alcohol concentration lower than this may not work as well and will simply reduce the growth of viruses and bacteria but not actually kill them.

But the necessarily high alcohol content of hand sanitiser products also means you should be aware of its potential as a fire hazard. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are classified as Class I Flammable Liquid substances, which means they have a flash point of less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so a small amount of sanitiser, if ignited, can burn very hot very quickly, which may lead to personal injury or property damage.

 How to minimise the risk of fire

When storing or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, the fire hazard potential should be considered, and steps taken to minimise the risk. When stored properly and used as directed, the likelihood of experiencing a fire associated with hand sanitiser is minimal. However, as with any flammable liquid, it is necessary to exercise caution.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has specific guidelines regarding the storage and use of flammable liquids, including hand sanitiser. Observing all applicable OSHA regulations is an important step in reducing the risk of experiencing a fire related to the use of alcohol-based hand sanitiser as follows:

  1. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers should be stored away from all heat and ignition sources, including sparks; open flames; any type of electrical outlets, switches, or equipment.
  2. Alcohol-based hand sanitiser products should be stored in secure locations that do not experience hot temperatures. If you keep some hand sanitiser in your car or van, it is worth bearing in mind that the inside of a vehicle can become very hot during the summer months.
  3. If alcohol-based hand sanitiser is spilled, all potential ignition sources should be immediately removed from the area to reduce the potential for a fire.
  4. Spilled hand sanitiser should be cleaned up with water without delay.  To reduce the risk of spills, look for hand sanitiser products with secure flip top lids which are less likely to leak in bags and toolboxes, etc such as the Medichief 250ml or 500ml Hand Sanitiser Gel bottles.
  5. To avoid a fire hazard, never use alcohol-based sanitiser near a heat source or open flame.
  6. Hand sanitiser products should not be allowed to come in contact with any type of oxidizing agent (such as acetyl chloride) or reducing agent.

In the event of a hand sanitiser fire, we would suggest using a small, general purpose fire extinguisher such as a Firechief 'easy-use' 1kg powder extinguisher or a  Firechief 600g Powder Extinguisher or alternatively a CO2 or alcohol foam fire extinguisher.  A fire blanket would also be effective aid to dowsing flames as it can be pulled out and placed over a small fire to smother it.  You can view our video about how to use a fire blanket effectively here

 Fire Depot stocks a range of infection control and fire safety products. Our experienced team are available to offer advice and guidance on 0330 999 2233 or by emailing sales@firedepot.co.uk.  You can also visit www.firedepot.co.uk to see our full range of products.

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