Fire Risk of Sanitiser Production

 

In the past few months, we have seen COVID-19 pushing the nation to work from home, go into lockdown and see large amounts of shortages in supplies of toilet paper, cleaning products and hand sanitiser.

This has opened the market to production of hand sanitiser by anyone who is able to make it in mass and sell it to the consumers. Many brewers and distillers have jumped at the opportunity. When a change in production occurs, particularly a change that happens very quickly, are we confident that we have thought about all the risks, such as the fire risk of handling large quantities of flammable liquids?

A recent fire

A factory fire that occurred early July 2020 in South-West Sydney required over 100 fire fighters to put out a fire. Luckily, there were no injuries to report of the workers at the factory. The factory had ethanol run-off; “We have had some run-offs of ethanol in a local creek and that's ignited, so we've got crews dealing with that as well”. Full story here.

 

Figure 1 More than 100 emergency service workers were on the ground at one point during the night. (9News)

What’s the danger?

There are two types of incidents which can occur when it comes to flammables. One is a pool fire and the other, an explosive atmosphere.

A pool fire occurs when a layer of flammable liquid (a pool) is evaporating and burning. The heat created by the fire increases the rate of evaporation and makes the pool fire self-sustaining, and as a result is difficult to extinguish.

The vapours from flammable liquids can form explosive concentrations in air. In a contained environment, this allow for explosive conditions. An increase in pressure can occur within a contained area; add heat to further increase the pressure and a sudden release of the pressure can cause an explosion.

Risk management approach

Whilst the storage and handling of flammable vapours is an inherent part of the distillation process or production of hand sanitiser, it is a new hazard for many brewers dipping their toes in this space. However there are practical ways to manage this risk. These include eliminate potential points of release, ventilation and elimination, or controlling potential ignition sources.

The use of Australian Standard AS1940:2017 The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids will guide and define the controls required based on the quantities stored of the flammable raw products. This also includes:

  • Fire protection,
  • Emergency management
  • Ignition source control
  • Personnel safety
  • Construction of a new facility

Another key factor to ensure risks associated with flammable liquids is identify hazardous zoning. Hazardous Area Classification (HAC) and Electrical Equipment in Hazardous Areas (EEHA) are required for areas where flammable liquids and vapours are present. Ensuring electrical equipment is suitably designed, selected, installed and maintained for use in these areas by competent persons.

So what!

Australian Work, Health and Safety (WHS) laws require persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) to take reasonably practical steps to ensure the safety of workers and others in the course of their business activities. Any process that requires the use of flammables inherently requires appropriate storage and handling of flammable liquids and hence is a key hazard to be managed in the workplace.

More specifically, the WHS regulations require areas where the concentration of flammable gas, vapour, mist or fumes could exceed 5% of the Lower Explosive Limits (LEL) for the material to be identified and controlled.

When you are manufacturing large quantities of sanitiser, the handling and use of flammable liquids are an inherent hazard and one which cannot be avoided. A proactive approach to risk assessment should be considered the starting point in satisfying your legal obligations, and in ensuring the safety of staff and customers. The hazards, legal requirements and standards can be complex to navigate, so we strongly recommend you seek professional guidance to support you through the process.

Get in touch!

If you would like to have a chat and talk more about the risks and hazard involved with the handling of flammable liquids and vapours, please get in touch with us.