In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers and the general public are facing shortages of hand sanitizers, and many manufacturers are augmenting their facilities produce the necessary ingredients. DEKRA North America (Atlanta, Ga.; www.dekra.us) is warning of the fire risks associated with making hand sanitizer.
According to recent news media reports, many food and beverage companies are eager to help the COVID-19 medical supply effort by retooling their operations to make hand sanitizers. Mike Snyder, managing director of DEKRA Process Safety, warns that despite those good intentions, these firms may be unknowingly creating a situation where they are putting the lives of their workers and emergency responders at risk.
“Many organizations are using equipment that was never designed to handle hazardous chemicals and are then trying to store that product wherever they can before they ship it,” he said. “If you are doing that, you are setting the stage for a major fire that could put the lives of your workers or firefighters at risk.”
Snyder, a chemical safety specialist with over 30 years of industrial and municipal fire service experience, said because the major component of hand sanitizer is ethanol, a flammable liquid, it creates an industrial fire risk if not contained and stored correctly. “If you spill it, it easily ignites,” he said. “Most emergency responders are not prepared to fight a chemical fire at facilities that they believe are storing only food or beverages. Chemical fires spread quickly to nearby buildings, and the aggressive nature of the fire could catch workers and firefighters by surprise and put their lives at risk.”
Snyder says the following steps are critical to follow:
- Ensure there is adequate ventilation to prevent the build-up of vapors which can lead to a potential fire or explosion.
- Manage ignition sources properly, such as ensuring that all electrical wiring and instrumentation meets the electrical (hazardous area) classification for the use of flammable liquids. This often means replacing instrumentation and motors with those designed to proper standards.
- Store product in approved areas in the proper containers, and verify activities meet the occupancy permit requirements as approved by local fire authorities. This often means not storing flammable liquids in large plastic containers (totes and drums) and limiting the volume stored.
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