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Gasoline Safety Tips to Prevent Fire and Explosion Hazards

Workers should know how to prevent fire, explosion, and health hazards during refueling and also when handling, storing, and traveling with gasoline.

Yellow liquid that represents pouring gasoline.

Made from processed crude oil, gasoline powers vehicles, tools, and heavy equipment and is a vital source of fuel to get the work done on the job every day. A typical gasoline mixture contains about 150 different hydrocarbons in addition to other added chemicals like lubricants, anti-rust agents, and anti-icing agents.

Because gasoline is so familiar, workers must not forget that it is still a hazardous substance that can cause dangerous injuries, illnesses, and incidents if not handled and stored properly.

OSHA Standards 1926.152(i)(6) and 1910.106(b)(6) In locations where flammable vapors may be present, precautions shall be taken to prevent ignition by eliminating or controlling sources of ignition. Sources of ignition may include open flames, lightning, smoking, cutting and welding, hot surfaces, frictional heat, sparks (static, electrical, and mechanical), spontaneous ignition, chemical and physical-chemical reactions, and radiant heat.

When gasoline is handled and stored at the worksite, there is risk of fire or even an explosion. Gasoline evaporates easily, is highly flammable, and can form explosive mixtures in the air. Any ignition source like a spark, a cigarette, or a hot exhaust pipe, can light up gasoline vapors.

A graphic sign that represents No Smoking and Fire Hazard warning sign.

No health effects are expected from normal use of gasoline as a fuel, but excessive, chronic exposure can result in systemic health dangers.

The hydrocarbons in gasoline are readily absorbed by the lungs. Breathing in gasoline vapors over time can lead to nose and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and breathing difficulties. Repeated exposure to gasoline on the skin can cause a rash, redness, irritation, and swelling. Skin burns may result from prolonged contact with gasoline.

While not typically a work-related risk, but one to be aware of, swallowing small amounts of gasoline, for example while siphoning, can result in poisoning symptoms like nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and headaches.

Workers exposed to gasoline over long periods of time with no protection can suffer more catastrophic health effects like memory loss, impaired muscle function, or worse.

Wash your hands immediately after handling gasoline. If gasoline spills on your clothes, change out of those clothes immediately.

Avoid breathing in gasoline vapors, when possible, especially for prolonged periods of time. Use gasoline in open areas with fresh air.

Report gasoline leaks or spills immediately. If you begin to experience symptoms that could be the result of gasoline exposure, seek medical care as soon as possible.

A person scratching an itch on their arm.

Gasoline vapors are heavier than air and can accumulate in low-lying areas and confined spaces, or even float along the ground, creating an explosion risk if an ignition source gets too close. Gasoline vapors can travel to a source of ignition and flash back.

Because gasoline is less dense than water, it will float on top of standing water providing an opportunity for a fire to spread.

OSHA Standards 1926.152(b)(4)(iii) and 1910.106(d)(7)(iv) Materials which will react with water and create a fire hazard shall not be stored in the same room with flammable liquids.

To prevent fire and explosion hazards when handling and storing gasoline eliminate all sources of heat and possible ignition like sparks, open flames, hot surfaces, and static discharge. Do not use or store gasoline near welding operations and never leave gasoline containers in direct sunlight.

Prevent gasoline from coming in contact with other incompatible chemicals. If a material can react with water and create a fire hazard, it cannot be stored in the same area as gasoline. Do not use gasoline as a solvent or a cleaner. Never use gasoline to start a charcoal fire.

Graphic image of a red gasoline can.

When filling a container with gasoline first place the container on the ground and keep the nozzle in contact with the container. Only fill the container about 95% full to leave room for the gasoline to expand during changes in temperature. Do not fill a container with gasoline while it is sitting on the bed of a truck or in the trunk of a car.

Transferring gasoline from one storage container to another can only be done if the containers are electrically bonded or interconnected.

OSHA Standard 1926.152(a)(1) Only approved containers and portable tanks shall be used for storage and handling of flammable liquids.

Before refueling, allow gas-powered equipment to cool down. Adding fuel while equipment is hot can cause the vapors to ignite or explode. After refueling gas-powered equipment, move the gasoline container at least 50 feet away before powering up the machine.

Obey posted No Smoking signs. Never smoke or introduce any other heat or ignition source near gasoline handling operations or storage areas.

A yellow fire cabinet that says Flammable, Keep Fire Away.

Store gasoline in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area that is out of direct sunlight. The gasoline storage area should be separate from the work area. Always store gasoline in approved metal or plastic containers.

When keeping more than 25 gallons on site, store the gasoline in an OSHA-approved storage cabinet that is labeled with a sign that says “Flammable – Keep Away from Open Flames”. No more than 60 gallons of gasoline can be stored in a cabinet and no more than 3 cabinets can be kept in one storage area. A fire-resistive inside storage area must be constructed for storage of more than 60 gallons of gasoline.

OSHA Standards 1926.152(b)(3) and 1910.106(d)(3)(i) Not more than 60 gallons of Category 1, 2, or 3 flammable liquids, nor more than 120 gallons of Category 4 flammable liquids may be stored in a storage cabinet.

Do not store gasoline in areas used for exits, near or under stairways, or in areas with pedestrian traffic.

When traveling with a gasoline container never drive with a gasoline container inside the cab of a vehicle. Always place the container in the pickup bed or the car trunk, out of the passenger compartment. Before driving, ensure the container cap and vent cap are tightened and the container is secured in such a way that it won’t move or tip over during transport.

Upon arrival, remove the gasoline container from the vehicle as soon as possible, especially during warm weather, to avoid heat building up pressure in the container.

A red gasoline safety can.

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