Hazards Warning: Making Hand Sanitizer

Apr 01, 2020
Doing Harm Despite Good Intentions
Many food and beverage companies are eager to help the COVID-19 medical supply effort by retooling their operations to make hand sanitizers and disinfectants. Even though their facilities typically use nonhazardous materials, they are willing to take on the risks associated with using flammable alcohols in order to help address the supply chain gap. Despite good intentions, many of these facilities do not understand the risk they are exposing to their workers and emergency responders by not properly modifying their equipment and buildings to safely use and store these flammable mixtures.
Flammable Alcohols Present Additional Fire Risk
Flammable alcohols such as ethanol behave differently than nonhazardous liquids. They readily produce vapors that ignite easily to form fires that behave more aggressively and spread more quickly than typical structure fires. Building and fire codes require different building construction, more control measures, and additional procedures be put in place in order to protect the lives of the building occupants and to protect the lives of emergency responders who often are unaware and not prepared to fight a chemical fire. Laws on the local and federal level are set up to help enforce critical control measures to protect the lives of workers, the community, and response personnel.
Protect the Lives of our Workers and Emergency Responders
Facilities that want to make changes to their operations need to carefully consider the risk and legal consequences to handling flammable alcohols. There are many requirements, but three stand out.
1. Ensure areas that dispense, transfer and store flammable alcohols have adequate ventilation to prevent the build-up of vapors which can lead to a potential fire or explosion.
2. Verify that ignition sources are managed 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.
3. Confirm that material is stored in approved areas in the proper containers, and that the bulk material being used in the structure meets the occupancy permit approved by local fire authorities. This often means not storing flammable liquids in plastic containers (totes and drums) and limiting the volume stored.
Make a Difference, But Do it Responsibly!
If you are an operation that wants to use flammable alcohols in order to help the COVID-19 medical supply effort, please take necessary steps to educate yourself on managing the risks of flammable liquids in order to protect the lives of your workers and our emergency responders. Industry-recognized resources include the following:
DEKRA Process Safety is offering a complimentary 15-minute discussion to help companies navigate this space in order to understand and manage their risks. Please call (609) 799-4449 extension 321 or contact us referencing this offer.