The COVID-19 crisis has created a pronounced demand for sanitizing products like alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Stores are mostly sold out of hand sanitizer and distilleries and breweries nationwide are swapping operations to help meet the demand for alcohol-based sanitizers. The need is great, but so is the danger if these sanitizing products are improperly stored or improperly used.

Risk factors of storing alcohol-based hand sanitizer

The general use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer poses a low risk from a fire hazard standpoint. Keeping a bottle in your bag or at home or the occasional use will not cause a sudden conflagration. However; when stored in large quantities, the risk of fire is fairly significant.

But what does “large quantities” mean when looking at the storage of sanitizer? The NFPA notes that any storage of 5 gallons or more of alcohol-based hand sanitizer would be considered large quantities and thus fall under the regulation requirements of NFPA 30. NFPA 30 is the code for flammable and combustible liquids and provides safeguards to reduce the hazards associated with the storage, handling and use of flammable and combustible liquids. Rules for handling and storage of these liquids vary by flashpoint.

Flashpoint matters because when you want to determine the flammability of a substance, you look at its flash point. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are made with Ethanol or Isopropyl Alcohol. These substances have fairly low flash points, of about 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit. Having a low flash point means that you don’t necessarily need an external heat source for fire to occur. The vapors of the substance in high concentration are dangerous all on their own. In short, alcohol-based sanitizers are highly flammable and should be treated as such.

Regulations for safe storage

NFPA 30 dictates that flammable liquids with a flashpoint of less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (like alcohol-based sanitizer) should never be placed in a plastic Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) of any type. An IBC is a pallet, mounted, industrial grade reusable container that’s used for storing and transporting bulk liquids.

Storage issues may be especially troublesome for companies new to storing hand sanitizer, like the many distilleries and breweries being asked to produce hand sanitizer. Organizations like OSHA and NFPA set regulations for the proper use and storage of flammable liquids like hand sanitizer, but when a facility is not set up to properly store this liquid, fire safety may become an issue.

Referred to as change management, any time you change the equipment, materials, or manufacturing processes of a facility, there needs to be a reevaluation of the building’s fire protection equipment and overall fire safety plan. This is a broadly used term to mean the collective term for all approaches to support organizations in making organizational changes, but in the context of building safety, it’s intended to include all organization changes necessary to ensure the safety and compliancy of a facility after a change in production/processes have been made.

Ensuring the safe usage of hand sanitizer

It’s imperative that your facility maintains compliancy with local fire codes, in that you have approved methods of fire extinguishment for the specific hazard being produced and stored. If that material has changed, contact your fire protection company immediately.

Some important things your fire protection company will review include your facility’s fire sprinkler system and fire extinguishers. The density, size, and type of sprinkler head are all dependent on numerous factors. And there are certain types and sizes of fire extinguishers to be used for liquids in high quantities.

If your facility is changing the type of material being stored, you are required to reevaluate your facility’s fire protection system. Not only is it a code violation if you fail to do so, but your insurance company will also have some requirements as well. Maintaining the safety of your facility and all employees is critical, so if you’ve had a change in what you store or manufacture, contact your fire protection company as soon as possible.

Fire Systems, Inc. has been helping local businesses maintain compliancy for over 30 years. We are an “all services” fire protection company offering sprinkler, suppression, fire alarm monitoring, and more. Contact us today at 770-333-7979 or visit our website for more information.