Check for container hazards inside your company vehicle

By: Ray Chishti

Publication: Construction Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 08/18/2021

Avoid using company vehicles as a storage place for chemicals.

During warmer months, the temperature inside a shut-off vehicle can reach over 150 degrees F. Parking in the shade, opening the windows, or using window tints may only delay the rise in temperature and an incident from occurring.

For example, suppose workers store flammable liquids inside their vehicles. In that case, there could be an increased risk for the container to rupture when the temperature rises. A fire could occur if there’s adequate flammable vapor in the presence of an ignition source.

Here are four ways to avoid an incident from occurring:

  1. Store containers of flammable liquids properly,
  2. Inspect your vehicles for flammable liquid hazards regularly,
  3. Control sources of ignition, and
  4. Read and understand safety data sheets (SDSs).

Proper Chemical Storage

Workers use their work vehicles to transport things around the jobsite or as a place to store tools and materials they can use later. Two common container hazards found in company vehicles are hand sanitizer and marking paint. Place both containers in proper storage while not in use. This includes an approved safety can, flammable cabinet, or a flammable storage room.

Use approved containers for storing all flammable liquids. OSHA section 1926.52, Flammable Liquids, discusses requirements for using a flammable storage cabinet or safety can. But these aren’t always practical or convenient to use in vehicles.

Aerosols used for most marking paints are thin aluminum containers. When exposed to elevated temperatures or sunlight, the pressure inside the aerosol may increase and cause the container to rupture and explode. Flying shrapnel can injure workers or cause severe damage.

Hand sanitizer left in a vehicle won’t auto-ignite. The temperature isn’t high enough for this to occur. But if temperatures rise enough in the vehicle, it can cause a release of ignitable vapors. If an ignition source is present, the chemicals in the hand sanitizer or flammable vapors could ignite.

Inspection vehicles for hazards

Adding extra to-dos to workers’ duties isn’t always efficient or the correct solution to addressing safety issues. Regularly inspect vehicles for hazards. Determining how often can be challenging when trying to avoid complacency and with time constraints to productivity.

To avoid creating a separate inspection process, perform it while doing other normally performed to-dos. For instance, after filling gas in the vehicle, have workers quickly check for any flammable containers in the vehicle that require proper storage attention.

If workers perform a pre-shift or post-shift inspection, they can look for container storage hazards. Workers can also inspect their vehicles as part of their morning safety planning process before starting any work activities.

Sources of Ignition

Vehicles aren’t usually a designated hot work area. Don’t overlook it as a potential source of ignition or fire hazard. Workers often view their company vehicles as just a mode of transportation, not a safety risk. But they can be fire hazards too.

For instance, smoking inside the vehicle, a hot engine, using onboard generators, electrical circuits, and portable welding setups can all be ignition sources. A spark or heat transfer could ignite flammable vapors and liquids.

SDSs

Showing workers how to read and apply information from SDSs is commonly done during jobsite training. Workers tend to lack a working knowledge of what information SDSs have and how to use it for work-related issues.

Show workers how to identify the flashpoint, fire hazards, and storage requirements for chemicals they use. Ensure they understand how to use this information to avoid an incident from occurring.


Key to remember: Containers left in a hot vehicle can rupture, causing severe injury or damage. Control sources of ignition to avoid fires by using proper storage and handling practices.

About the author
Ray Chishti - EH&S Editor

Ray is an editor at  J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. and has over 12 years of EH&S experience in a variety of industries, including EPC projects, fossil fuel power plants, gas distribution and transmission, and electrical transmission work.

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