What are the risks of using hand sanitiser?

People are often surprised to hear that alcohol-based hand sanitiser is dangerous in any way. Whilst the product has played a role in helping stop the spread of germs during the Covid19 global pandemic, if not used correctly, it can result in harm and injury.  

Why are hand sanitisers dangerous?  

Because most hand-sanitisers contain alcohol, which is a flammable liquid, it means the product is susceptible to igniting when it meets with an ignition source.  

For example, a recent incident occurred where a person applied an alcohol-based hand sanitiser and before it had dried on the skin, they touched a metal surface where there was a build-up of static, creating an ignition source.  The sanitiser created an almost invisible flame on the hands. Whilst the person was able to extinguish the flames, it left 1st and 2nd degree burns on their hands.   

There have also been other cases where shortly after applying hand sanitiser, the person has lit a cigarette, and their hands were engulfed in flames.  

How can hand sanitiser cause a flame to ignite?  

Many hand sanitisers are alcohol-based and are therefore flammable with flashpoints of 16.6 to 26.7°C. When the flashpoint temperature is reached, the vapours only need an ignition source to start burning. In the examples above, the ignition sources were a metal surface and a lit cigarette.  

Less obvious yet still as dangerous, humans can carry static charge big enough to ignite a flammable liquid. Because alcohol fires burn with a very light blue flame, they become difficult to see with the naked eye and therefore can cause serious burns before a person even becomes aware of the flames’ presence on their skin.  

How can you use hand sanitiser safely?  

  • Allow the liquid to dry fully on the skin before doing other tasks  
  • Store alcohol-based hand sanitiser away from light and heat sources 
  • Read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) to understand all risks involved  
  • Do not use hand sanitisers on your skin that contain methanol which is both highly flammable and toxic  

If you’d like more information about the safe storage, handling and transportation of flammable liquids such as hand sanitisers, please contact us. 

Disclaimer: the information in this article is not intended to be used as a complete guide, it won’t suit every flammable liquid situation or type of transport as it contains recommendations of a general nature. Compliance requirements and safety standards can only be met by applying professional advice specific to each transportation situation. If you’d like more information or require advice for your dangerous goods management system, please contact us here.

Marair Dangerous Goods Specialists

Melbourne

12 Allied Drive
Tullamarine Victoria 3043 Australia
Phone: +61 3 8318 4500

Perth

55 Tacoma Circuit
Canning Vale WA 6155 Australia
Phone: +61 8 6350 0200

Sydney

Unit 7 14 Childs Road
Chipping Norton NSW 2170 Australia
Phone: +61 2 9727 3284

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