Safe Handling of Gasoline

Richard L. Parish  |  11/18/2004 10:19:32 PM

One of the most hazardous substances most of us have to deal with is gasoline. We tend to take it for granted since it is so common and familiar, but we should pay it more respect.

Poisoning Hazards
Gasoline is poisonous if swallowed. If you accidentally swallow gasoline, call a doctor at once. Do not induce vomiting. If you get gasoline in your eyes, flush with water for at least 15 minutes and call a doctor. Gasoline on your skin may not initially appear to be a problem, but prolonged or repeated liquid contact can lead to irritation or dermatitis.

Breathing gasoline fumes is dangerous also. Exposure to vapor concentrations can cause respiratory irritation, headache, dizziness, nausea and loss of coordination.  Higher concentrations may cause loss of consciousness, cardiac sensitization, coma and death resulting from respiratory failure.

Fire Hazards
We all know that gasoline is highly flammable and easily ignited. In fact, a single cup of gasoline has the explosive power of five sticks of dynamite. Because gasoline is so easily ignited, you must use great care in handling it. A few basic principles for gasoline safety include:

  • Never smoke within 50 feet of gasoline.

  • Never refuel a hot engine or an engine that is running. Shut down the engine and let it cool off for at least 10 minutes. The highest temperatures attained by a small engine occur immediately after shutdown, so it is not safe to refuel immediately after shutdown.

  • Use only approved gasoline containers. When transporting containers, be sure they are secured in the vehicle. Fill containers no more than 95 percent full to allow room for thermal expansion. Be sure your containers have secure lids.

  • Never remove the cap from a gasoline tank while the engine is hot. Combustible vapor can flow out and come in contact with manifolds, exhaust pipes and other hot engine parts.

  • Do not leave gasoline containers in direct sunlight or in the trunk of a car.

  • Never store gasoline containers or equipment with gasoline tanks near a flame. Many Southern homes have natural gas water heaters or furnaces located in storage rooms; never store gasoline or gasoline-powered equipment in the same room.

  • Do not use electronic equipment such as cell phones near gasoline. A spark from the electronics could ignite the gasoline.

Static Electricity Hazards
A spark from static electricity can ignite gasoline. Static electricity is more of a problem under low humidity conditions, but you should always be aware of the potential problem and take steps to avoid sparks from static electricity.

  • Avoid sliding on or off the seat of a mower or tractor while fueling; a static charge and spark can result.

  • Place your hand on a metal part of the machine, away from the fuel tank, to discharge any static electricity before you open the fuel tank and fuel can.

  • When filling gasoline containers at a service station, place the container on the ground. Do not leave it in the bed of a truck or in a vehicle. Hold the nozzle in constant contact with the container while filling (Figure 1).

In summary, treat gasoline with respect. Use it safely.

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