Ireland's Publication for the refinishing & associated Industries

Alcohol-based hand sanitisers pose potential safety risk

Alcohol-based hand sanitisers used in the fight against Covid-19 are potentially flammable and pose safety risks if used in the wrong working conditions.

With Irish and British workers returning to work, health and safety experts at CE Safety are warning of the potential fire risk of alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

A trainer for CE Safety, was recently delivering a hot works training course for a company that is responsible for repairing gas pipelines.

Their hygiene measures included alcohol-free hand sanitiser, as an employee who had used alcohol gel had been unlucky enough to come into contact with a static spark, which ignited the gel and gave them second-degree burns on their hands.

Alcohol is highly effective at killing germs, which is why it is such a prevalent ingredient in hand sanitisers worldwide.

Unfortunately, liquids that have high concentrations of alcohol come with a fire risk: ranging from flammable, to highly flammable, to extremely flammable.

This means that if any work environments involve open flames/heat sources, flying sparks or anything of that nature, the use of alcoholic hand sanitiser poses a constant risk to fire safety and personal health and safety, because the vapour could conceivably ignite.

These vapours are reacting at their “flashpoint” and then can ignite in normal air conditions.

A spokesperson from CE Safety says: “Any person who carries out hot works – such as welding, soldering, grinding, cutting, burning or any other process that produces sparks – should, as a rule, use a hand-sanitising solution that is completely free of alcohol, due to the burn risk.

“Logic does suggest that common hot-work PPE, such as welding gloves and masks, would negate the need for non-alcoholic hand sanitiser, but it cannot be assumed that skin will be covered at all times – and accidents do happen.”

Research into the effectiveness of non-alcoholic hand sanitiser at neutralising Covid-19 is still ongoing. The general consensus does seem to be that hand sanitisers that have an alcohol content of at least 60 per cent are the most effective at killing germs.

However – and it is a big however – the best way any person can protect themselves against Covid-19 is by washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

The CE Safety spokesperson continues: “Even though washing hands is scientifically the most effective way to tackle the virus, alcoholic hand sanitiser will of course still be widely used throughout all kinds of workplaces – and there is a way to minimise the risk of burns for everybody.

“Whenever an employee applies alcoholic sanitiser, they must wait until the liquid has fully evaporated on their skin (i.e. their hands are completely dry) before they begin or resume work – especially when working next to naked flames or in any other environments that pose static-charge risk.”