You have probably noticed that gas containers—or specifically, “safety cans”—come in different colors. While it may seem like an aesthetic option, each of those colors has a specific meaning intended to enhance user safety.
In addition to color coding, Eagle safety cans are designed and constructed according to strict guidelines put in place by several regulatory agencies, all with the goal of reducing injuries from using flammable.
This article, discusses the statistics related to mishandling gas and other types of fuel and how regulatory agencies like OSHA, EPA, NFPA and DOT try to keep us safe.
Red Safety Can: Gasoline
Because so many people use it for lawn mowers and other lawn equipment, gasoline is perhaps the most common residential flammable liquid.Unfortunately, it is also the most dangerous. It should always be stored in a red can. Conversely, gas should never be stored in milk containers, glass bottles, antifreeze jugs, or any other container that does not meet EPA or DOT requirements.
When hauling gasoline, secure it in your vehicle where it won't slip and unload it immediately when you arrive at your destination. Avoid storing it in a basement where it could ignite and quickly cause significant fire damage to your home, or worse, destroy it altogether. Instead, consider purchasing a flammable storage cabinet to store gas cans.
Gasoline has a relatively short shelf life and should not be used if it is between 6-12 months old. If you plan to store gasoline for more than a year, consider adding a fuel stabilizer, which can extend its shelf life by several years.
Yellow Safety Can: Diesel Fuel
Diesel fuel is highly flammable and should always be stored in a yellow safety can. Diesel, like gasoline, has a 6-12 month lifespan and should be maintained properly to prolong its life. It should be stored at roughly 70 degrees and, ideally, should have no exposure to oxygen.
Oxidation occurs when diesel and oxygen molecules meet, and the oxygen eventually breaks down the diesel. Avoid storing diesel in your garage or house and elevate it on a surface above the ground so the can will not rust.
Water is also an enemy to diesel, and condensation inside of a diesel can or fuel tank will cause bacteria to grow and degrade the fuel. Constantly monitor for condensation and use biocide additives to prevent bacteria caused by water. Keeping the tank or can full will also help reduce water buildup.
Blue Safety Can: Kerosene
Kerosene is less volatile than the other flammable liquids listed here, and therefore is stored in a blue can. Even with the lower volatility, kerosene safety cans should follow the same safety guidelines as gasoline or diesel and should hold no more than 5 gallons.
Kerosene is among the easiest of the flammable liquids to store as it does not evaporate (or freeze) as gasoline will. Be sure kerosene is stored in a clean container as contaminating it with dirt or dust can make it thick and unusable. If you're using kerosene for residential purposes, consider storing it in an outdoor shed rather than in an attached garage; remember —it is still a flammable liquid.
Green Safety Can: Oils
Green cans are designed to contain oils. By "oils," the regulations refer to any kind of mixed oils that are flammable. When storing oils, follow basic safety precautions and store them outside of your home and away from anything that could ignite. Even though oils are harder to ignite than the other flammable liquids we’ve discussed here, oils will burn hot and vigorously once ignited.
Understanding the Hazards of Fuel Storage
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that flammable liquids cause roughly 180,000 deaths per year. And every year, emergency rooms see between 13,000 and 15,000 gasoline-related injuries. In addition, flammable liquid leakages release toxins into the air, causing damage to the environment, the ozone layer, and public health.
Virtually all these accidents can be prevented. A major factor in many flammable liquid accidents is the use of improper containers, particularly when gasoline is involved. Because children are often victims, the Children's Gasoline Burn Prevention Act requires all cans (including plastic gas cans) for the general public to have a child-safety mechanism. Regardless, all safety cans should be kept out of the reach of children.
In addition to this piece of legislation, there are several regulatory agencies that have established guidelines and requirements, all with the aim of improving safety when storing and handling flammable liquids.
Regulations for Fuel and Gas Cans
As we will detail below, there are numerous regulations surrounding safety cans. Most of the regulations apply to the manufacturer of the cans, requiring them to be designed and constructed according to certain specifications.
For employers that fall under OSHA’s purview, the standards require the use of a safety can having certain features. The specifics are dependent upon the industry in which the work is being performed, i.e., general industry versus the construction industry.
All the regulations and guidelines are the result of extensive testing and research into accidents involving the use and storage of flammable liquids. Reputable safety can manufacturers such as Eagle have done their due diligence and will only offer safety cans that meet the requisite safety standards.
But to illustrate how seriously these agencies view the safe handling of flammable liquids, we have provided a brief overview of the most relevant applicable standards.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a regulatory body that governs how flammable liquids are handled on job sites and workplaces. For example, they dictate regulations at warehouses, loading/unloading zones, shipyards, plants, and more. OSHA also regulates safety cans and how they are stored. The OSHA regulations are separated into two different sets: (1) general, and (2) construction.
In the general safety standards, OSHA 1910.106(a)(29) states: a “[s]afety can shall mean an approved container, of not more than 5 gallons capacity, having a spring-closing lid and spout cover and so designed that it will safely relieve internal pressure when subjected to fire exposure.”
Within the construction standards, OSHA 1926.155(l) requires that gas cans must meet all of the above requirements, but also have a flash-arresting screen. This prevents a flame from entering inside of the safety can and igniting the vapors.
It is OSHA regulations as well—1910.144—which require red color coding. OSHA states that volatile flammable liquids such as gasoline must be in a red safety can with yellow labeling or stenciling indicating the contents.
By color coding safety cans, it eliminates confusion as to the contents of the can and highlights when the contents are volatile. The remaining colors—yellow: diesel, blue: kerosene, and green: oils—are an industry standard.
National Fire Protection Association
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is the world’s premier organization with a mission to eliminate deaths, injuries, and property damage due to fire, electrical, and other related hazards.
The NFPA is not a regulatory agency, but is rather a provider of safety-related information through its more than 300 consensus codes and standards. While the NFPA has no enforcement capability, many of its codes and standards are enforceable under OSHA, state, and local regulations.
Via NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code ®, the NFPA addresses the safe handling and use of flammable including safety can use. The NFPA’s requirements for safety cans are almost identical to OSHA with the exception that the NFPA allows the can to hold 5.3 gallons (20 liters) versus 5 gallons (19 liters) in OSHA.
Department of Transportation
The U.S. Fire Administration found that "the misuse of a material or product, such as spilling flammable liquid or gas too close to the vehicle, was the third leading factor contributing to the ignition of the fires (13 percent)."
Therefore, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) governs how you transport gasoline. If you're transporting gasoline in a vehicle—regardless of whether you are using it for industrial or residential purposes—your gas can must meet the DOT’s regulatory requirements. Again, this is where purchasing a safety can from a reputable manufacturer is always your safest choice.
Environmental Protection Agency
All flammable liquids are problematic when inadvertently introduced into the environment. When they spill, they evaporate and release carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides into the air, along with other toxins and hydrocarbon emissions. This damages the ozone layer and reduces air quality, making it both an environmental and public health concern.
When stored, all flammable liquids will ultimately evaporate. Therefore, each container should emit no more than 0.3 grams per gallon. Additionally, the EPA says the nozzle should be self-closing to automatically close when not in use. Gas cans should also only self-vent when in use and should not have any other vents. (Note that even if your gas can complies with the EPA, it does not necessarily comply with OSHA and the DOT.)
For those reasons, all storage of gasoline must be in gas cans which comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, no matter if you are traveling or just have gas stored in your garage.
Selecting a Safety Can
When selecting a container for flammable liquids, the safest and surest route to follow is using a “safety can.” In addition to the requirements, OSHA also requires that safety cans pass third-party NRTL (Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory) testing.
This is why you will find an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) stamp of approval on genuine “safety cans.” The UL stamp means that the can has been tested for strength and durability. UL also tests that the nozzle can withstand up to 125 pounds and the handle up to 250 pounds.
Eagle supplies Type I and Type II safety cans that meet testing requirements and are FM Approved. Our metal gas cans range in size from 2 quarts to 5 gallons and have numerous safety features.
Safety Spouts and Nozzles
Aside from the can itself, there are also standards governing safety spouts and nozzles. In 2000, the government began placing regulations on the kinds of safety spouts and nozzles manufacturers are allowed to make. All Eagle safety cans also include a flame arrestor.
While exact laws vary from state to state, the EPA has requirements mandating that portable fuel containers pass a no-spill test. Additionally, OSHA states that the spout should “relieve internal pressure when subjected to fire exposure.” (OSHA 1926.155(l))
General Safety Tips
- When filling a fuel can, never place it on the bed of a pickup truck or any other elevated surface. This is especially important at the gas station - always place the can on the ground when filling.
- Be sure to clean any spills that may occur immediately.
- When transporting a fuel can, once you arrive at your destination, unload it and place it in a cool, dry place.
- Avoid storing fuel cans near other liquids that the fuel could react with.
- Fuel containers should never be placed in front of doorways, stairways, or exit ways.
- Always keep fuel cans out of reach of children.
- Never smoke or have an open flame anywhere near a fuel can.