The Mechanical Contractors Association of America put out a safety memo in May warning workers that liquid alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be flammable.

Since the hand sanitizers – most of which contain isopropyl alcohol – are being used more than ever to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19, the association wanted to make their members aware of the potential danger.

It cited an incident in which a worker suffered first- and second-degree burns to the hands after using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and then touching a metal surface before the liquid evaporated. The static electricity ignited the vapor from the sanitizer “with an almost invisible flame on both hands.”

MCAA says construction worksites and mechanical service areas are at highest risk for such incidents. Those have the most potential ignition points for sanitizer, such as:
• Sparks from electrical tools and equipment
• Sparks, arcs and hot metal surfaces from welding and cutting
• Smoking tobacco products
• Open flames from portable torches and heating units as well as boilers, pilot lights, ovens and driers
• Sparks from grinding and crushing operations
• Sparks caused by static electricity

In addition, isopropyl alcohol should be kept away from strong oxidizers, acetaldehyde, chlorine, ethylene oxide, acids and isocyanates. Store it in a tightly closed container in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area. Quantities above 5 gallons should be stored in a flammable liquids cabinet or in areas protected by an automatic sprinkler system.

Another safety tip suggested by Safety+Health magazine: Use soap and water whenever possible. If you use hand sanitizer, let the sanitizer fully absorb into the skin or evaporate before returning to work.