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Is your gas can OSHA-compliant?

By Sean Willich, ARA safety training manager

May 23, 2023

Safety canA common phrase at the American Rental Association (ARA) is, “Make safety a priority.” When we hear this, most of us think about wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) or performing safe work practices. What we don’t think about is simple, everyday things like, “are the containers we keep our gasoline and diesel fuel in safe?” The reason for this is that most of us grew up with the same everyday red gas can in the garage that was used to fill up the lawn mower. So, when we see this at the work site, we don’t even bat an eye. The problem? Those cans are not rated for commercial use and could get you fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).   

OSHA 1910.106(a)(29) defines a safety can as, “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.” This definition can seem vague and leaves room for interpretation. So, let’s break down this regulation bit by bit. 

What is an approved container?  

An “approved container” is a container that is constructed in such a way that it has met the criteria set by a nationally recognized testing laboratory (NRTL). A NRTL is an organization that has demonstrated its ability to test for safety, list, label, and accept equipment and/or materials in accordance with strict criteria set by OSHA in 29 CFR 1910.7. Essentially these laboratories have shown that they can test equipment or materials to see if they meet OSHA’s standards. Two of the most common NRTL’s for safety cans are UL and FM. For a comprehensive list of NRTLs, consult OSHA’s website. Look for an approved container with a “UL Listed” label and/or a “FM Approved” label. Cans that say “UL Classified” are not the same as listed and do not meet the minimum requirements.  

It is worth mentioning that anything over 5 gallons is no longer considered a safety can and would fall under different regulatory requirements in 1910.106. So, what are the major design differences between an OSHA approved safety can and a regular consumer can? 

Safety cans are required to have a spring closed lid and spout cover. This requirement serves multiple purposes. First, it helps eliminate or reduce accidental spills by making it impossible to leave the can open while unattended. Second, it prevents flammable vapors from escaping the can which could contribute to a fire. Third, it prevents oxygen from entering the can which will also help prevent a fire. Most consumer cans on the market do not have these features. 

Safety cans also are required to be designed in such a way that in the event of a fire, internal pressure will be safely vented and released. Most safety cans have built-in vents unless a manufacturer has specified another way to release internalized pressure. In the event of a fire, the flammable liquid inside the can will begin to vaporize. As this happens pressure will begin to build. The vapor will escape through the vents and burn in place until the entire contents of the can have burned away. Most consumer cans are closed containers, so in the event of a fire, the internal pressure will build until the can explodes, which will help to spread the fire.  

The OSHA Construction Standard adds one more additional requirement that may apply to some of your customers. OSHA 1926.155(l) requires a flash arresting screen to be in place alongside all the other requirements stated in the general industry standard. This device is on the inside of the can, near the lid. It prevents a flame from being able to pass through to the flammable contents inside. Many cans that are on the market have this built in to satisfy the requirements of both standards. It’s always a good idea to check for this feature before purchasing.  

Do safety cans have to be made of metal? 

Many safety cans are made of metal, but they do not have to be. High density polyethylene (HDPE) also can be used provided it meets the requirements of OSHA 1910.106(a)(29) and/or 1910.155(l). HDPE is chemical resistant, durable, and has a melting point of 275 degrees Fahrenheit (135 degrees Celsius), which is higher than standard polyethylene. HDPE has a significantly lower melting point compared to most metals; this and other factors make HDPE cans less common than metal cans and they can be slightly more expensive.  

So, I have a safety can. Am I compliant to OSHA? 

Unfortunately, you still may not be compliant. Depending on the fuel being stored, you may have additional requirements. OSHA 1910.106(e)(6)(ii) states that, “Category 1 or 2 flammable liquids, or Category 3 flammable liquids with a flashpoint below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius), shall not be dispensed into containers unless the nozzle and container are electrically interconnected…” Category 1 and 2 flammable liquids both have flashpoints below 73.4 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius). As stipulated in the standard, Category 3 liquids need to adhere to its requirements when the flash point is below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Liquids that have a flash point above 199.4 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius) shall be treated as a Category 4 flammable liquid when heated to within 30 degrees Fahrenheit (16.7 degrees Celsius) of its flashpoint. Examples are: Hydraulic fluid, ethylene glycol and many lubricating oils.

What does electrically interconnected mean? 

In layman’s terms, it means that there needs to be a wire to bind and ground static electricity coming from the dispensing container, going to the receiving container and to the earth. This needs to take place even when the respective containers are not made from a material that is electrically conductive. The reason for this is that flowing liquids also can cause a static discharge, which can raise the flammable vapors of the liquid above the flashpoint causing a fire. The ground wire gives a safe route for any static electricity to make its way to the earth.  

Other things to consider. 

Being OSHA-compliant is great for both the health and safety of your workers and for your bank account, but this doesn’t mean that you are totally out of the woods yet. There are separate requirements for portable flammable liquids containers from the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB). Rarely does one type of flammable liquids container satisfy all these regulatory agencies, especially the DOT. So, to protect your business, always check with your state’s regulatory agencies to see if your cans meet the minimum requirements.