Consumers beware!

Your sanitiser could be fire safety hazard

Highly inflammable, its vapours are dangerous

Your sanitiser could be fire safety hazard

Use soap and water to disinfect your hands and use sanitisers only when the first option is not available.

Pushpa Girimaji

Covid-19 has forced us to use the sanitiser extensively to disinfect our hands and protect ourselves from the deadly disease. But most of us are unaware of the precautions that we need to take while using it. Can you give us some information on this?

One of the first things that every consumer should be aware of is the highly inflammable nature of alcohol-based sanitisers. The alcohol in the hand rub evaporates readily at room temperature and it is these vapours that mix with air and ignite in the presence of a fire source. In fact, one should know that the vapour can spread or travel and if this vapour trail comes in contact with an ignition source, it not only catches fire, but the fire produced can flash back or travel back to the liquid.

That’s how a 44-year-old resident of Rewari, Haryana, suffered 35 per cent burn injuries while cleaning his cell phone and keys with an alcohol-based sanitiser in the kitchen in March this year. According to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi, where he was admitted for treatment, he spilled some of the liquid on to his clothes during the process and the fumes from the alcohol reached the fire — his wife was cooking on a gas stove nearby — and before he could even realise what was happening, his clothes were on fire. So remember not to use the hand rub near any source of fire.

I must also mention the possible danger of a spark from static electricity igniting the alcohol fumes. Some people are more prone to such static shocks than others. In April this year, an employee of Gassco, Norway, sanitised his hands with an alcohol-based hand rub and touched a metal surface when the hands were still wet. Due to static electricity, the vapour from the hand sanitiser ignited with an almost invisible flame on both his hands. The employee rushed to a sink and immediately extinguished the flames, but suffered first and second degree burns on both the hands.

Such cases are rare, but can happen. In fact, a severe burn injury caused to an 11-year-old girl in a children’s hospital in Oregon, USA, in 2013, was traced to fumes from the sanitiser spill on the girl’s dress igniting on account of static electricity. Olive oil was used on her head to remove the glue used for an EEG test earlier and had dripped on to her dress. That fed the flames further, the report on the cause of the fire said. There are similar reports of burn injuries caused by static electricity and sanitisers in two hospitals in the United States — in 2006 and 2002.

So whenever you use a sanitiser, allow it to dry completely and the vapours to disperse before you touch any surface. Never touch anything with hands still wet from a sanitiser. I would suggest similar precautions while lighting a matchstick or operating an electric switch or any electric gadget that could give out a spark.

Are there any other precautions that one needs to take?

Yes, you need to ensure that these sanitisers are kept out of reach of children. If at all they need to use them, it has to be only under adult supervision. These days because of the Covid pandemic, wherever you go, you find large hand rub bottles in spray dispensers. There is every possibility of a child accessing them and trying to use them. So, watch out!

I must also mention that a friend recently told me about a persistent eye problem that was eventually traced to continued exposure to the sanitiser spray. In fact, in ‘Sanitiser aerosol driven ocular surface disease — a Covid-19 repercussion’, a paper published in the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, doctors from the Narayana Nethralaya Eye Institute, Bengaluru, refer to a number of cases of eye irritation, redness and dryness that they came across and traced to increasing and constant use of sanitisers. The doctors advised consumers to close their eyes while pressing the dispenser and also keep it below eye level during usage. And use the sanitiser prudently, they said.

The bottom line is: use soap and water to disinfect your hands and use sanitisers only when the first option is not available.

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