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Hazards in manufacturing hand sanitizer in distilleries, breweries, and wineries

What is the potential risk?

Large amounts of hand sanitizer are being used by front-line workers and the public to reduce the risk of being infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus. To help meet the demand, some distilleries, breweries, and wineries have started to use their facilities to manufacture sanitizer.

Hand sanitizer typically contains high concentrations of either ethanol or isopropyl alcohol, which are both very flammable and can cause eye and skin irritation. The hydrogen peroxide used in the World Health Organization (WHO) ethanol formulation (Formulation 1) is a chemical that is incompatible with many substances (e.g., organic material, caustics, some acids), is corrosive to the skin, and may cause eye irritation in its diluted form (concentrations of <8%). At higher concentrations (>30%), hydrogen peroxide solutions are capable of reacting explosively with many substances, and are even more corrosive and irritating to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.

Distilleries, breweries, and wineries that are now manufacturing sanitizer may be working with new chemicals (e.g., isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, ethanol, sodium hydroxide), using more concentrated forms of the chemicals (e.g., 99% alcohol), or implementing new processes. These changes may increase the risk of exposures to hazardous chemicals, as well as the risk of injuries, fires or explosions.

Other factors that may contribute to the risk include:

  • Tasks where workers could potentially get alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on their skin and in their eyes
  • Sources of ignition in areas where alcohol is being used, handled, or stored
  • Using or storing large quantities of chemicals, such as undiluted alcohol or other flammable substances, on site in poorly ventilated areas
  • Transferring alcohols between containers without grounding, bonding, or other measures in place to eliminate or control electrostatic charge
  • Storing chemicals in containers that are leaking, damaged, or in poor condition
  • Lack of training and procedures to address emergencies at the worksite, including a fire or explosion, worker injury, or leak or spill of chemicals

Which industries may be at risk?

  • Distilleries
  • Breweries
  • Wineries
  • Other worksites manufacturing sanitizer for the first time

How can I reduce the risk in my workplace?

As an employer, you need to know if there is the potential for the risk identified in this advisory to be present in your workplace. It’s your responsibility to regularly inspect your workplace, and to ensure that your safety procedures and practices control the risk. The following information highlights some of the sections of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation that are most relevant to this risk.

Part 5 of the OHS Regulation addresses controlling risks from fires and explosions and controlling workers’ exposure to hazardous chemicals. Employers must eliminate the exposure or minimize it to below harmful levels by implementing engineering and/or administrative controls, as well as ensuring workers use personal protective equipment.

You can reduce the risk by ensuring WHMIS safety data sheets (SDS) for the chemicals being used are available and reflect the correct concentration and form of the chemical. Make sure you understand the information on the SDS for the products you’re using and communicate it to your workers. This information includes:

  • The hazards of the products, such as flammable and explosive properties
  • What precautions and personal protective equipment are required when working with the product
  • Where and how the products should be stored
  • What to do in an emergency

While some chemicals in use may be consumer products and may not have a WHMIS label and SDS, you’re still required to provide information to your workers about their hazards.

Other ways you can reduce the risk include ensuring:

  • Personal protective equipment and emergency washing facilities provided are appropriate for the hazards
  • Chemicals are stored in well-ventilated areas, incompatible products are not at risk of mixing if there is a leak or spill, quantities do not exceed limits permitted by the OHS Regulation and BC Fire Code, and containers are in good condition
  • Procedures are in place for cleaning up spills of larger quantities of chemicals and to address other emergencies
  • Workers understand the hazards of the chemicals, and are trained in how to do the work safely, how to wear the personal protective equipment properly, and what to do in an emergency
  • Workers are adequately supervised and any hazards or risks are promptly addressed
  • Compliance with other applicable regulatory requirements, such as those found in the BC Fire Code, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, B.C.’s Hazardous Waste regulations, and local municipal bylaws

Where can I find more information?

Learn more about managing risk.

Publication Date: Apr 2020 Asset type: Risk Advisory Reference: RA 2020-01