Petrol is highly flammable and is one of the most hazardous substances that we use. Because it is so easily ignited, you must handle it with great care.

Keeping safe when handling petrol

There are some basic principles for managing petrol safely:

  • No naked lights in the vicinity of petrol
  • Never smoke within 20 metres of petrol
  • Never refuel a hot engine or an engine that is running. Shut down the engine and let it cool off for at least 10 minutes. The highest temperatures attained by a small engine occur immediately after shutdown, so it is not safe to refuel then.
  • Use only approved petrol containers. When transporting containers, be sure they are secured in the vehicle. Fill containers to no more than 95 percent of the container to allow room for thermal expansion. Be sure your containers have secure lids.
  • Never remove the cap from a petrol tank while the engine is hot, combustible vapour can flow out and come in contact with manifolds, exhaust pipes and other hot engine parts.
  • Do not leave petrol containers in direct sunlight or in the boot of a car.
  • Never store petrol containers or equipment with petrol tanks near a flame, for example natural gas water heaters or heating systems.
  • Do not use electronic equipment such as cell phones near petrol. A spark from the electronics could ignite the petrol.
  • When fuel is transferred from a container into a vehicle, follow basic health and safety precautions:
  • Decant (pour) in the open air - not inside the garage;
  • Use a pouring spout or funnel.
  • If clothing is splashed with fuel, change it immediately.

Hazards of petrol

As well as being flammable, petrol is poisonous. If you accidentally swallow petrol, call a doctor at once. Do not induce vomiting. If you get petrol in your eyes, flush with water for at least 15 minutes and call a doctor. Petrol on your skin may not initially appear to be a problem, but prolonged or repeated liquid contact can lead to irritation or dermatitis.

Petrol fumes or vapour presents an airborne risk to health for workers and others. Exposure to vapour concentrations can cause respiratory irritation, headache, dizziness, nausea, and loss of coordination. Higher concentrations may cause loss of consciousness, cardiac sensitisation, coma and death resulting from respiratory failure. Petroleum vapour can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, and exposure to high concentrations, particularly in confined spaces, can cause dizziness and unconsciousness.

Most importantly, never swallow petrol or diesel or attempt to use the mouth to siphon it. This can result in it entering the lungs or stomach, which can be fatal.

Filling your vehicle

Take care when filling your vehicle's fuel tank or appropriate approved container. Spillages or leaks pose a number of hazards, so do not overfill your tank and make sure that the filler cap is securely in place and not leaking. Fuel expands and vapour can build up in hot weather, so avoid filling to the brim.

A spark from static electricity can ignite petrol. Static electricity is more of a problem under low humidity conditions, but you should always be aware of the potential problem and take steps to avoid sparks from static electricity.

  • Avoid sliding on or off the seat of a mower or tractor while fuelling; a static charge and spark can result.
  • Place your hand on a metal part of the machine, away from the fuel tank, to discharge any static electricity before you open the fuel tank and fuel can.
  • When filling petrol containers at a service station, place the container on the ground. Do not leave it in the bed of a truck or in a vehicle. Hold the nozzle in constant contact with the container while filling.

Storing petrol

Storing petrol presents a significant hazard because it gives off vapours which are extremely flammable. Stored petrol must always be held in approved containers. Portable containers have a maximum capacity of 25 litres. The containers are fitted with a screw-cap or closure to prevent leakage of liquid or vapour.

The portable container must comply with the requirements of—

(a) AS/NZS 2906:2001—Fuel containers—Portable—Plastics and metal; or

(b) ASTM F852:08—Standard specification for portable gasoline containers for consumer use; or

(c) a standard referred to in a safe work instrument.

Storing more than 50 litres

If you want to store more than 50 litres, you need to engage a compliance certifier to approve the storage location. The compliance certifier will visit your site to confirm that the substance is stored safely, consistent with the hazardous substances legislation. The compliance certifier will issue you with a location compliance certificate.

Find a compliance certifier(external link)

Storing petrol on farms

The rules are slightly different for petrol stored on farms of more than four hectares.

Above ground fuel storage on farms (PDF 1.4 MB)