Practicing home hazardous materials safety is important in preventing home fires. Many people use chemicals in their homes safely every day, but as the number of chemical products increases, the risk for improper use and injury also increases.
What are household hazardous materials?
When most of us think of hazardous materials, we picture trucks full of chemicals, factories, or dumps oozing slime. However, every home can be a warehouse of hazardous materials containing items such as:
- Automotive fluids
- Barbecue products
- Health and beauty products
- Home maintenance products
- Household cleaners
- Laundry products
- Lawn and garden products
- Medicines and medical supplies
- Paints and thinners
In addition, asbestos or lead paint present in older homes, and mercury in compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), may become exposed during or after a home fire.
Preventing medical oxygen fires
When using medical oxygen, the amount of oxygen in the air, furniture, clothing, hair, and bedding can increase. This means there is a higher risk of both fires and burns because it is easier for a fire to start and spread.
- Never smoke in a home where medical oxygen is used.
- Post "No smoking" signs inside and outside your home to remind residents and guests not to smoke.
- Never use a candle, match, lighter or other open flame.
- Never use a fireplace, stove, or other equipment fueled by gas, kerosene, wood or coal.
- Do not allow children to use toys that spark.
- Keep oil, grease and similar petroleum-based products away from oxygen valves. They can cause a spontaneous explosion.
How can I make my home safer?
Home hazardous materials can pose serious fire, health and environmental hazards. For these reasons, proper use, storage and disposal of hazardous materials at home is extremely important.
Use and storage tips
- Buy only the amount of product that you need to reduce the quantity of hazardous materials in storage.
- Familiarize yourself with each product, its location and purpose.
- Follow use and storage instructions on the product’s label. Mixing some products can create deadly poisonous fumes or cause fires.
- Store hazardous materials in their original containers. Changing containers is not only dangerous - it is illegal.
- Use only portable storage containers listed by an independent testing laboratory for flammables and combustibles.
- Store flammable products - such as gasoline, kerosene, propane gas and paint thinner - away from the home.
- Only fill portable gasoline containers outdoors in a well-ventilated area. Place the container on the ground to fill.
- Never store flammables in direct sunlight or near an open flame or heat source.
- Inspect storage areas regularly for leaky containers, poor ventilation, and the smell of fumes.
- Store hazardous materials out of the reach of children and pets.
- Use guardrails and safety locks on shelves and cabinets to prevent containers from tipping over or falling out, especially if you live in an earthquake-prone area.
- Wear suitable protective clothing including gloves and eyewear as recommended by the product manufacturer.
- Follow disposal instructions on the product's label.
- Aerosol cans sometimes contain flammable or poisonous chemicals. If you dispose of them in the trash, they can be punctured and explode or start a fire.
- In the event of a spill, thoroughly clean the area and place disposal containers in a well-ventilated area. If you cannot control the spill, or are in doubt about cleanup and disposal, call your local fire department.
- If your community has a designated household hazardous waste collection day or collection facility to dispose of hazardous materials, use this service whenever possible.
- Pay special attention to chemical products when moving them from place to place. The same rules apply for proper transportation as they do for storage.
Tips to avoid a hazardous materials emergency during a natural disaster
Follow these tips to help prevent hazardous materials from posing an added danger during a natural disaster:
- Always use a flashlight - not a candle - for emergency lighting.
- Knowing how to shut off the gas outside at the meter can save your life during an emergency. Once you shut off the gas, only the gas company should turn it back on!
- Mount or chain propane cylinders securely to prevent them from floating away during a flood.
- Secure fuel tanks to a cement slab to prevent them from tipping over or floating away during a flood. Elevate tanks to prevent damage to the valves.
- Install flexible gas lines from cylinders or tanks to all gas and fuel appliances in your home.
- Make sure freestanding sheds, garages and small barns where hazardous materials are stored are tied down securely to the ground. Reinforce double entry or garage doors.