Hazards of Static Electricity and Fuel
Last year, one of our associates and friends, Ryan Brown, was involved in a very serious accident caused by static electricity and fuel. This incident immediately motivated us to increase our own safety standards. At PRI this year (2017), I was able to spend several hours with Ryan. After listening to his account of the explosion the biggest thing I came away with were his words explaining that THERE IS NO TIME TO REACT, that we need to concentrate on prevention not reaction. He said that before he could even think a thought—his face, head and body were on fire. This page is dedicated to Ryan. It is also dedicated to raise awareness of the serious potential danger of static electricity and racing fuels (or any fuel for that matter).
DISCLAIMER: Race-1 in no way makes any claims to be an authority on fuel safety. We would greatly appreciate any accurate information that our racing family can additionally provide to help all of us become more safe. (The information below was derived from Jim Tour at the Missoula Technology & Development Center.)
Build-up of static electricity must be minimized during agitation, dispensing (pouring), and transporting of flammable fuels on or around containers and dispensing equipment. The most effective safeguard is to bleed off any static charge to prevent sparking. Fire and explosion can result when static electricity discharges at or near the mouth of a container of highly flammable fuel such as gasoline. Un-bonded 5-gallon gasoline cans that were being filled have exploded in plastic lined pick-up trucks. There have also been explosions when plastic cans were being filled with gasoline in unlined pickups.
There are two basic techniques for protecting against the dangers of static electricity: bonding and grounding. These techniques should be strictly followed in areas where flammable and combustible liquids are stored, dispensed, or used.
Bonding is the process of joining two or more objects or containers with electrically conductive wires to neutralize the potential charge between them. Connecting two metal objects with any length and size of wire may not meet accepted standards for proper bonding. Use a heavy 12-gauge stranded wire that can stand up to continuous use.
Grounding is the process of connecting one or more objects or containers to the ground and is a specific form of bonding. Grounding may be achieved by attaching a wire conductor between the container and a water pipe or an 8-foot long copper clad steel rod buried its full length in the ground. Total resistance to ground must be kept below 10,000 ohms. Note: When using a buried rod, resistance is affected by soil moisture.
Other safeguards that minimize the static electricity hazard include:
- Remove small containers from vehicles before dispensing fuel.
- Ground and/or bond all containers before opening and dispensing fuel.
- Physically touch the outside of containers, grounds, and bond wires to bleed excess charges off your body.
- Touch the outside of metal and plastic containers with the fill nozzle before opening and dispensing fuel.
- Use labeled safety containers with anti-flashback systems installed.
- Do not use old or rusty containers or worn bonding and grounding clamps or worn and frayed wires.
- Turn off all engines and equipment except those used in the fuel transferring process.
- When handling fuels, avoid synthetic fabrics.
- Wear cotton clothing and coveralls to minimize static build-up.
- Avoid the use of velcro on or around fuel dispensing and handling equipment.
- Do not use chamois to filter flammable fuels.
- Do not use radio transmission equipment around refueling systems.
We contacted ATL to discuss this issue relating to our race cars. Their advice was to bond the filler neck of the fuel cell to the chassis.