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Petroleum Retailers
Responsibilities Regarding
Static Ignition While
Customers Transfer Gasoline

By Jim Pharr, Fire Marshall - September 23, 2004

ESD Journal Note: We at the ESD Journal believe that Jim is correct in the following article. We see some retailers doing more these days after the news coverage of refueling fires but we see many doing as little as possible or nothing at all. Look at this label, which did not have enough information and was not too obvious from the start. The retailer placed a "Do not drive off label" over it. Was there no room anywhere else? In the "Chesterfield Fire" there were signs in place but the young lady must have not seen them. They were a little "busy" with too much verbiage and not enough contrast and icons. They were not as Jim describes in the article - "obvious."

Much attention has been given in recent years to static electrical discharges igniting gasoline vapors when fuel is being pumped into automobiles and portable containers. Though the customer is pumping the gasoline, the retailer has greater knowledge and experience to assure safety during this hazardous activity. Retailers have been held legally liable for inappropriate actions made by the customer because the retailer should take actions to prevent persons from engaging in dangerous actions while at their site.

What is a retailer's responsibility? The National Fire Protection Association's documents NFPA 30, the Flammable Liquids Code and NFPA 30A Code for Motor Fuel Dispensing Facilities and Repair Garages are widely accepted standards of care when handling any flammable liquid, including gasoline. NFPA 30A identifies three types of retail fuel transfer locations, 1) attended, 2) attended self-service and 3) unattended self-service.

At attended sites, employees of the retailer are charged with delivering fuel into the consumer's automobile or portable tank. These persons must be trained in the hazards of gasoline and how to prevent static fires. At unattended self-service sites, instructions and warning signs are present to inform consumers of the hazards associated with gasoline. Our reviews indicate the greatest number of static discharge fires occur at attended self-service sites. Here instructions and warnings should be present, however an employee of the retailer is charged with overseeing proper fuel transfer.

Where patrons dispense fuel and attendants monitor the activities of multiple dispensers, attended self-service locations, retailers are at greater exposure than when they have full control over the dispensing operation. Because they have less control than at attended locations, more frequent equipment inspections, conspicuous posting warnings of dangers, understandable instruction indicating proper fuel transfer procedures, and observation to avert dangerous behavior combine to reduce the retailer's liability exposure, but moreover, reduce the probability of a catastrophic fire which can injure or kill patrons. Vigilance in assuring employees are properly trained and remain alert for hazards is essential in reducing chances of injury or damage from dangerous fires.

Equipment Inspections
Visual inspection of each dispenser and the associated hoses and nozzles should be performed daily to assure no damage is present. When damage is noted, either from visual inspection or is reported by patrons, the dispenser should be taken out of service until repaired by a qualified person.

Annual inspections and testing should be performed on each dispenser, hose and other equipment. This inspection and testing should be performed to assure the dispensing system remains in compliance with NFPA and PEI-400 standards.

An issue of note is that regulations have changed regarding the type of nozzle required for dispensers designed to facilitate stopping fuel flow anywhere other than the nozzle, the nozzle must be one "that causes or requires the closing of the hose nozzle valve before product flow can be resumed or before the hose nozzle valve can be replaced in its normal position in the dispenser, or the hose nozzle valve shall not be equipped with a latch-open device."(i) Many retail distributors have improper nozzles affixed to their dispensers, specifically those that are capable of starting flow whether or not the patron is near at the nozzle. For practical matters, removing the hold open devices from all self service dispensing locations is the best option, this way reentry into vehicles could not, occur, thus static fires would be reduced.

NFPA 30A, 9-9 requires warning signs "conspicuously posted in the dispensing area incorporating the following or equivalent wording: (a) WARNING - It is unlawful and dangerous to dispense gasoline into unapproved containers, (b) No Smoking, and (c) Stop Motor." Defining conspicuous is key in assuring patrons are properly warned of hazards. American National Standards Institute Z535.1 identifies the following as indicators of visibility as:

1. Signs are placed to alert and inform of hazards in sufficient time to avoid the hazard and take appropriate action. Viewer must not be in harm's way before seeing and recognizing the sign.

2. Signs are placed so as to be legible, not creating a distraction, and are not a hazard in themselves.

3. Signs are not placed on moveable objects or adjacent to moveable objects like doors, windows, et cetera, which if moved will obscure the sign.

4. Should illumination be required in emergency situations, the signs should be equipped with emergency (battery) illumination or be reflective, or both.(ii)

Based on these criteria, it is logical to conclude that warning signs must be posted in locations visible to patrons before they began operations to increase probability warning is understood before fuel flows. Posting warnings on canopy supports and on the inside of dispenser panels, or above the patron's line of sight rather than on the dispenser face provides less of a chance patrons see and understand hazards associated with static ignitions. Dispenser face locations directly adjacent to operational controls are ideal. Pictographs accompanied by written message are preferable to written warnings only.

It is imperative that periodic inspections include assurance that warnings are in place and legible.

Operating instructions must be posted in a conspicuous place.(iii) Instructions should include information on emergency procedures in addition to directions for operating the equipment. Information arrangement should indicate where emergency shut offs are located and what actions the patron should take if a fire results.

Attendant Training and Observation
The National Fire Protection Association's code for Motor Fuel Dispensing Facilities and Repair Garages, NFPA 30A, 2000 requires at least one attendant on duty while an attended self-service facility is open for business. This attendant's primary duty is to supervise, observe and control the dispensing of gasoline.(iv) In order to properly function, attendants must have written procedures and training to assure they know and understand these procedures. Documentation of formal training is essential for each attendant who controls fuel dispensing.

Attendants must be able to visually observe fuel transfer, either by direct line of sight or through video surveillance systems. Procedures must prevent attendants from starting dispensers until they visually affirm that all safety measures are engaged.

Among the responsibilities of an attendant is to control sources of ignition.(v) In addition to preventing fuel delivery should smoking occur within 20 feet of the delivery point, controls should be shut off if automobiles are not turned off. Control of known static accumulators is also essential to prevent ignition, an example of an attendants responsibilities is to shut off the dispenser should a patron leaves the refueling position and especially if the patron reenters their vehicle.

Another stated responsibility is to prevent dispensing into improper portable containers or to dispense the fuel into them improperly. Codes require that containers have a tight closure and fitted spouts that prevent spillage when fuel is being poured from them. Filling can only be done by manually holding the nozzle open during dispensing. Lastly, portable containers holding less than 12 gallons capacity are not permitted to be filled while they are in or on a motor vehicle or marine craft. Attendants observing persons dispensing gasoline into containers inside vehicles must immediately stop the pump.

Failure of the retailer to properly supervise and control gasoline transfer, especially at attended self-service locations, places the retailer at significant liability should a fire occur. NFPA 30A is very specific in assigning responsibility to retailers for assuring proper procedures are followed during fuel transfer. This raises the question, what can a retailer do to reduce the probability of fires and to diminish liability issues from such ignitions. We offer these suggestions:

1. Become acquainted with NFPA, PEI and API codes and standards. Follow these standards in design and operation of attended self service facilities.

2. Assure facilities are designed and used in accordance with the standards, including:
a. Dispensers are properly labeled with instructions and warnings

b. Attendants can physically see each refueling location, either through line of sight or by video.

c. Assure that each transaction is observed, especially when the transfer starts and if it stops for any duration.

d. Locate the emergency stop switch(s) in a conspicuous location.

3. Promulgate written procedures for gasoline transfer at each location.

4. Conduct frequent inspections to assure all equipment is in proper working order, including periodic analysis to assure conductivity between components.

5. Reinforce attendants are responsible to stop improper actions immediately, regardless of customer desire.
a. When an attendant observes a customer leave the refueling area, they should stop fuel flow until that customer returns, especially if the customer reenters their vehicle.

b. When customers are filing portable containers, they should be clearly visible to the attendant. NFPA 30A states the attendant shall allow fuel transfer only into proper containers, unless they are able to visually assure proper containers are present, the dispenser should not be activated. To accomplish this goal, one may chose to designate specific areas where containers must be placed before activation is authorized.

Should the attendant observe unsafe acts, they must stop fuel flow to that dispenser immediately.

i NFPA 30A, 2000 - section 6.6.3
ii ANSI Z535.1 - 1991 edition
iii NFPA 30A , 2000 - Section 9.4.4
iv NFPA 30A, 2000 - Section 9.4.2
v NFPA 30A, 2000 - section 9.4.3 (3)

James L. Pharr has more than 24 years experience investigating fires. He holds an Associate Degree in Fire Science from Rowan Technical Institute and a Bachelor's Degree in Fire and Safety Engineering from the University of Cincinnati and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. He holds certifications as fire service instructor and fire/arson investigator with the North Carolina Fire Commission, and Certified Fire Investigator with the International Association of Arson Investigators. He has been recognized by the court system as an expert witness in the field of origin and cause. He is currently employed as Emergency Management Director/Fire Marshal for Gaston County, North Carolina.