KUALA LUMPUR: The most effective way to prevent fires or explosions at petrol stations is by steering clear of objects that can generate sparks, according to Petronas Dagangan Berhad’s Health, Safety and Environment Department Head Tariq Ashra Sulaiman.
He said such triggers could come in the form of lighters, cigarette butts that have not been stubbed out, mobile phone batteries, and even battery-operated children’s toys and gadgets.
“Since we can’t avoid oxygen which is ever present in the air and petrol (fumes) while fuelling our vehicles at petrol stations, the best we can do is avoid using gadgets that can generate heat or trigger sparks.
“This is why Petronas constantly reminds its customers to observe safety precautions, like switching off the car engine before filling up the tank.
“Keeping the engine running is dangerous and risky because it can generate heat. Smoking is also a definite no-no, and so is the use of mobile phones,” he told Bernama.
On June 24, a seven-year-old boy sustained severe burns on his face after the car he was in caught fire while he was playing with a lighter. It happened when his mother was refuelling the car at a petrol station in Sungai Pas, Kuala Krai in Kelantan.
Another incident on June 28 saw a woman suffering 60% burns on her body as a result of an explosion that occurred while she was using her mobile phone at a petrol station in Kuala Lumpur.
Asked if the June 28 incident was triggered by the mobile phone, Tariq Ashra said batteries in any gadget, including mobile phones, could produce charges or sparks.
“For example, if you take a wire and let it touch one end of a battery, you’ll see sparks on the wire. Hence, it’s best that we switch off our mobile phones and all other gadgets powered by batteries, like iPads, tablets, power banks and smartphone watches while refuelling our vehicles.
“But if this is not practical, then the other alternative will be to switch off the car engine and leave all the gadgets inside.
“When the engine is switched off, the car radio is turned off as well and there’s no way the mobile phone or any other gadget can be charged … this is a good thing because the charging process can trigger currents,” he explained.
Commenting on newspaper reports that the June 28 incident may have been caused by static electricity from the woman’s body when she went into her car to answer a call on her mobile phone, Tariq Ashra said he personally felt that the explosion was caused by factors other than static electricity.
“As far as I know, Malaysia’s high humidity makes it difficult for static electricity to be produced when one goes in and out of a car (at a petrol station),” he said.
US-based Petroleum Equipment Institute had reportedly said that it was static electricity from a person’s body that triggers sparks when it comes into contract with the petrol fumes.
According to Tariq Ashra, the risk of a fire being ignited while one was refuelling one’s car was very small as the petrol fumes are quickly diffused into the air.
He said although it was difficult for the fumes to accumulate inside the car while it was being refuelled, an explosion or fire could possibly occur if the vehicle was faulty.
“Normally, the petrol tank is situated at the back of a car while its engine is in the front and there’s a hose connecting the tank to the engine. If the hose is leaky, then there’s the possibility of a lot of fumes entering the car and accumulating there while the tank is being filled up and in such a situation, a fire or explosion can easily occur.
“Therefore, besides observing the various safety rules at petrol stations, people should also ensure that their vehicles are in good and safe condition. If you can smell the petrol fumes even after you’ve left the station, then it’s time for you to get your car checked. This is for your own safety,” he said.
Reminding parents to keep an eye on their children while at the petrol station, Tariq Ashra said it would be a good idea for all the passengers to exit from the car before it is refuelled.