Labor Day Grill Safety for Hazmat Pros

Posted on 8/25/2023 by Nick Waldron and Roger Marks

Many workers are looking forward to a three day weekend as Labor Day approaches. There are countless ways to celebrate this Federal holiday honoring the American workers' movement, but there is one that stands tall over the others—firing up the grill.  

Did you know that Americans eat 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day and Labor Day every year? If you plan to grill some dogs and contribute to the national total this weekend, make sure you know the risks involved. After all, you can't have a cook-out without hazardous materials. 

Hazmat Grill Safety: Propane (Division 2.1)

Propane is a flammable gas, making it a Division 2.1 hazardous material when transported. Never leave your grill alight and unattended. Shut off the valve on the propane tank between uses, and don't expose a tank to open flame.

If you're driving to the barbecue this weekend with a freshly loaded cylinder of propane (or natural gas) in the backseat, keep in mind that shippers and supply chain professionals took great care to move that dangerous gas from point A to point B safely. Follow their lead by driving carefully. 

Hazmat Grill Safety: Charcoal (Division 4.2) 

Charcoal briquettes are transported as a Division 4.2 hazardous material domestically, along with other spontaneously combustible materials. 

Materials in Division 4.2 include:

  • Substances that are liable to self-heat when in contact with air and without an energy supply.
  • Liquids or solids that can ignite when they contact air without an external ignition source.

Self-ignition can occur in these materials due to an exothermic reaction that leads to thermal runaway (not unlike a lithium battery). Like with a gas grill, a charcoal grill should not be left unattended while lit. The grill should be set up a safe distance from homes or buildings. 

Also, the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) warn that charcoal (and other Class 4 and Class 5 hazmat) can become more dangerous when they are wet: 

"Special care shall also be taken in the loading of any motor vehicle with Class 4 (flammable solid) or Class 5 (oxidizing) materials, which are likely to become more hazardous to transport by wetting, to keep them from being wetted during the loading process and to keep them dry during transit. Examples of such dangerous materials are charcoal screenings, ground, crushed, or pulverized charcoal, and lump charcoal."

[49 CFR 177.838(b)--Articles to be kept dry] 

Lastly, because charcoal is spontaneously combustible, leaving a bag of briquettes in a hot car could be a risky proposition—especially in sizzling locales like Texas or the American Southwest. While it's not likely for charcoals to self-ignite inside of a vehicle, the temperature inside of a parked car in Phoenix, AZ (for example) can approach 200° F.

Grill Safety Facts

On average, 10,600 home fires are started by grills each year, and 61 percent of American households own a gas grill. About 22,155 patients go to the ER each year with injuries related to grills, about half due to thermal burns. Stay safe everyone!

More grill-safety resources:

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