As the weather warms and the wind picks up the risk of static fires increases, and all fuel retail and wholesale businesses must ensure they are communicating this very real risk, and the controls to prevent it, and the responses if fire eventuates.

Customers Oblivious to the Risks

Following the viral video of the Irishman filling a plastic bag with fuel in order to save a few cents per litre before the tax was increased there, the internet has been alive with a large number of people calling “fake”. The reason that these netizens are struggling to accept the video as real is that they cannot imagine that people would really try to fill such an inadequate container. For those of us who have been in the industry for some time, we know for a fact that people will do seriously odd things on a forecourt.

Softdrink bottles, paper milk cartons, buckets and yes, plastic bags, have regularly been tried by fuel customers in Australia.

So we are in the Real camp, or at least, the – we have seen worse – camp.

ACAPMA is working with industry leaders now to further communicate to consumers about this risk.  “Every few years ACAPMA partners with industry leaders and communicates to consumers.  So many consumers think that static fires are a myth, and so they take risks that have very real consequences…because static fires are no myth” explains Elisha Radwanowski.

Requirements and Risk

The requirements when dispensing fuel into a portable (one that is not attached to the vehicle as part of the vehicle engine) container are clear;

  • That the container be of an approved nature (this is to ensure that it will structurally hold the fuel without melting it and causing a leak)
  • That the container be of an approved size for the fuel
    • no more than 25 L for petrol
    • unlimited for diesel (but there are some conditions, see below)
  • That the container be placed on the ground to fill (or the static be formally managed through an earthing strap or filling spear in the case of filling larger portable containers with diesel where it is not practical to place them on the ground)

Any container that does not meet these requirements is in breach and should not be allowed to be filled.


It falls to the Console Operator to ensure that they are monitoring their forecourt and ensuring that customers are complying with these requirements. The pumps should be shut down if the Console Operator knows or suspects that there is a customer in breach of these requirements.

It is important for customers to comply with these requirements, and for the staff onsite to be vigilant, because;

  • the dispensing into a portable container creates static, and if the container is not grounded then that static could cause a fire
  • inappropriate containers pose the risk of spills, vapor injures and environmental contamination

In the case of the Irishman and his bags of fuel the worst of these risks have not manifested and while we all have a chuckle at the clear stupidity on display, it is important that we also focus on ensuring that it is not allowed to occur at our sites, because the risk of damage to property, environment and person is real and high, and can be managed through appropriate forecourt supervision.

Q & A

Q: Can an approved 25Lt container be filled while in the back of a ute or the boot of a car?

A: NO! NEVER! This is a very dangerous situation and the Console Operator should be refusing to authorise the pump if the containers are not placed on the ground and should be shutting the pumps down immediately if a customer is found to be filling portable containers without grounding them.

Q: Im sure I have seen big white tubs with metal frames being filled on the back of trucks and utes, or even big barrels…how is that allowed?

A:  Containers that are larger than 25L are able to be filled…but ONLY WITH DIESEL AND ONLY IF STATIC RISK IS MANAGED.  Managing the static risk for Diesel appropriately can be done through the use of an Earthing Strap (which is attached to the container and the earthing rod of the pump to allow static build up to go to ground instead of starting a potential spark and fire) or through the use of a Diesel Spear (which delivers the fuel to the bottom of the portable container reducing the static that is built up by splashing fuel).

Petrol of any grade MUST NEVER be dispensed into any portable container larger than 25L.

Q: What should I do if a portable container catches fire?

A:  Fires onsite are thankfully rare but it is always a good idea to review the process.  Like any emergency onsite you should follow your Emergency Response Plan.  Every site is different and will have particular requirements, but broadly in the event of a portable container fire you would;

  1. Shut off the pumps
  2. Use the PA to advise customers to proceed to the assembly point
  3. If trained and it is safe to do so, gather a foam/co2 extinguisher and proceed to the fire
  4. Ensure there is a clear escape route
  5. Pull the pin on the extinguisher
  6. Test the extinguisher
  7. Aim the extinguisher hose low and level (horizontal) with the fire (never point at fire from the top)
  8. Squeeze the trigger and sweep back and forth until the fire is extinguished
  9. Be aware of possible reignition and do not allow customers into the area, be ready to re-extinguish if needed
  10. Gather witnesses details for incident report
  11. Contact Site Manager for next steps

Here to Help

ACAPMA has produced a Safety Alert Fact Sheet that is available to Members to assist with communicating these important elements to staff.  Members can request a copy of the Fact Sheet by emailing

Safety Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business.  They are provided as general information for you to consider and do not constitute advice.  You should seek further advice on your situation by contacting your legal advisor.  ACAPMA members can access resources and receive advice, guidance and support from the ACAPMA employment professionals via  , it is free for members.  ACAPMA Membership delivers this and more benefits, see;    for more information.

Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM&IR)