Petrol is very common but also extremely dangerous. We have some tips on how to use it safely.
Petrol can easily catch fire and cause explosions, severe burns and death. People can also get sick from breathing in petrol fumes, or from drinking petrol.
For more advice call The Poisons Centre on 0800 764 766 (0800 POISON).
If a person is not breathing or is unconscious, call 111 immediately.
Learn about the dangers of petrol
Fire and explosions
- Petrol can catch fire very easily.
- Petrol can evaporate quickly, and turn into a gas that you cannot see. This gas can catch fire easily, and explode.
- Petrol gas is heavier than air. This means it can easily build up in small spaces, and this built-up gas can catch fire.
- Never smoke around petrol.
- If you or someone else is burned, make sure to treat the area immediately by running it under cold water for up to 20 minutes. Call a doctor or ambulance if the burn is serious.
- Go to the St John website to find out more about first aid for burns
Illness and death
- Petrol is poisonous to people.
- It is very dangerous to breathe petrol fumes. It can seriously damage your lungs, make you pass out, and in extreme cases it can kill.
- Swallowing petrol can make you feel sick, have diarrhoea, and/or vomit. Vomiting can be dangerous, because you may breathe in petrol fumes as you vomit. This can cause serious lung damage.
- Petrol can irritate your skin if you get it on you, or are in a room with lots of petrol fumes in the air. It can also be absorbed through your skin, and damage other parts of your body over time.
- Petrol can hurt your eyes if you get it in your eyes, or are in a room with lots of petrol fumes in the air.
Health risks over a long time
- If you breathe petrol fumes often, over time it can damage your brain and your nervous system.
- Petrol can be absorbed through your skin. If you get petrol on your skin often, over time it can damage other parts of your body, such as your kidneys.
Keeping safe when using or pouring petrol
You need to be very careful to protect yourself, others, and the environment while you are using or pouring petrol. Make sure to:
- keep away from fire or anything that’s burning. Never smoke or use a lighter or any naked flame anywhere near petrol or where petrol has been poured. Petrol fumes can build up in enclosed spaces (like your shed) if it’s not stored safely, it has spilled, or you have been filling vehicles. These fumes can easily catch fire and cause an explosion.
- keep away from electrical equipment such as power tools and cell phones. These can cause sparks, which can make petrol fumes catch fire and cause an explosion.
- pour petrol outside, not inside a shed or garage. This will stop you breathing in petrol fumes, which can make you dizzy and even make you pass out. Pouring inside can let petrol fumes build up, and this can make it more likely there will be an explosion.
- if you splash your clothes with petrol, change them immediately. Leave the clothes that have been splashed outside in the open air (not inside your house or garage) to allow the petrol to evaporate, then wash the clothing separately to other laundry. Keep children away from the clothes until they are clean.
- clean up spills immediately. If you use rags to clean up the spill, leave them outside in the open air to allow the petrol to evaporate, then wash them separately to other laundry. Keep children away from the rags until they are clean.
- never use petrol to start or ‘help’ a fire. Petrol is too dangerous to be used like this. Use an alternative product that is intended for this purpose.
- use petrol as a fuel, not a cleaner. Petrol catches fire easily, and its fumes are dangerous. Use turpentine (turps) or another solvent if you need to clean car parts or do other jobs like that.
- never pour petrol or liquids contaminated with petrol down the drain. Contact your local council to seek advice on how to dispose of it safely.
- keep the container on a solid surface when pouring petrol. When filling petrol containers at a service station, place the container on the ground and keep the petrol pump nozzle in constant contact with the container. It is important not to spill petrol, because it will evaporate quickly and fill the air with petrol fumes, which can catch fire easily.
- never siphon petrol by mouth under any circumstances. If petrol gets into your lungs or stomach, it can be fatal.
- wear gloves when filling fuel tanks or garden machinery. It is easy to spill when you’re filling something like a lawnmower, water blaster or edge trimmer, so protect your skin by wearing gloves.
Storing petrol safely
Petrol and its fumes catch fire very easily, and can cause explosions. You can reduce the risk by making sure to:
- only store petrol in approved petrol containers. Approved containers have undergone a range of tests to make sure they won’t leak or explode, and are hard for children to get into.
- keep petrol where children cannot get it. The best place is in a high, locked or child-safe cupboard, in a shed that is kept locked.
- make sure your petrol container has the correct lid and it is always tightly fastened.
- leave a gap at the top of petrol containers. When petrol gets warm some of the liquid will turn into vapour and this will make the container expand. If the container is too full it could burst.
- keep petrol in a safe, cool and shaded place. Never leave petrol containers in direct sunlight or in the boot of a car.
- keep petrol in a shed or garage. Never store fuel containers inside your home. Petrol is highly flammable so it’s safer to store it in a shed or garage that is not attached to your house.
- store only what you need. You need special permission from WorkSafe New Zealand to store more than 50 litres of petrol at home.
- never smoke near where petrol is stored.
We have a brochure that explains the rules for storing petrol:
Tips on how to use and store petrol containers
Only store petrol in approved petrol containers. Approved containers have undergone a range of tests to make sure they won't leak or explode.
- Don’t overfill your petrol container - leave a bit of a gap at the top. When petrol gets warm some of the liquid will turn into vapour and this will make the container expand. If the container is too full it could burst.
- Make sure your petrol container has the correct lid and it is always tightly fastened.
- Don’t leave petrol containers in direct sunlight or in the boot of a car.
- Store them in a cool place.
- Never store fuel containers inside your home. Because petrol is highly flammable, it’s safer to store it in a shed or garage that is not attached to your house.
- Don’t store large amounts of petrol if you don’t have to. You can only store up to 50 litres of petrol at home without needing a special certificate issued by a test certifier. If you want to find out about storing more than 50 litres of petrol at home and obtaining a certificate call 0800 376 234.
- When filling petrol containers at a service station, place the container on the ground and keep the petrol pump nozzle in constant contact with the container while filling.
Symbols you might see on petrol containers
These symbols indicate that the contents of the container are flammable.
Products with this symbol can cause serious health issues if people are exposed to the product.
These products may:
- cause cancer
- affect fertility
- cause damage to an unborn child
- cause allergies, asthma or breathing difficulties when inhaled
- cause damage to internal organs such as the liver, kidneys and the central nervous system.
Products with this symbol are toxic to the environment.
If you need to provide first aid
- If you accidentally swallow petrol, call a doctor or call The Poisons Centre on 0800 764 766. Do not induce vomiting.
- If you get petrol in your eyes flush them with water for at least 15 minutes and call The Poisons Centre or a doctor.
- If you get petrol on your skin, wash the area straight away. If your skin looks red or is sore, get it checked by a doctor.