A Burning Issue: The Hazards of Oil Rags and How to Prevent Combustible Waste Fires

Date: September 26, 2023

Alan Anderson, Sr. Risk Control Consultant

Recommendations for Fire Hazard Risk Assessment, Fire Prevention, and Training

Workers who drill or service oil wells handle a variety of hazardous materials, which are often highly combustible. The most common type of spontaneous combustion fires is those caused by improperly disposed combustible fluid or oil-soaked rags. Continue reading to learn our recommendations for fire hazard risk assessment, fire prevention, and training on oil rags and combustible waste.

Fire Hazard Risk Assessment

When conducting a fire hazard risk assessment on the jobsite, identify any potential fuel, sources of combustible fluids or vapors, and ignition sources. Remember to include any material for cleaning with a flash point less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Workers can refer to the SDS for the flash point level.

Fire Prevention

Practicing good housekeeping is key in fire prevention. A clean work area can prevent a spontaneous combustion fire from spreading and getting bigger by not allowing the fire fuel to burn. Additional housekeeping items include storing discarded oil rags and combustible waste in securely covered metal containers and removing combustible trash daily or storing it in a safe area protected against ignition sources.

Don’t forget to remind workers that smoking is only allowed in designated areas, away from potential fire hazards.


Proper training on the hazards of oil rags and combustible waste is crucial to maintain a safe jobsite. Regularly scheduled safety meetings should discuss the job tasks, probable hazards, and related safe practices. Training should focus on:

  • Potential fuel, sources of combustible fluids or vapors, and ignition sources.
  • Spontaneous ignition sources (iron sulfide, discarded oily rags), frictional heat, or sparks.
  • Fire extinguishing equipment locations and the use of such equipment, application, and associated hazards.
  • Proper personal protective equipment and fire-resistant clothing.

The safety of your employees should always be your top priority. For more jobsite safety information, contact your BITCO Risk Control Consultant. Click the "Find an Agent" button below to find a BITCO agent near you.

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For information purposes only. BITCO's blog content does not address all potential circumstances and is not a substitute for business, safety, or legal consultation.

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