Safety Blog Sign-up

Sign Up Now

Safety Speakers

Hazard Reporting App

Monthly Safety Topic

What’s in the Bucket? (A Common Workplace Hazard)

I’m in a lot of client sites with the work that I do with my Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop.  Lately I have noticed that many workplaces are using Folgers® Coffee cans to store things other than coffee.  Not the old metal cans, but the new red plastic containers. Also prevalent are the Lowe’s or Home Depot 5 gallon buckets and galvanized milking bucket.  All of these are cheap, handy containers for carrying tools, parts, or bolts and nuts in if you are a farmer (please don’t be offended if you are a farmer, I have the utmost respect for farmers), but when it comes to multi-million to multi-billion dollar corporations, these types of containers really don’t fit the task.  Additionally, they create hazards that are not often considered.

OSHA regulations are clear on marking spray bottles, chemical containers, and drinking water containers.  But the General Duty Clause also drives the point that if we recognize a hazard, the employer has the responsibility to mitigate the risk.  Therefore, I would like to help you avoid any injuries and give you some ideas why using inappropriate containers create workplace hazards that can lead to injuries.

Unmarked containers that are capable of holding liquids can by nature create hazards.  If someone places a chemical for cleaning or other tasks in a container and then it is not properly rinsed, a reaction could take place when it is used for another chemical.  This could lead to an injury.

One such case:

A welder who was trying to quit smoking got a little help from a friend one day.  The ‘quitter’ had snuck out back of the weld shop to light one up.  His friend who thought it would be funny to “help him” grabbed a spray bottle of water.  When he sprayed his smoking buddy in the face to put out the fire, he was surprised by a big blue flame.  The unmarked bottle had denatured alcohol in it!  Woosh! No eye lashes, no brows, no laughing.  After the co-workers pulled the quitter off of his buddy, they recognized the need to mitigate hazards by properly marking all containers.

Another hazard created is when open top containers are used to store used bolts.  Recently while conducting a walk-through prior to one of my Hazard Recognition and Control Workshops I noticed a red Folgers coffee can sitting on the shelf with old bolts and some old damaged turnbuckles.  I pointed this out to the individual with me and they agreed that someone might use some of the bolts or the turnbuckles since they are readily available.  I asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?”  He replied, “If it failed?  I guess someone could be killed?”  Exactly.

Other hazards can be created with Home Depot, Lowe’s, or galvanized milking buckets.  All of these are containers that are capable of containing liquids and as previously discussed can lead to injury.  When plenty of these containers are available another hazard is created, by carrying tools, aerosol cans, or parts in them.  They can become heavy and uncontrollable, not to mention a fire hazard.  How many tools can you put in one bucket?  A bunch!  Ergonomically speaking, you can load these buckets to a point where they can hurt your body.  If they become top heavy they can be knocked over easily and dump their load.  Moreover, if you use them to hoist tools, parts, or liquids to elevated workplaces with a hand-line, they can get caught on an edge and tip over, dumping the whole load on top of the person operating the hand-line.  But that’s not all that should be considered.  How much weight will the bail (handle) hold?

These buckets are not design-rated to hold a certain amounts of weight and are suspect for use as a container for transferring material to elevated workplaces.  Many people have experienced near-misses and direct hits as a result of structural failure.  To put it plainly, these are not tools for a workplace trying to achieve zero injuries.

Containers that can hold liquids should be marked and used as marked.  Used bolts and parts that are damaged should be discarded following each job and not saved for another job where they might fail.  Consider using canvas buckets that are design-rated with a rope bail and snap-clip for stability.  This type of bucket typically will not hold liquid so that should mitigate one type of hazard.  Additionally, they tend to hang straight when used properly and if they hang on an edge when being used on a hand-line, the top tends to roll over and close-off the opening.  If you just give this some thought, it’s common sense.

Safety is about risk mitigation.  I suggest that you conduct a walk-through and determine if any of these items exist in your workplace that might cause injury.  Thank you for being committed to mitigating the risk of injuries in your workplace so that nobody gets hurt.

Be Safe!

Carl Potter, CSP


If you want to raise the professionalism in your workplace and train your workforce to recognized, evaluate, and control hazards email me at: to discuss an on-site workshop.

You may also be interested in having your workforce complete my new Online-On Demand version of Hazard Recognition and Control Workshop.  Everyone that completes this workshop will receive stickers, hazard reminder, a copy of my book Safety Attitudes, and a Certificate of Completion.  You might consider requiring your contractors and new hires to complete this course work.  To learn more, visit: and look for the link to the On-Demand version at the top of the page.

One Response to What’s in the Bucket? (A Common Workplace Hazard)

  • Jeff merrell says:

    This is a great article. OVer the years I’ve observed this habit as a generational one. THe older workforce tends to keep everything, trying to find a use or purpose for these cans. An example I’ve used is would you carry your lunch in the dirty galvanized pail, if no, why not? Then why would you store a flammable chemical in a food-grade coffee can? There’s a better way, let’s find it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *