From powering home barbeques to torches and warehouse forklifts, propane is a useful and versatile gas. But it’s also a hazardous flammable material that carries huge amounts of explosive force because it’s pressurized. This is why the proper storage, handling and transportation of propane according to the regulations set by OSHA and CGA (Compressed Gas Association) is so essential.
Although the list of OSHA’s storage and handling regulations is very long, the basic rules of handling and storing propane can be condensed as follows:
- Industrial facilities can store propane in cylinders within buildings not frequented by the public (such as industrial buildings) with the limit capped at 300 lbs. of propane. However, if the facility has special buildings or rooms dedicated to propane storage, the amount of propane allowed is 10,000 pounds. Designated rooms need to fulfill a number of very specific requirements listed on OSHA’s website.
- OSHA specifies that cylinders cannot be stored near exits, stairways, entryways or close to high-traffic and busy areas.
- Propane cylinders mustn’t be stored close to or with other flammable or combustible materials.
- They should be stored in cylinder safety cages or cabinets in flat areas that don’t collect water. They should be placed off the ground, on top of a surface that will not burn.
- Any not-in-use cylinders should be stored outside and in an open-air storage unit at least 20 feet from other buildings.
- Propane cylinders must never be stored or placed in an area of excessive heat (120 degrees or higher) or near a heat source.
- The cylinders should be stored in the proper orientation with the relief valve in direct contact with the vapor space in the container:
- Grill cylinders should be stored vertically.
- Forklift cylinders can be stored vertically or horizontally. When they are horizontal, the relief device must be located at the 12 o’clock position.
- Cylinders must be protected from falling by using a chain or another adequate support systems. Consider securing each cylinder separately to prevent them all from falling when only one is removed from storage.
- The dates on the cylinder collar should be checked periodically to ensure that the cylinder is not past its requalification date and to replace or exchange cylinders that are out of date.
- Cylinders need to be checked for leaks and signs of rust and wear—even if they’re under their requalification date, they may still need to replaced if they’re in poor condition.
- Fire extinguishers should be placed within easy access of propane storage.
- Container valves must be protected while in storage by setting them into the container’s recess to prevent the possibility of being struck if the container is dropped, or by fastening to the container a ventilated cap or collar that is constructed so that a blow would not be transmitted to a valve or other connection.
Whether using propane at home, on holiday or at work, following the manufacturer’s instructions can keep everyone safe. It doesn’t matter if the cylinders are small enough to fit in the car or if they require a forklift to transport them, their use and inspections should always be handled with care.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any propane-powered equipment.
- Propane-powered device documentation should be consulted for the proper use, refueling and cylinder-changing procedure.
- Only trained and authorized personnel should replace liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) containers.
- Appropriate face and eye protection and gloves (loose fitting, such as insulated neoprene) must be worn when connecting and disconnecting propane cylinders from their hoses due to the possibility of freezer burn, which propane can cause instantaneously.
- Do not use metal tools when changing a cylinder.
- Do not use excessive force when opening a valve.
- Do not roll, drag or drop the cylinder or allow it to bang against other objects.
- When a cylinder is not in use, the valve should be closed to avoid a potential leak.
- Inspect propane equipment periodically for possible leaks or malfunctioning parts:
- Inspect the propane cylinder for cuts, gouges, dents and rusting and replace if necessary. Never use a damaged cylinder.
- Never use matches or a flame to check for leaks. Use a leak detector or soap (brush a 50% liquid dish soap and 50% water solution onto all hose connections and valves; bubbles indicate a leak). If you encounter a leak, shut off the propane at the tank if it’s safe to do so, tighten hose connections and check again for leaks using the dish soap and water solution.
- Do not smoke or have any ignition sources such as flames or spark-producing electrical tools in the vicinity when handling propane.
- Never attempt to disassemble or cut open a propane cylinder.
- Do not let the cylinder get too hot. Additionally, don’t paint propane cylinders a dark color—they are painted a light or reflective color to reduce heat absorption from the sun.
- Never try to modify or repair valves, regulators or other parts of the cylinder or appliance.
- Do not leave LPG-powered trucks near heat sources, stairways, exits or other busy areas. Turn the service valve off when parking LPG-powered trucks for a long time.
- Empty propane cylinders are just as dangerous as full cylinders and the same safety precautions must be followed.
Propane cylinders are built to withstand a huge amount of pressure and they’re meant to last. But they still require gentle and careful handling when transported, because they could be faulty and, despite their sturdy appearance, they can still be easily damaged.
- The cylinders must be upright and secured during transport.
- The valves must always be closed and, if required, sealed with a plug even if the cylinders are empty.
- Cylinders must not be left in a closed vehicle, especially during hot weather or if there’s a chance of heat building up inside the vehicle.
- Ideally, cylinders require ventilation for transportation.
- Do not smoke while handling or transporting cylinders.
- During unloading, the transport truck mustn’t be parked on public thoroughfares and it must be at least 5 feet from storage containers, positioned so that shutoff valves are readily accessible.
Storing and handling propane tanks properly is an important part of remaining compliant. Many factors need to be taken into consideration, including nearby buildings, other flammable objects and awnings.
Too often, facilities using propane tanks have them stacked indoors, stored improperly and with no safety cages or protection. A lax attitude towards propane storage is often the result of complacency—other human factors can also compromise safety during the transportation and use of propane. Although the list of OSHA requirements is long, it’s worth taking a look to ensure that your facility is compliant, and to also assess whether human factors are affecting how workers handle propane and propane-powered devices.