Is propane dangerous?

Although some people think that propane is a dangerous fuel, this is not the case. In fact, statistically, there are very few propane-related injuries or fatalities. There were 19 deaths in 2009, which is incredibly low given that there are 14 million residential propane users throughout the country.

Adequate safety training and user information prevent propane accidents

While it is a flammable material, federal, state and local regulations and guidelines surrounding propane use – imposed by authorities or recommended by the industry – are so elaborate and well-enforced that there is in fact little room for accidents to happen. However, compliance with these rules is the only guarantee of minimizing propane accident risks.

Firstly, you should only select a company that takes safety issues very seriously. As you compare propane companies, the only way to check that this is the case is by asking what training programs they have for their employees.

The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) has extensive employee training courses related to propane safety. Similarly, safety is the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) priority, as well as that of individual state propane gas associations.

A lot of propane companies charge a fee for each delivery that offsets safety training costs (between $10 and $20). It is in your interest to check how each company you are considering infuses a culture of good propane safety into its employees.

Secondly, you should only select a company that takes the time to inform you of the safety aspects of using propane. Much exists in terms of consumer and user information and it is your interest to choose a propane dealer that explains safety procedures clearly.

For example, does the company explain what to do if you suspect a gas leak and does it provide customers with safety sheets that you can refer to if you have forgotten? This is important as it is a key element of propane accident prevention.

Contact with liquid propane can cause frostbite

Although propane in its gas form is non-toxic and you run no risk should you inhale a little, it is really cold in its liquid form. Indeed, propane boils at a very low temperature of -44°F. If you touch liquid propane, you are likely to experience a similar sensation to that of holding a particularly cold piece of ice. The extreme consequence of this is that prolonged contact with liquid propane can cause frostbite.

Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion or BLEVE

Like any other gas, propane expands with increasing temperatures. This is why safety relief valves are fitted onto propane tanks: as propane expands, the relief valve opens and releases excess pressure. However, continued exposure to very high temperature increases eventually lead to explosions. Rest assured, this does not happen if the weather suddenly becomes much warmer and only becomes a risk if, say, you place a fire right under your propane tank.

Propane can ignite and cause a fire

Again, this is incredibly rare. However, propane remains flammable. Combustion requires fuel, an ignition, and air. Furthermore, the propane/air ratio has to be 1/24 for an ideal burn. However, propane will burn at any level between a 2.15% and 9.6% propane/air mixture. Checking for propane leaks is important for that reason: a gas leak, combined with air and a source of ignition can lead to a fire.

Incomplete propane combustion can cause carbon monoxide intoxication

One in four of all propane-related deaths occur because of carbon monoxide intoxication. Indeed, if the burn is not “ideal” as described above, carbon monoxide may be released. This is a very dangerous gas, which can lead to illness and even death, which is why it is highly recommended to have a carbon monoxide detector installed in propane-fuelled homes.