Propane is a flammable gas so like any other such gas it is very safe if you store it and handle it properly. Propane equipment (propane tanks, for example) and appliances (propane grills, for example) are built according to strict safety standards.
In its liquid form, propane is dangerous only if it comes into contact with your skin. This is not because it is toxic (it is not) but because it is cold enough to be harmful given that its boiling point is -44°F. As a vapor, propane can be dangerous if ignited following a spill. Since propane is almost odorless a chemical odorant is added to the gas so you can smell a leak immediately.
Ensuring propane safety
Propane companies are held to high safety standards to limit risks of accidents and faulty material / installations. The Propane Research and Education Council offers a Gas Appliance System Check where your entire installation is checked and you get valuable guidelines on propane safety. The Certified Employee Training System, required in eight states, is recognized at national level and guarantees quality in handling propane equipment and appliances. The Propane Education and Research council has also developed various comprehensive safety education programs for companies and consumers.
Propane safety framework
Propane safety is highly regulated with federal and state regulations and guidelines ensuring the safety of your installation and your appliances. For example, you have to have a leak test if you have a propane tank installed or if you run out of propane. Besides the strict conditions in which propane materials and appliances are constructed:
- If you rent a tank, and even if you buy one, propane companies have highly qualified in charge of propane tank maintenance. This is usually part of your contract.
- Your propane tank has to be a certain distance from windows, vents, or any potential source of ventilation/ignition (see diagram below).
- Simple safety guidelines are easy to follow and further reduce possible threats linked to propane. For example, installing a carbon monoxide detector in different parts of your home is something you might consider.
Statistically, there are very few propane accidents. According to the NFPA, between 2003 and 2007 there were 1,170 fires, 34 deaths, 135 injuries and $48 million in property damages due to fires where propane was ignited. Having said this, there are fewer accidents each year involving propane. The propane equipments that usually cause the fires are barbecues and grills, the fires originate in the kitchen or cooking area. The leading heat sources are sparks, embers or flames from propane equipment (when it leaks or breaks). These figures are very low: You are more likely to die as a result of being struck by lightning (100 annual deaths on average) than because of a propane fire.