Many seem to think that propane is an extremely dangerous gas. In fact, although propane is considered a hazardous material and there are risks associated to handling propane, it remains a very safe source of energy. Indeed, the number of propane-related injuries and fatalities is particularly low.
Indeed, you are more likely to die after being struck by lightning than die from a propane accident. And propane safety is something you can improve. Consider this: There are 14 million residential propane users in the United States and 2009 saw only 19 deaths associated with propane heating systems.
When requesting quotes from different propane companies, you should ask what safety procedures are in place and what the safety record is. Safety is a paramount component of your propane supply agreement and should be treated as such.
The importance of selecting a company with high safety standards
As you compare the offers of different propane companies to select one that best suit your needs, it is in your interest to enquire as to what safety training procedures they follow. Indeed, poor employee training can lead to propane accidents and leaks if your tank is not fitted properly or your appliances are not checked to see whether there is a leak risks.
The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) and individual state propane gas associations offer various safety-related training courses, be it on the handling of hazardous materials, defensive driving (to avoid bobtail truck accidents), tank fittings, etc. If companies do not follow these courses, you might enquire as to what employee safety training programs they have.
Consumer information is crucial to ensure propane safety
Propane accident risks can also be minimized through proper propane user information. There are manufacturer guidelines for appliances and basic safety procedures to follow that all propane users should know.
It is fundamental, when moving into a propane-fuelled home, to request basic safety information from propane companies and when comparing quotes between different propane supplies you should ask whether basic safety booklets are available and whether each dealer has a propane emergency number you can call should you have any safety-related doubts.
Coming into contact with propane
Propane occurs in two forms: as a liquid and as a gas. As a gas, propane is not toxic so there is little risk associated with inhaling it. As a liquid, propane remains non-toxic but is particularly cold. Remember: propane boils at -44°F. Therefore, whatever part of your body liquid propane comes into contact with, your reaction will be like if you had come into contact with a particularly cold piece of ice and there is a risk you will get frostbite.
Propane ignitions and explosions
Propane tanks do not explode. In fact, they are manufactured according to such strict regulations that even if a propane tank falls of a truck, it is unlikely to be severely damaged. The only slight risk of a propane tank rupturing is what is called a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion (or BLEVE).
This occurs when the pressure inside the tank rises to a level that is above the level the pressure relief valve can handle. This is incredibly rare and would require the tank being subjected to a fire for a significant amount of time. Pressure relief valves are installed on propane tank specifically to prevent propane gas pressure from increasing and the volume of propane expanding in the tank.
Although propane tanks do not explode, fires and explosions can be caused if propane gas, combined with air, is ignited in the “right” conditions. Indeed, propane is a flammable material and will burn if combined with air between a 2.15% and 9.6% propane/air mixture. This is why checking for leaks, especially in places where there might be a source of ignition (e.g., kitchen if cooking with propane) is paramount.
Propane and carbon monoxide intoxication
Propane appliances that function properly have an ideal burn – that is, four parts propane and 96 parts air (you will see a blue flame). Incomplete combustion produces carbon monoxide, which is very dangerous. One in four propane-related fatalities is the result of carbon monoxide intoxication.
The presence of carbon monoxide is relatively easy to detect through smell, light-headedness or dead plants (among other indicators). However, another way to ensure early detection of carbon monoxide is by buying a carbon monoxide detector.
If your home does not already have a carbon monoxide detector, you should ask your propane company whether you can purchase one from them. Should the company not have carbon monoxide detectors available, they are relatively easy to acquire independently, including on the Internet.