Propane gas is efficient and cost-effective, but as with any energy source, potential dangers can result from improper use, transport and storage of the tanks. Propane fumes are highly flammable and hazardous when inhaled. An area filled with these vapors can cause fires, explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning. To avoid injury and death, be aware of the possible hazards and follow proper guidelines for maintenance and inspection, as well as safe use, storage and transport precautions.
A propane leak can lead to combustion or asphyxiation, and both of these can lead to serious injury or death. If there is a leak, you may smell gas--propane has a strong odor added to it for this reason--or experience the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as nausea, headache, fatigue, shortness of breath or dizziness. If you suspect a leak, evacuate the area and do not use anything with an open flame or any device that sparks, including telephones and cell phones. Shut off the gas valve, if it is safe, and call the propane dealer or 911. Do not return until it is safe and do not reuse the appliance until inspected and repaired by a qualified technician.
The pilot light is a fixture on a propane appliance that has a constant flame and can ignite the main burner when needed. If the pilot light goes out, the surrounding area can fill with propane gas. This can result in fire, explosion or carbon dioxide poisoning. Only qualified repair professionals should relight the pilot light. Do not relight if you smell gas, if others are nearby, or near an open flame or anything spark-producing.
Sparks and Open Flames
Open flames and sparks from lighters, equipment, power tools, appliances, even telephones and cell phones can pose a risk for fire or explosion when propane is in the air. Do not smoke or use any of these items if you smell propane. In addition, other flammable liquids or vapors near a pilot light may ignite, causing an additional risk.
Portable tanks should not be stored in enclosed areas or where there is excessive heat. There is limited ventilation in enclosed areas such as a house, garage or shed, and in the event of a propane leak, the air could become saturated with high levels of carbon monoxide. Storing tanks near grills, hot appliances or in areas that are above 120 degrees Fahrenheit increases the risk of combustion. Never store a propane tank in an enclosed vehicle or the trunk of a car.
Transportation of portable propane tanks can be dangerous if they tip, fall or leak. Make sure the valve on a tank is closed and plugged. Place the tanks in an upright, secure position to prevent tipping and rolling. Remove immediately from a vehicle and do not transport portable propane tanks in the trunk of a car. If moving several cylinders at a time, state and federal regulations may apply.
Old Tanks and Disposal
Damaged and out of date portable propane tanks are not safe for refilling and reuse. All portable cylinders require periodic inspection and must be stamped with the most recent inspection date. The cylinder cannot be refilled if it is out of date or the date is illegible. Old and damaged cylinders must be disposed of properly, never thrown in the trash. A local propane retailer will have information about local disposal programs.