Filling propane tanks can be very dangerous and can pose a personal safety hazard, property hazard, and liability hazard and put the general public in danger. It is important to know how to inspect a container and how to safely dispense the propane into the proper container.
It only takes one mistake to result in a disaster! The following is a brief overview of general safety tips in regard to propane filling stations that are used by some commercial businesses (for example: convenience stores, gas stations, hardware stores, RV dealerships, etc.). It is important to emphasize that if you are not trained by qualified personnel on how to conduct this task safely, you should NOT be doing it!
Location and Storage
The propane dispensing station/tank must be located a safe distance from all buildings or areas where people are present, per NFPA 58 requirements. Typically, the minimum distance from any buildings is 30 feet; however, this depends on the size and number of tanks present at the location. Contact the local Fire Department or Fire Marshall to be sure the filling station and propane tanks adhere to local regulations. Once a location is decided, the filling station should be fully enclosed with fencing or similar structure that is lockable. The barrier will ensure no unauthorized personnel enter the area. The area should be protected from vehicular damage by embedding substantial steel posts in concrete (or similar, effective protection). In addition, the area must be properly labeled with required NFPA signs (National Fire Protection Association) indicating flammability, no smoking, and authorized personnel only. When not in use, the entrance to the filling station must be kept locked at all times. Lastly, there should be the correct number and type of fire extinguisher(s) placed near the filling area. Typically, the minimum classification of fire extinguisher will be a 4A40B:C or 4A80B:C, which should be marked on the unit.
Storing propane cylinders indoors is not advisable. It is recommended that propane cylinders (full or empty) be stored outside on a firm surface, protected from vehicular damage, and away from any source of ignition (preferably, in a labeled and secured non-combustible storage cage/unit designed for storage of flammable materials). Propane cylinders should always be positioned so that their relief valve is in direct communication with the vapor space of the container.
The DOT approves only the following container codes for use with propane: 4BA-240, 4E-240, 4B-300, 4B-240, and 4BW-240. If the container does not have one of these codes or it is not legible, do not use it! Be sure to check the condition of the container shell and valve to see if the unit has been damaged or compromised. Gas companies are often readily available and qualified to perform annual inspections of the main propane tank, valves, pressure gauges, etc. Always maintain the documentation of 3rd party inspections and immediately correct any deficiencies noted.
Only trained, qualified personnel should be allowed to fill propane containers. Gas companies often offer initial and annual training to any customers that plan to fill propane on site. It is very important to complete the training and maintain the documentation. In addition, make sure the employees are comfortable and confident on the job task! The following offers a few safety tips on the filling process:
- Always wear approved gloves—gas under pressure can cause serious burns!
- Purge all new containers and used containers that have been left open.
- Always follow proper filling procedures as directed by a qualified trainer.
- NEVER overfill a container. Overfilled containers may release product and are ILLEGAL!
- Adjust the scale beam slide for proper size and weight of container.
- Stop filling immediately when the scale beam rises and/or liquid spews from the fixed liquid level gauge.
- Additional training is required for filling permanently mounted containers (for example, truck mounted). Be sure to shut off the engine and other potential ignition sources.
- Always know the location of the emergency shut off valve and/or disconnect in the event of a leak or emergency.
Never allow customers to fill their own tanks. Qualified employees should fill the tank and allow the customer to load their own tank into their vehicle. Prior to loading, it is very important that the customer be provided with the propane safety plan either in brochure form or on the rear side of the sales receipt. For example: A copy of LP tank safe handling and operation procedures should be provided to each customer at the time the customer receives the LP tanks. Access the Propane Education & Research Council's residential information site for consumer safety information (http://www.propane.com/residential/). Customers must be fully aware of the personal danger and liability hazards associated with handling, storing, and using propane containers. Lastly, an employer is responsible for have an emergency action plan in place in the event of an on-site emergency.
In summary, it is very important to have a hierarchy of controls in place such as engineering, administrative, personal protective equipment, and procedures to ensure a safe working environment. Providing proper controls, monitoring, and conducting self-inspections and periodic 3rd party inspections will ensure the safety of people, property, and the environment!