Safety With Gas
With the term “load shedding” becoming a reality for many South Africans there has been an increased focus on gas as a fuel in heating appliances, cooking equipment etc.
The term “LPG” is Liquefied petroleum gas or liquid petroleum gas (LPG or LP gas), also referred to as simply propane or butane, is flammable mixtures of hydrocarbon gases.
Like electricity and Natural Gas, LPG is considered a dangerous good, and as such needs to be treated with the utmost respect.
In this section, we would like to consider some of the important safety aspects when working with and transporting gas!
Understanding the Risks and Benefits of Working with Gas
It is important for everyone to learn more about natural gas. The more we know the safer we will all be.
Benefits of working with Gas/LPG
There are numerous advantages to using LPG:
- Gives you an instant cooking flame.
- Is easy and instantaneous to light.
- Is easy to control. The blue flame is visible and its size is easily controlled over a wide range so that the required rate of heating can be obtained.
- When burning correctly it is non-poisonous and safe to use.
- Burns cleanly and does not produce any soot, smoke or smell during combustion, therefore leaving your kitchen clean.
- Is pure, and very consistent in quality.
- Adds to your comfort because cooking is quick and the kitchen does not get heated as with other fuels like wood or charcoal.
- Is compatible with many different appliances and easy to maintain. Is used in many different sectors, i.e. domestic, commercial, industrial, and agricultural.
Risks associated with Gas
Even though considered stable and safe, LPG still possesses a certain degree of danger, just like any type of fuel. The most common types of hazards associated with the use of it include explosions, fire and inhaling carbon monoxide.
The source of these risks usually are:
- poor hose connections
- damaged or corroded cylinders/Inadequate maintenance
- placing a cylinder near a source of heat
- incorrect storage of the cylinder.
When gas does not burn properly or is used in an area without adequate ventilation, it produces excess carbon monoxide (CO) – a colourless, odourless gas. When inhaled, carbon monoxide binds to the haemoglobin in the blood. This reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen, starving the body of oxygen and poisoning it.
This could lead to:
- In extreme cases, death [Carbon monoxide poisoning can kill within a matter of hours.]
- Tiredness/ Drowsiness
- Nausea and chest and stomach pains.
- Collapsing and loss of consciousness
Gas and Safety at Home
The very first place we would like to focus on is Safety with Gas at our homes:
- If you move into a new home, don't assume the appliances are safe - get everything checked by a person registered to check for Gas Safety and get all certificates that might be required. [I.E. Certificate of Conformity]
- Always use appliances only for their intended usage - Never use your stove or oven for anything other than cooking. Do not use your gas oven to heat up your home.
- Never let small children play with or near natural gas appliances or pipes, even the knobs on the oven or cooktop.
- Obey Legislative stipulations [i.e. Only gas bottles less than 19kg of gas can be stored inside a building].
- Keep the areas around all appliances and equipment clean and unblocked to allow for proper air flow.
- When gas stoves are in use ensure sufficient ventilation, do not open the gas flame to high and ensure that the gas is turned off properly after use.
- Always buy LPG cylinders from authorised franchisees only.
- Check that the cylinder has been delivered with the company seal and safety cap intact, do not accept the cylinder if the seal is broken.
- Look for the due date of test, which is marked on the inner side of the cylinder stay plate and if this date is over, do not accept the cylinder.
- Always store the LPG cylinder in an upright position and away from other combustible and flammable materials.
- Make sure there is at least one multipurpose fire extinguisher in your home or place of business.
- Share all gas safety tips regularly with all family members.
- If you service your gas heater or installation regularly and use it correctly, it should be safe and economical to use.
- Gas equipment/systems must be installed according to the legal requirements where you reside. [SABS requirements (SANS087)]
- Ensure work on fixed LPG installations whether new or being modified is carried out by a licensed or authorised gasfitter
- Appliance operating instructions should be handed to the consumer and explained by the installer.
- LPG appliances must not be connected to other gas supply systems, such as natural gas.
- Installations in caravans, recreational vehicles and boats must comply with the installation code applicable to fixed appliances.
The following tips on installation can be found in the South African National Standards (SANS) guide under gas installation regulations:
- Gas bottles may not be installed less than 1 meter sideways from doors and windows;
- All copper pipes going through a wall must be sleeved; and
- Your gas installation must be accompanied by a certificate of conformity for gas appliances.
- The types of gas installations that require this certificate include gas fires or braais, gas stoves and ovens, as well as water systems heated by gas.
- If in doubt, you can contact a local LPGAS installer.
- Keep LPG appliances and fittings in first-class condition via regular servicing, checking regularly for deterioration in performance, signs of corrosion and minor leaks.
- As with all gas appliances, it is recommended that the heater is serviced on a regular basis by a qualified gas technician, in line with the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
- Always replace worn-out or defective tubing and regulators. Half of all cooking gas-related accidents occur due to leakages from the rubber tube.
- Make sure all parts of your LPG system are in good condition. If you find anything wrong with any part, contact your franchise immediately and ask for assistance.
- Never tamper with your LPG cylinder or cylinder fittings.
- Disconnect LPG regulator and affix safety cap when your gas stove is not in use for a prolonged period.
- Have furnaces, vents, flues, chimneys and gas lines in your home or business inspected every year or two by qualified industry professionals.
- With any LPG appliance or burner that fails to ignite immediately, turn off the gas supply and ventilate for at least three minutes to allow any gas to disperse before attempting to reignite
What are some of the Warning Signs that your appliances may not be working properly?
- The flame on your gas cooker should be crisp and blue. Lazy yellow or orange flames mean you need to get your cooker checked.
- You may see soot or black marks or staining around or on gas appliances.
- Your pilot lights may go out frequently
- You may see increased condensation inside your windows
Safety with Gas Heaters
- It is essential to first take the time to make sure that we know our safety tips and that our gas heaters are safe to use.
- Always follow manufacturer guidelines carefully – it is a good idea to re-read the instruction manual when you get your heater out of storage for use when that first cold snap hits.
- Most manufacturers suggest a periodic inspection or service of the appliance or installation. Two years is the most common recommendation.
- Always check that the bullnose/O-ring/washer is located at the end of the cylinder before attaching the regulator to the cylinder valve. This is the seal between the regulator and the cylinder valve
- Check that it is not brittle cracked or perished.
- Check that the hose is also in good condition (not brittle or cracked)
- Do not use outdoor gas heaters indoors. Outdoor gas heaters may create carbon monoxide.
- Once your gas heater is securely connected to your gas bottle and ready for use, it is important to make sure that it is operated safely.
- If somebody else is going to be operating the heater, make sure they know how to do so safely
- When lighting your appliance, always first light the match or lighter and then turn on the gas supply.
- Always ensure that the room in use is well-ventilated. If it becomes stuffy, open windows and doors to allow fresh air in immediately.
- Unvented heaters shouldn’t be used in small-enclosed areas, especially bedrooms because of the potential for a build-up of carbon monoxide.
- Always turn your heater off before going to bed or leaving your property.
- Always shut off the gas at the cylinder first – not just at the on/off switch on the heater
- Never unscrew/remove the regulator while the heater is still burning
- Do not move your unit while it is in use. First turn it off and wait for it to cool down a little before moving it around.
- Always turn your heater off (at the cylinder first) before going to bed or leaving your property.
- Do not sit or stand too close to your gas heater.
- Keep children and pets away from gas heaters - those tiny fingers or paws might just wander into the wrong place.
- Never place clothes or other items like towels over your heater.
- Never store household chemicals or combustible materials near gas appliances.
- Keep gas heaters at least one metre away from all flammable objects including furniture, curtains, books and boxes.
- Portable gas heater hoses or power cords should not be extended through a doorway into other rooms. A door could accidentally be closed and cause a leak in the hose
- With roll-about heaters always ensure that the cylinder is located in the space (cabinet) provided. A cylinder may not be placed outside or alongside the heater.
[Image via Total]
Safely Cooking with Gas
Using gas has been described as a clean and efficient way to cook. We must, however, ensure that our kitchens comply with safety standards before using gas appliances.
These would include ensuring your gas cookers and hot plates have adequate clearance from combustible surfaces, for example:
- Range-hoods must be at least 600mm above the cooking appliance,
- Exhaust fans must be 750mm above the appliance, and
- Burners must have clearances of 200mm unless the nearby wall or surface is suitably protected.
Other general Safety Suggestions are
- Never leave your cooking unattended. The cooking vessel could overflow and extinguish the burners, causing gas to leak.
- Never get distracted. If you are called away, turn off the gas.
- Keep the flame from extending past the pot side -Turn pot handles away from the stove edge.
- Be especially careful when cooking with oil or fat. Fats and cooking oils will ignite once they have reached a certain temperature.
- Never use water to put out fat and oil fires. Water can cause a fire to spread rapidly and inflict horrific burns.
- If a fire starts, turn off the stove or cover the flame with the pot lid if it is safe to do so. Then use an appropriate fire extinguisher, such as a wet chemical extinguisher, or fire blanket to smother the flames.
- Ensure good ventilation in your kitchen by keeping the windows open.
- Never allow a child to cook without adult supervision.
- Wear tight-fitting sleeves when cooking.
- Ensure smoke alarms are working.
- Keep stoves and cooktops free of grease and fat build-up.
- Do not place flammable or plastic items near the flame.
- Have a fire blanket and extinguisher easily accessible in the kitchen.
- Have a tested fire escape plan and ensure everyone in the house knows the plan!
- When cooking with gas, make sure the flame does not go out – gas can escape silently and invisibly.
- Close the regulator knob to OFF position when the cylinder is not in use.
Working Safely with Gas at the Workplace
Gas is often used as a fuel within the workplace for heating the work environment and water supplies, cooking and for processing products, soldering, welding, flame cutting etc.
- Gas appliances must be in a position that is easily accessible for use, inspection and maintenance. A workplace should ensure that there is an audible carbon monoxide alarm.
- Make sure the detector is tested regularly.
- Employers must not allow a gas appliance to be used if they suspect that it may be dangerous.
- You need to select the most effective controls that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.
- Have new gas equipment supplied, installed and fitted by a registered provider and in line with the manufacturers' instructions.
- Get the gas installation in your business checked once a year by a licensed gas fitter.
- Detailed records should be kept of any maintenance work carried out on gas pipework, appliances and/or flues.
- Always ensure proper ventilation and adequate airflow around gas appliances.
- Keep the areas around external flue outlets clear of vegetation, etc. to make sure that combustion gases can be effectively removed.
- Never use damaged or corroded cylinders. LPG is stored under pressure and a faulty cylinder may leak or rupture. Check for dents or corrosion, especially around the base.
- Check gas connections regularly.
- Keep the cylinder away from heat and flames – even if it is empty.
- Don’t try to fill your own cylinder - only trained people using special equipment can do this safely.
- Workers should be involved in the safety protocol, making suggestions, asking questions or raising concerns.
- Workers should be asked for input on identifying health and safety risks and how to eliminate or minimise them.
- Workers should be trained on what the key risks are and how to keep healthy and safe.
Storage and Transporting Gas
- LPG cylinders (except specially designed forklift and automotive cylinders) must always be stored and transported in an upright position.
- Lying a cylinder down brings liquid in contact with the safety valve preventing correct operation.
- Cylinders larger than 2.25kg should be housed in a compliant enclosure like an LPG locker.
- Cylinders should be stored in a well-ventilated space and away from possible sources of ignition, excess heat or other compressed gases
- Try to store as few gas cylinders as possible, arranging for more frequent deliveries where necessary, since storage facilities must meet certain safety standards
Gas cylinders must be clearly marked to show what they contain and the hazards associated with their contents.
Cylinders should be stored where they are not vulnerable to hazards caused by impact, e.g. from vehicles.
When storing LPG, the LPG Association stipulates that:
- the storage area is secured against attack from vandals, etc.
- warning signage is in place to show the hazards associated with LPG
- cylinders are stored in an upright position (unless their labelling indicates that they can be stored otherwise)
- there is clear access to all cylinders
- firefighting facilities are available
- the store and its surroundings are kept free of flammable sources and combustible materials including vegetation
- the storage area is located away from open drains.
- Always secure cylinders during transport, remove any hose, hose fittings and regulators and attach a sealing plug whenever the appliance is not connected.
- For mobile vehicles, make sure that the gas canister is secured and cannot be tampered with by vandals, etc.
- Cylinder compartments must be sealed from the interior of vehicles/boats and vented to the outside.
- Cylinder valves must be closed when a caravan is in transit.
- We should never use any gas appliance, including a refrigerator, in a moving vehicle.
- Turn off every LPG appliance in caravans/boats before refuelling.
Emergency Procedures for Gas Incidents
When smelling gas at you home
- Firstly, don’t panic. Try to turn off the valve of the bottle.
- When you smell gas, please do not light flames or create sparks to test for a leak - this includes lighting a cigarette.
- Don’t operate light switches, appliances or telephones.
- Leave the area with the doors and windows wide open.
- Do not use an electrical fan to try and blow away any leaking gas.
- Shut off the gas at the gas bottle valve by turning it clockwise.
- Keep the leak uppermost so that only vapour and no liquid escapes.
- Keep hands and face clear of any stream of escaping liquid and where possible, wear thermally insulated gloves.
- Turn off the valve of the cylinder and if possible, move it outdoors.
- Don't turn it back on until it has been checked by a qualified gas technician.
- Do not return inside your home until the gas has had time to dissipate.
- Remember that LPG is heavier than air and can accumulate in low areas.
- Get your system checked by your local gas installer.
If there is a Fire
- Don’t panic. Try to turn off the valve of the bottle with a wet cloth to protect your hand.
- Then use the same wet towel to smother the flames.
- If you cannot reach the cylinder, move everything that could catch alight away from the bottle. Call the Fire Department and tell them that LP gas is involved.
- Get fresh air immediately - open the doors and windows.