Experience key element of industrial forklift safety

September 1, 2007 By    

The recently completed Propane Incident Data Collection Project found that the propane industry has a good record in the area of industrial safety. The project was prepared by Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center at Texas A&M University and funded by the Propane Education & Research Council.

 John McCoy, LP/Gas Magazine Columnist
John McCoy, LP/Gas Magazine Columnist

For the years that data was gathered, there were few injuries and no deaths. The optimum goal is no injuries and no accidents or deaths. This is still a favorable statistic given that more than 500,000 industrial vehicles that employ the use of propane are reflected in the numbers.

The Incident Data Collection Project did conclude that the accidents are more likely to occur with forklift drivers who have less than six months of experience working with forklifts. Almost all injuries involved men.

Any marketer in this part of the business knows that facilities using propane cylinders for forklift operations are required to have their employees trained on how to safely use them. Presumably, the employer would know of this legal requirement as well. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to remind these customers of this legal obligation and point out that inexperience is the primary cause of accidents in this area.

It is important that these industrial customers have their employees trained to inspect a cylinder taken from the storage rack to ensure it is free from leaks. The industrial employee also must inspect the fittings of the cylinder such as o-rings to be sure they are in place and not damaged before connecting the filled cylinder.

Before the filled cylinder can be installed, the empty cylinder needs to be removed. It is important that the employee use the same amount of care as he would if the cylinder were full. Gas still may be in the cylinder.

It is important that the forklift be moved to a designated area for the change-out. Stop the engine. Eliminate any source of ignition. Close the cylinder valve on the empty cylinder. Remove the hose connection from the empty cylinder. Observe the fuel lines and the connections of the fuel lines for any abnormal wear and tear.

When removing the cylinder, take caution – don’t drop the cylinder or mishandle it. This empty cylinder should be stored in a designated area for empty cylinders. This area also should be in conformance with the appropriate codes.

When attaching the filled cylinder, after the visual inspection has been completed, set the cylinder in the cradle on the forklift. Properly position the cylinder in the cradle. This will ensure that the pressure relief valve, liquid level gauge and liquid service valve will work as designed. If any of the safety controls are missing or are damaged, the employee should not install the cylinder and instead notify his supervisor.

The cylinder should be fastened in place, and the fuel line should be reconnected to the cylinder. It is important that the valve be opened slowly. This will give the workman the opportunity to turn off the cylinder valve or disconnect the valve before an uncontrolled leak occurs. If a leak occurs, the employee should disconnect the cylinder and follow company procedure.

If the cylinder continues to leak, the gas company should be notified immediately. If the cylinder does not leak after being disconnected, it needs to be segregated from other cylinders so it may be inspected by the gas company, and employees don’t accidentally attempt to use it.

Even though accidents from the use of propane in industrial settings are rare, there is still room for improvement.

Encourage your industrial customers to have trained employees and clear procedures for where and how to change cylinders. They also should have clear procedures for addressing cylinders that exhibit some form of leak to avoid inadvertent use of those cylinders.

John V. McCoy is the president of McCoy & Hofbauer, S.C. and specializes in the representation of propane companies. He can be reached at 800-599-8300 or jmccoy@mh-law.us.

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