Inspecting cylinder integrity

January 1, 2007 By    

Many of my legal cases deal with cylinders, which need to be recertified 12 years after the date of manufacture. After that, recertification is required every five years by visual review or 10 years by hydrostatic testing.

John McCoy
John McCoy

From my experience, most all marketers recertify by the visual method. A recent Battelle study concluded that visual inspections are as effective – and possibly more reliable – than the hydrostatic method for removing unsafe cylinders from continued use.

I want to remind all marketers of the importance of cylinder recertification.

Each time a cylinder is filled it should be visually inspected for excessive rust, dents, gouges or cuts on its surface. The cylinder base should be tipped on its side to look for corrosion or any other evidence that the structural integrity of the cylinder might be compromised.

If the cylinder has been subject to excessive heat impingement or post-manufacture welding it should be taken out of service. Any bluish-green residue that appears at the valve fittings usually indicates exposure to anhydrous ammonia, which causes stress-corrosion cracking of brass and copper fittings. Those compromised fittings are more likely to fail and leak gas to the atmosphere. As a result, NFPA 58 has a zero-tolerance level for anhydrous ammonia in propane.

It used to be that anhydrous ammonia came from anhydrous ammonia in cylinders being used on farms during at certain times of the growing season. That dual use practice is largely a thing of the past.

Now, the chemical may be found in cylinders used in the manufacture of the illegal drug methamphetamine. Marketers need to keep watch for these tainted containers and should consider notifying law enforcement officials.

They also need to make sure the cylinder collar is in place or, in certain situations, a cap is available. The valves need to be leak tested.

A visual recertification and a visual inspection before each refill are identical except for the new date stamp affixed during recertification. A cylinder is arguably no more safe for filling simply because it has a recertification date within code. provided it passed the visual inspection in both instances.

Still, failure to recertify a cylinder opens the door to claims that a safety code requirement was violated and therefore the cylinder should not have been filled. Marketers can be brought into a lawsuit over this violation even if it had nothing to do with the accident.

In 2004, I defended a propane marketer in Pennsylvania where a cylinder was filled after its certification date. Along with odor fade and insufficient warnings, the recertification issue was a main theme of the lawsuit.

The plaintiff had $1.6 million in medical expenses and lost wages, and sought many more millions for pain and suffering. They claimed the marketer did not perform an inspection, which would have spotted the outdated certification. We argued that it didn’t matter since the cylinder did not leak, and a visual inspection showed it would have passed recertification.

The jury decided the propane marketer was negligent for refilling the cylinder but that negligence did not cause the accident.

For many other reasons too long for this article, this case was recognized by the National Law Journal as one of the 10 Best Defense Verdicts of 2004. However, it was a difficult and expensive case for my client to defend.

The point is to always look at the date of manufacture or last recertification in addition to the visual inspection when refilling cylinders to avoid a technical code violation and being dragged into a lawsuit.

John McCoy is 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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