Are you doing your part to keep equipment safe, reliable in the field?

November 26, 2014 By and    

Hundreds of millions of small propane cylinders are inspected, properly filled and put into safe use every year.

These inspections are important, as manufacturers, wholesale suppliers, retail refillers, exchange cabinet marketers, emergency personnel and consumers all have a stake in the safety process.

The enormous market growth of the 20-pound cylinder, now referred to as the grill cylinder, has been driven by consumer demand for convenient, clean-burning, portable propane. This emerging market spawned significant growth in the cylinder exchange industry as well as the onsite refill market.

It is important to pay attention to grill cylinder safety factors, as equipment ages from wear and tear and use or abuse. Historically we have found that geographic exposure to salt, soil, humidity and chemicals can accelerate rust and rubber deterioration. Deterioration of tanks can also occur when plastic cylinder sleeves are not removed during cylinder inspection and prior to filling, and may facilitate continued rust if left on. Failure to use protective caps on cylinder valves may increase exposure to valve seal deterioration.

The No. 1 safety factor with propane has previously been related to cooking appliances. Past incidents involving the overfilling of small cylinders led to the design of the overfill protection device (OPD) valve. This new valve replaced the old POL valve in April 2002. Many of those tanks manufactured in 2001, now with OPD valves, were up for requalification last year.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 58 requires the requalification of cylinders. It states, “Cylinders shall be inspected prior to filling and requalified 12 years after manufacture and every five years thereafter.” This means that employees filling cylinders must be trained to perform their jobs, including the obligation to inspect cylinders and determine they are suitable for transport and continued service prior to filling.

Failure to comply with code comes with liability exposures for manufacturers, suppliers, refillers and exchange marketers alike. Suppliers should take an active role in promoting refiller compliance, especially if the name of your company is on the dispensing tank.

Safety efforts at communicating and educating refillers and the public are being deployed to achieve a safe level of compliance.

The Propane Education & Research Council has done an excellent job of developing and distributing Certified Employee Training Program material as well as educational-specific information on dispensing propane safely and important propane safety information for users of small cylinders.

As an industry, our efforts to train and educate must continue if we are to stay on top of small cylinder safety. We must focus on making sure all refill and exchange vendors inspect what they expect when it comes to small cylinders.

Key educational training issues remain:

■ How to inspect a cylinder for serviceability

■ How to identify an out-of-test cylinder

■ What to do if a cylinder is found to be in poor condition or out of test

I regularly witness refill employees who fail to utilize personal protection equipment, check for qualification dates or remove plastic sleeves prior to filling.

This summer I removed the plastic sleeve on a recently exchanged cylinder to find a wide band of rust. It was apparent the exchange tank was refilled without removing or replacing the sleeve. Whether it was a quality control issue or an intentional mistake, whoever filled that cylinder failed to inspect it. I notified the exchange company.

The other day I saw a grill cylinder refilled that still contained its manufacturer’s plastic sleeve. The tank was 5 years old, and the sleeve clearly showed a dotted line with a pair of scissors and stating the plastic sleeve must be removed prior to filling. No one had inspected that tank in five years.

Recently we have seen some deterioration in the rubber seal on OPD valves, which suggests there is merit to inspecting the valves for seal deterioration. Some companies currently inspect for this and some do not. This is a simple educational issue that might be considered in the overall inspection process.

In a theory of large numbers, accidents in the propane business are a rare occurrence. In reality, as an industry, we must stay focused on eliminating exposures by inspecting what we expect to achieve safe results. Our future success depends on it.

Jay Johnston is an insurance executive, management consultant, safety advocate and inspirational safety speaker. He can be reached at or 952-935-5350.

1 Comment on "Are you doing your part to keep equipment safe, reliable in the field?"

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  1. Anil Kulkarni says:

    It must be mandatory to the Gas Filler to reinspect recheck and periodic testing the Propane cylinder with documentation and records to avoid the bypass the retesting.Also Inspection agencies have necessary cross check and cylinder manufacturer get back the not serviceable cylinders.Gas fillers and distributors must have a prime responsibility for this and Cylinders users also aware for cylinders safety and quality of cylinders.