Prioritizing safety in the ag market

August 29, 2019 By    

Propane use in the ag market has many of the same potential hazards as residential and commercial usage, such as gas leaks from corroded piping, carbon monoxide exposure and fire hazards caused by improperly installed or maintained equipment. However, farms have some unique propane applications.

Vehicles like this 1961 Chevrolet propane grain truck require regular inspection. Photo by Alan Gibbons

Vehicles like this 1961 Chevrolet propane grain truck require regular inspection. Photo by Alan Gibbons

For one, many farmers still use vintage vehicles powered by propane. Alan Gibbons of Red River Propane in Marietta, Oklahoma, for example, has a 1961 Chevrolet propane grain truck and a 1952 John Deere propane tractor.

“You have to remember to always regularly inspect fuel tanks, fuel lines and hoses to ensure that they are always safe to run,” says Gibbons. “Just as with all propane-fueled vehicles, make sure that all ignition sources are turned off and kept a safe distance away from fueling.”

Farms use various types of propane equipment requiring various types of propane cylinders that must be filled, inspected and stored safely. Those cylinders are often filled via on-site stationary and/or portable propane dispensers. Just as with other propane farm equipment, these dispensers must be operated, inspected and maintained by qualified personnel.

According to the 2017 U.S. Census, the majority of farmers in the United States are small business owners. As a result, farmers are less likely to have dedicated safety personnel and may install their own gas lines even when they are not qualified to do so.

“That’s why it’s so important to educate on the potential hazards of propane,” says Ray Collins, propane safety director for Sapp Brothers in Omaha, Nebraska. “There are many things on the farm besides propane that can cause severe incidents, and so farmers often overlook propane safety.”

Ag safety checklist

Some key safety issues for ag accounts include:

  • The proper location and venting of regulators
  • Excess flow protection and tank manifold installations
  • With vehicular traffic from forklifts, tractors, cars and trucks on the farm, it is critical to identify underground gas lines and risers.
  • Ensure bulk propane tank safety, as many farms maintain large aboveground storage tanks, some holding thousands of gallons of propane.

Many farms maintain multi-thousand-gallon propane storage tanks and overhead heaters that can be damaged by pressure washing.

Special ag applications for propane include confinement buildings, irrigation engines, grain dryers and weed-flaming torches, both tractor-mounted and hand-held. Each of these poses its own safety concerns.

For example, animal waste in confinement buildings can corrode gas lines, leading to leakage that could ignite when in contact with overhead heaters.

Confinement buildings may also harbor airborne solid combustibles like feathers and dust. That’s why the owner’s manual for L.B. White’s animal confinement building heaters recommends keeping such combustibles a safe distance away from the heater. What’s more, biohazards can make inspections difficult.

Propane torches and flamers are common farm tools that must be handled with care. The safety manual for a Red Dragon propane torch kit offers safety tips such as:

  • Wear proper personal protective equipment.
  • Never stand or prop the torch on the burner end while in operation.
  • Never use indoors.

Some may think these tips are common sense, but propane professionals have specialized knowledge to pass on to customers. Do not take for granted that your ag customer is aware of proper safety protocol.

Stuart Flatow spent the past 18 years as the Propane Education & Research Council’s vice president for safety and training before stepping down in February 2019.

NOTE: The opinions and viewpoints expressed herein are solely the author’s and should in no way be interpreted as those of LP Gas magazine or any of its staff members.

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