Grilling with propane remains a year-round safety commitment

August 6, 2011 By    

We are in the heart of the traditional grilling season, and families throughout America are firing up their propane grills in record numbers. Grilling with propane has become an American tradition.

This means tens of millions of tanks are being filled or exchanged each year. In addition, with the advent of mega-Btu super grills, many consumers are asking marketers to add a line off the main home supply tank as a matter of convenience. In all cases, we must not lose sight of related safety issues.

The cylinder industry has an excellent safety record since the OPD valve was mandated and has largely eliminated the overfill exposure. The cylinder exchange industry, for the most part, does an excellent job of providing a safe and consumer-convenient product.

On the other hand, we as an industry are only as strong as our weakest links, and I see a few weak links.

I see a huge need for training the personnel who refill cylinders. The exposures of cylinder filling include: cylinder inspection and qualification; rejection logs for cylinders out of qualification; ensuring that dispensing stations and equipment are compliant with code; the need to actually use personal protection equipment; and compliance with code to remove plastic sleeves prior to refilling.

First and foremost, propane safety training obligations rest with employers of employees who dispense retail propane. Their obligation to adhere to training requirements, code and OSHA compliance should be no different than that required of propane retailers who fill cylinders at owned locations.

Suppliers cannot feasibly monitor vendor hiring, training or compliance – nor should they be held to that standard. Still, suppliers have an obligation to inspect what they expect rather than turn a blind eye to a bad situation.

PERC’s Dispensing Propane Safely (DPS) training program is an excellent tool for a supplier to provide to a retailer. However, such information does no good if it is not utilized year-round to train new employees. At a minimum, suppliers should have an annual meeting with each vendor, reviewing new-hire DPS training and compliance.

I recommend that vendors consider advising customers to remove plastic sleeves prior to use. This is not a code requirement, but it makes safety sense. Many will argue that this removes important safety information. However, I base my opinion on obvious issues.

In refilling tanks, this should not be a problem because the refiller is obligated per code to remove the sleeve. Obviously, the refiller should make sure that the tank contains some warning information and keep a supply of decals handy with the required information. In an exchange, removing the sleeve will verify the tank’s condition under the sleeve and reduce possible future corrosion due to trapped moisture working against refurbished tanks.

In both situations, I also recommend giving the consumer written cylinder safety information, such as PERC’s Important Propane Safety Information for Users of Small Cylinders or your own custom safety piece.

Since my first challenge to the industry on this issue, I have received some criticism but mostly feedback that validates my concerns over the sleeve corrosion problem. So how is it going? I encourage you to write me and share your experience with removing sleeves prior to filling. Also, send me your pictures of corrosive tanks or any evidence that we are seeing fewer tanks with problems since the story broke.

Lastly, I urge marketers to use caution when connecting grills to main supply tanks. I have seen situations where the line was connected and soap tested, but unknown to the service technician the consumer had altered the grill, creating an open line. When hooking the grill to the main tank, consider the grill as you would any other appliance, and make sure it’s safely returned to service.

Thanks for your commitment in making sure the American tradition of propane grilling remains a year-round safety process.

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