Safety minute: Confirming odorant in propane

October 26, 2023 By    

When someone says, “I smell propane,” what they really smell is a chemical called ethyl mercaptan, which is added to naturally odorless propane so that a leak can be detected.

The process of recognizing the presence of ethyl mercaptan in propane must begin well ahead of the product reaching the customer container.

The most common means of verifying propane odorant is through a “sniff” test – simply using one’s nose to detect the odor. As propane professionals, we must confirm and document the presence of readily detectable odorants throughout the distribution process. Whether loading or unloading a rail car, transport or bobtail, or performing an installation or service call, if an odorant cannot be detected, the distribution process must stop immediately and the system isolated until the issue is resolved. Never leave a system in service if the odorant cannot be confirmed.

Equally important is that we ensure our customers can recognize propane odor and know how to evacuate the premises and contact us when they do. Propane Education & Research Council pamphlet PRC 003121 “Important Propane Safety Information for You and Your Family” and booklet PRC 005606 “Propane Safety” contain propane safety information, including a “scratch and sniff” that presents an odor similar to propane. Even better is to take the customer to the container and have them smell real propane whenever possible. Be sure to document their acknowledgment.

The distinct odor of propane is added for a reason – safety.

Benny Gay is vice president of operational support at ThompsonGas. He can be reached at

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