March 29, 2017

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Safe handling, storage of LPG and flammable gas cylinders

Home owners and businesses that have LPG or flammable gas cylinders on their premises must not only have the necessary safety systems in place to deal with any gas leaks, but must also be aware of the necessary regulations and bylaws pertaining to gas cylinders.

Despite many home owners and businesses utilising gas, whether for cooking and heating or hot work, many are unaware of safe handling and storage practices, and also do not have any kind of disaster management plan in place in case of any emergency, ASP Fire Michael van Niekerk comments.

“Local emergency services bylaws state that home owners or businesses cannot store more than 100 kg of LPG gas without an appropriate certificate. Bulk gas storage such as for industrial businesses requires specific approval from the local authorities on submission of a rational design,” van Niekerk highlights.

The obvious danger of dealing with gas is any kind of leak due to faulty equipment or mishandling and incorrect storage. If the gas leak is sufficiently large, a highly-flammable gas cloud will form. Largely invisible, this gas cloud will ignite in the presence of an ignition source, resulting in a major explosion.

“This is where the disaster management plan comes into play. It is incumbent upon you as business owner to inform your neighbours of the unfolding emergency, and to instruct them to turn off all electrical appliances. This will limit the ignition sources that can set off a spreading gas cloud, and thereby prevent the propagation of any fire,” van Niekerk stresses.

In the event of a piped gas leak, the best approach is to simply turn off all valves. Here it is important to note that it is mandatory for all bulk gas installations to have two shut-off valves, one within the hazardous zone and the other just outside it.

With regard to gas cylinders, the best approach to contain any gas leak is simply to turn off the regulator – even if a fire has already broken out. “In the event of a robust fire spreading out from a gas cylinder as the source, the quick-thinking owner can prevent a potential catastrophe by simply immersing the cylinder in a swimming pool, tank or sink,” van Niekerk notes.

Another critical safety factor in terms of gas cylinders is to protect these from any external heat sources. “Pressure and temperature have a direct relationship in terms of the fixed volume. As the temperature increases, so does the pressure. And if you exceed the maximum temperature that the cylinder is rated for, there will be an explosion,” van Niekerk cautions.

There are various ways in which home owners and businesses can identify potential gas hazards in their respective environments. “Frequent checks are necessary to identify any potential ignition sources. Components corrode, become lose and perish. You need to inspect these ignition sources regularly and service or replace accordingly.”

Although home owners do not require certification in order to operate gas cylinders, it is of paramount importance that any gas system is only installed by an accredited company, and that the certified installer issues a Certificate of Compliance (COC) for the gas installation. “We recommend that a business owner engage the services of a fire-risk consultant such as ASP Fire to conduct an audit of the premises in order to identify any potential risk factors,” van Niekerk adds.

Appropriate handling practices for gas cylinders are: Storing and transporting gas cylinders upright with a sealed protective cap to prevent any damage and potential leaks in the event that they may fall over; securing gas cylinders securely in a suitably demarcated and protected area; and having the necessary warning and information signage in place. Flammable gasses must also be separated from oxidising gases.

Other safety considerations include: Using gas containing an odour-causing substance, which can be detected in the event of any leaks; installing gas detectors in all high-risk areas; and having dedicated personnel trained in disaster management procedures and practices. Local emergency services bylaws stipulate that full evacuation drills be conducted at least twice a year.

“We advise that any business involved with gas welding and cutting processes to implement a hot work permit system,” van Niekerk states. “This permit should form part of that business’s broader health and safety programme, as it requires a safety checklist to be run through by a competent person in the event of any such hot work taking place. If you do not have this in place, a reputable risk-management consultancy such as ASP Fire can assist with identifying and implementing such a process for all types of businesses,” he concludes.

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