LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) is one of the most familiar gases used in Australia, both at home and in the workplace. It’s fuel for the famous Aussie BBQ, as well as camping activities, heating, cooking, hot water systems and vehicle fuel. LPG is stored in purpose built cylinders enabling the gas to be stored as a liquid under pressure; gas appliances can then burn the LPG vapour released from the cylinder to produce heat.
This blog introduces you to the risks and hazards surrounding LPG in cylinders as well as the standard cylinders sizes used in Australia.
LPG Cylinder Sizes
LPG Cylinder sizes are outlined in AS 4332—2004 The storage and handling of gases in cylinders and are differentiated with their own letter codes. Here are some examples:
- Sizes N and P — gas BBQs, lights and camping appliances
- Sizes Q/T and R — forklifts
- Size S — gas hot water systems, indoor heating
- 90kg tanks — domestic and commercial heating (note these large LPG tanks are permanently installed and filled onsite at the premises).
REMEMBER: LPG gases are highly flammable, odourless, and asphyxiants. They should be stored outdoors away from heat and other ignitions sources (including static electricity).
Risks of LPG Gas
Common as it is, LPG has a number of unique properties that make it potentially dangerous. We outline them below.
Extremely Flammable: LPG is extremely flammable and must never be used or stored around lit cigarettes, open flames, spark producing switches/tools, heaters, naked lights, pilot lights, and mobile phones. Even the static electricity from the thermostat in a drink vending machine was enough to ignite gas leaked from an LPG cylinder and cause a dangerous explosion at a construction site in the USA.
Incompatible with oxidants: LPG has the potential to spontaneous combust when in contact with with oxygen, halogens and metal halides. Make sure that LPG cylinders (both full and empty) are properly separated and segregated, ie, stored at least 3 metres from other flammables and oxidants.
Denser than Air: LPG is denser than air. This means that leaking gas can accumulate in low lying areas and confined spaces, instead of dissipating the gas becomes an explosion (as well as an asphyxiation) hazard. Make sure storage areas are well ventilated and preferably located outdoors.
Asphyxiant: Because LPG is colourless and odourless, detecting gas leaks is extremely difficult. Leaked gas can quickly fill a whole room and replace the oxygen content of the air creating a dangerous asphyxiation hazard. Storage and handling areas need suitable ventilation, and at some workplaces air quality testing and alarm systems may need to be installed.
Liquified: Contact with the evaporating liquid or free flowing gas can cause cold burns, similar to frostbite injury. Like all burns, skin and tissue damage is permanent. Workers should always wear safety glasses, leather/insulated gloves and boots when handling LPG cylinders.
REAL WORLD EXAMPLE: A worker was changing the LPG cylinders used to power forklifts at a manufacturing plant. He took a gas bottle from an area designated for cylinder service and repair and had no idea the valve was damaged. When he connected the cylinder to the forklift it began to free flow gas into the atmosphere, though wearing only cotton gloves he tried to tighten a loose fitting until his hands became completely frozen by the escaping gas. He was hospitalised for 8 days and suffered 2nd degree burns to his hands.
LPG Cylinder Hazards
Apart from the health and physiochemical hazards of LPG, the cylinders themselves have a range of hazards too. Each of these hazards needs to be carefully assessed and controlled.
Manual Handling Injuries: Gas cylinders are heavy, awkward and often difficult to manoeuvre. They can easily cause muscular and strain injuries to staff who are bending, lifting or carrying incorrectly. Wherever possible mechanical aids like trolleys and lifting devices should be used to move and transfer cylinders.
Damaged cylinders: Gas cylinders (particularly the valves) are vulnerable to damage by drops and falls — damaged cylinders can leak or even explode. Cylinders should be visually inspected regularly and repairs carried out by qualified technicians. From our real world example in the section above, you’ll know it’s easy to confuse intact cylinders with damaged or even empty ones. Make sure cylinder stores are clearly marked and staff know the exact condition of the equipment they are using.
Connections: LPG gas cylinders are used to fuel gas appliances and vehicles so there is a potential hazard at every connection point. Connecting hoses and fittings should be made from materials compatible with flammable gases and be secured by qualified staff. Visual inspections should be made regularly and appliances disconnected when not in use or when the bottles are being stored.
Do you handle and store LPG cylinders at your worksite? Why not download our free eBook Gas Cylinder Storage: Compliance and Safety Requirements? You’ll quickly learn how to safely store LPG cylinders as well as manage the risks to comply with current WHS legislation and Australian standards. Download this FREE eBook by clicking on the image below: