FAQs Propane

Propane is safe to use as a fuel to power forklifts. However, it can be dangerous if not handled properly. (Courtesy: David Bruce Jr. at flickr.com)

Propane is safe to use as a fuel to power forklifts. However, it can be dangerous if not handled properly.
(Courtesy: David Bruce Jr. at flickr.com)

Personnel working at a warehouse that relies on a forklift fleet that uses propane should understand the dos and don’ts of handling the gas. Although it is a relatively safe alternative as a means to propel forklifts, it can be dangerous if not handled properly. To assist warehouse employees who work with propane, what follows are answers to frequently asked questions pertaining to its use.

Q: What is propane?
A: when in its natural state, propane is an odorless and colorless gas that is used to power forklifts specifically designed to use it. It is also used as a fuel for such household tasks as heating and cooking and to power some kinds of household appliances. It is transported as a liquid under high pressure in specially designed tanks or cylinders. When liquid propane is changed into a gas vapor, it expands in volume by about 270 times. So it is more economical to store and transport as a liquid instead of a gas vapor. However, a small leak of propane liquid results in a large quantity of vapor that can be hazardous in a confined space. If properly stored and handled, propane is very safe. However, if it is mishandled, it can cause damage to property and injury or death.

Q: What traits of propane should I be aware of?
A: Although an odorless gas, for safety precautions, a chemical odorant is added to give it a distinct smell. It is stored as a liquid under pressure in tanks or cylinders. It can cause frost burns if it touches the skin and a concentration of its vapor can cause flash fires or explosions. Since propane is heavier than air, it may collect at floor level or in low areas before it dissipates. To check for the presence of propane, you should smell in the lower areas as well as all over the room. Even a slight odor can be a sign of a serious gas leak. It boils at -44° Fahrenheit. About 90 percent of propane used in the United States is produced in the United States and comes from oil refining and natural gas processing.

Q: What should I do and not do if I smell a propane leak?
A: Get everyone in the vicinity to move to a safe distance and attempt to shut off the valves at the tank. Call your company’s propane supplier and the fire department for help from a phone that is a safe distance from the leak. Do not try to find the leak. Do not turn light switches on and off and do not light a match anywhere near the location of the leak.

Q: How should we store and transport propane cylinders?
A: First, use the U.S. Department of Transportation approved cylinders to store propane. When using a new cylinder for the first time, demand that the propane dealer purge it in order to remove air and moisture from the tank. Since propane expands and contracts depending on temperature be certain to fill the cylinder only 80 percent of its capacity. Always use a regulator when using propane from a cylinder and never store a cylinder indoors or in an enclosed vehicle. When transporting a cylinder, make certain that it is secure and upright so that the valves are in the vapor space. Be certain to shut off all sources of ignition before filling a cylinder attached to a vehicle.

Q: Is propane dangerous to the environment?
A: No, propane is an approved clean fuel listed in the 1990 Clean Air Act and the Energy Policy Act of 1992. It is considered to be one of the cleanest burning of all fossil fuels. Tests performed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows that propane-fueled vehicles produce 30 percent to 90 percent less carbon monoxide and about 50 percent fewer toxins and other smog-producing emissions than gasoline engines. Propane is nontoxic. So it won’t harm soil or water. If it leaks from a container, it will dissipate into a vapor and ultimately leave the area so there are no lasting effects on the environment.

Q: How much propane can the tank hold?
A: Water capacity volume is used to indicate the capacity of a propane tank and tanks are commonly filled to 80 percent of its total water capacity. The tank is not totally filled because propane is stored as a liquid under pressure, so it needs the space to expand into vapor.

Q: How is propane weighed or measured?
A: Propane is measured in a few ways including by gallons, pounds, or meters. The tank is usually referred to as a 20 lb. tank because it holds 20 pounds or about five gallons of propane.

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