Forklift Propane Tank Explosion a Tragic Reminder of Dangers

Police Tape

Photo Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society via Wikimedia Commons

Six people were injured when a propane tank that was being changed on the back of a forklift in an enclosed space suddenly exploded. The incident is a violent reminder of the potential dangers forklift operators face while working with highly explosive materials.

The accident occurred Thursday at the SAIA Motor Freight Line trucking facility in North St. Louis. According to firefighters, workers at the site were using a forklift inside a docked tractor trailer to move hazardous materials when the vehicle ran out of fuel.

Working in an Enclosed Space

While one of the workers hooked up a new propane tank to the forklift, a cloud of the highly flammable gas apparently filled the air inside the trailer. When the driver attempted to start the vehicle back up, the propane cloud erupted into a fiery explosion.

One of the workers — a forklift operator — was in critical condition with burns, but is expected to survive, SAIA spokeswoman Jeannie Jump told KMOV-TV in St. Louis. Three other workers who also were forklift drivers also suffered burns, but were not as seriously injured. Two other workers suffered minor injuries but declined medical treatment at the scene.

Jump said that the accident was an isolated incident and that other businesses and homes in the area were never in any danger. SAIA was “fully cooperating” with the investigation into the explosion.

“SAIA LTL Freight’s number one priority is the safety of our customers,” Jump said in a prepared statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those injured in the accident as well as their families.”

Many Fuels are Highly Explosive

Many of the fuels used to power forklifts — including propane, gasoline, diesel fuel and hydrogen — are highly explosive and need to be treated with respect and caution at all times. As proven by this unfortunate accident, even the smallest spark can ignite an enormous fireball if forklift fuel is not handled properly.

Although the exact cause of this accident is still under investigation, there are several things that may have gone wrong. For example, either the propane tank on the vehicle or the replacement tank may have had a leak or faulty equipment.

Another possibility is that the workers may not have been properly trained on the appropriate procedures for safely changing a propane tank. Or perhaps the interior of the trailer was too dark and they could not see what they were doing.

Don’t Run Out of Gas

Changing a propane tank or refueling a forklift in an enclosed space such as a tractor trailer or a train car is never a good idea. You can avoid these types of situations by always being aware of your fuel level before driving your forklift into an tight area that doesn’t have proper ventilation.

If you do find yourself in a situation where you must replace a fuel tank or refuel your vehicle in a contained area, make sure there is plenty of light so you can see what you are doing, ventilate the area as well as possible, and keep all unnecessary personnel out of the potential blast area.



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