In the construction industry, propane is used in various applications: fuel in tar pots, welding torches, heaters, appliances and some forklift engines. Compressed gas cylinders filled with propane gas should be handled, used and stored with proper care to prevent leaks and explosions.
Propane is a hazardous product under WHMIS. It is also heavier than air, and in the event of a leak it can accumulate in low-lying areas such as basements, pits and trenches. Propane gas is colourless and odourless, but suppliers add an odorant to the gas so that leaks can be detected by smell. The smell is similar to rotten cabbage or rotten egg.
The release of propane gas into a confined area or an area with poor ventilation can displace the oxygen content in the air and cause asphyxiation.
As an employer, you must:
Since propane is a controlled product, pertinent WHMIS regulation will have to be followed. The OHS Guide topic on WHMIS tells suppliers, employers and employees how to work safely with propane.
When using propane, there is a risk of poisoning with carbon monoxide (CO), which is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas. This risk increases when the equipment is not installed, used, maintained properly or with insufficient ventilation.
Employees must be instructed to recognize the symptoms of CO poisoning. The first signs of CO exposure are headache and fatigue. Increased exposure can rapidly lead to loss of consciousness, arrested breathing, heart failure and death.
How to identify and take preventive actions when there is a propane leak:
General Regulation - Occupational Health and Safety Act
N.B. Reg. 91-191
Part VIII HANDLING AND STORAGE OF MATERIALS
75. (1) An employer shall ensure that a portable compressed gas container is used, stored and handled so as not to endanger an employee's health or safety.
(2) In complying with subsection (1), an employer shall use as a guide
(a) information on a safety data sheet,
(b) the specifications provided by the supplier, and
(c) the safe handling rules in CGA G-P-1-1991, "Safe Handling of Compressed Gases in Containers".
(3) An employer shall ensure that the use, storage and handling of a portable compressed gas container used for welding and cutting complies with CSA standard W117.2-94, "Safety in Welding, Cutting, and Allied Processes".
[N.B. Reg. 2001-33, ss. 25, 26; 2016-7, s. 2]
76. (1) An employer shall ensure that a portable compressed gas container is stored
(a) in a well ventilated and dry storage area where the temperature does not exceed 52°C,
(b) with containers grouped by types of gas and the groups arranged to take into account the gases contained,
(c) with full and empty containers in separate areas, and
(d) secure and upright.
(2) An employer and an employee shall each ensure that a portable compressed gas container
(a) is not stored near readily ignitable substances,
(b) is kept at a safe distance from all operations that produce flames, sparks or molten metal or result in excessive heating of the container,
(c) is not exposed to corrosive materials or corrosion-aiding substances, and
(d) is protected from falling and from having heavy objects fall on it.
(3) An employer shall ensure that a storage area for portable compressed gas containers is prominently posted with the name of the gases stored and with signs prohibiting smoking.
77. (1) An employer shall ensure that a portable compressed gas container is not
(a) rolled on its side, dragged, slid or subjected to rough handling, or
(b) moved by a lifting magnet.
(2) Where appropriate lifting mechanisms have not been provided on a portable compressed gas container, an employer shall ensure that suitable cradles or platforms for holding the container are used for lifting.
78. (1) An employer and an employee shall each ensure that regulators, automatic reducing valves, gauges, hoses and other appliances provided for use with a particular gas or group of gases are not used on a portable compressed gas container containing a gas having different chemical properties unless information obtained from the supplier of the portable compressed gas container states that this can be safely done.
(2) An employer shall ensure that
(a) connections on a portable compressed gas container to piping, regulators and other appliances are kept tight to prevent leakage,
(b) connections to a portable compressed gas container that do not fit are not forced,
(c) the valves on a portable compressed gas container are kept closed at all times whether the container is charged or empty, except when
(i) gas is flowing from the container,
(ii) the gas in the container is maintaining pressure in a supply line, or
(iii) the container is on stand-by during and between operations using the gas, and
(d) check valves for a portable compressed gas container are installed as close as possible to fuel gas and oxygen regulators.