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Propane tank safety tips for your summertime barbecues

With Independence Day now behind us, but still a good month and a half before Labor Day, propane safety should be on everyone's minds. More than 75% of American households own and use propane gas grills at least once a month. Over the next few months, there will be countless Americans who will host backyard barbecues to celebrate birthdays, holidays, or maybe just a beautiful summer day; however, before you do, make sure that you know a little bit about propane safety.

The National Fire Protection Association says that there are more than 6100 accidental fires and explosions that occur every year on average because of improper grill use. Those explosions and fires result in approximately 20,000 ER visits and near $30 million in damages. On average, about twenty Americans die each year because of explosions and fires caused by propane tanks attached to gas-powered grills.  

The two main reason for these explosions are improper venting and the fading of an added chemical that gives propane an odor.

The first thing that every gas grill owner must understand is that if you leave your propane tank in direct contact with excessive heat, the gas will expand and test the limits of the tank. If the tank is full, a pressure release valve will open in order to allow propane gas to be emitted from the tank. This is what we mean when we talk about "venting." Generally, when the internal tank pressure exceeds 375 PSI, the tank will "vent" to prevent explosions.

If a propane tank is venting, you should be able to smell it. Propane is odorless in nature; however, an additive call ethyl mercaptan is used so that consumers can smell the gas if it is venting and move it to a safe place. Problems persist when the ethyl mercaptan fades from a tank and the consumer can no longer smell the venting gas. This is known as "odor fade." When the smell from the ethyl mercaptan is no longer detectable, this is when tank owners can find themselves in dangerous situations. In fact, every year there are law suits against propane tank and gas grill manufacturers because undetected leaks caused serious injuries or deaths to customers.

Studies have shown that the odor given off by the ethyl mercaptan goes away over time and that time can vary from a few months to a few days. The key to propane is safety is to remember that just because you can't smell the propane doesn't mean that it isn't there. In addition, it is always safest to keep your propane tanks in a cool, dry place and out of the way of direct sunlight.

If you haven't in a while, we recommend having a look at the warnings found on your propane tank. We have also come up with a list of general rules that you should take into consideration when using propane.

First, it is important that you always operate your gas grill in a place that is in the open and well ventilated. Don't go sparking that thing up in the garage. If it's raining, barbecue pork chops can wait until tomorrow.

Second, don't "stack" your tanks. That means that you should never place a full or empty tank on the top or bottom of another tank.

Third, if you're transporting a propane tank, be sure it is being stored in a ventilated area while you move it. For example, if you're going to put the tank in the bed of your truck, make sure the cap is off. Or, if you must keep it in your trunk, be sure you're not driving far. If you driving a considerable distance, it's never a bad idea to pull over and open the trunk for a few minutes before getting back on the road.

Fourth, and this may seem like common sense, but NEVER light a cigarette or cigar when you are using propane or transporting. This is the cause of many accidents explosions.

For more information about propane tanks and gas grills, or if you have been injured in a propane tank-related accident, please call the personal injury attorneys at Goodrich and Geist at 800-806-2456 for a free consultation today.

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