Propane, or LP gas, is a versatile fuel for farmers throughout the year. Propane heaters protect young plants from frost in spring and warm greenhouses. Propane powers torches in some crop weed control systems. In winter, it heats farm buildings and powers generators during storms or outages. And propane fuels grain dryers to preserve crop quality year-round.
But propane is highly flammable and even a small leak can lead to a devastating propane fire. Inhaling it in enclosed spaces can cause asphyxiation. Dangers like these are why it’s important for farmers to take necessary precautions to keep their property, themselves and others safe.
What to do if you smell propane gas or rotten eggs
Propane itself is colorless and odorless. This would make leaks hard to detect. That's why the unpleasant scent of "rotten eggs" is added. If you notice this smell:
- Take immediate action to prevent harm.
- Immediately put out open flames. Do not operate lights, appliances, telephones or cell phones. Flames or sparks from these sources can trigger an explosion or fire.
- Evacuate everyone from the area immediately.
- Shut off the gas at the tank.
- From a safe distance, contact your propane distributor.
- Do not return to the building or area until you LP supplier or emergency responder determines it’s safe.
- Leave locating the leak to LP professionals. They are trained and equipped to test for leaks and safely return the appliances back into operation.
"Propane keeps the agricultural wheels turning. But overlooking the dangers of propane can lead to catastrophic consequences and shut down an entire farm,” said Nationwide Risk Management Propane Specialist Kirby Summers. “Prioritizing propane safety and always following proper procedures should always be a top priority.”
Propane safety starts with these proactive steps
Farmers can consider the following safety measures to help prevent propane accidents and protect themselves from the dangers of propane gas:
- Properly maintain outdoor propane tanks and cylinders. Keep surroundings clear of tall grasses, weeds and flammable material. Protect tanks from rust with light, reflective paint and don’t let them settle into the ground.
- Store and handle with care. Secure undamaged propane cylinders in well-ventilated areas away from sparks and heat. Wear gloves and goggles when handling them.
- Regularly check for leaks. Don't wait for the rotten-egg smell. Have your LP retailer periodically test for leaks and inspect tanks. Contact a qualified technician if repairs are required. Don’t take the risk of lighting the pilot light yourself. Have a qualified professional light any pilots that has gone out.
- Complete propane safety training. Equip yourself and workers with propane training. This includes identifying leaks, emergency procedures and shutting off the gas supply. Contact the LP retailer for training and guidance.
- Create an emergency plan. Outline evacuation routes, meeting points and emergency contacts. Ensure fire extinguishers are available and accessible.
- Get professional help. Leave installations and maintenance to the propane trained professionals who understand propane tank safety, regulations and best practices.
- Don’t run out of propane. When a tank is empty, air and moisture enter and cause rust. This can reduce propane odor, making leak detection difficult and raising risk of leaks and potential fire or explosion.
“Plan ahead, schedule refills, before you hit critical low levels, and don't let anyone but trained propane professionals handle the actual refilling process," Summers said. "It might take a bit more time and coordination, but safety must always come first."
By understanding the dangers and taking these precautions, farmers can safely harness the power of propane. Talk to your Nationwide Farm Certified agent to learn more propane safety.