Propane is a liquefied petroleum product that is used to fuel everything from grills to small forklifts. This versatile fuel can be found just about everywhere. The fact that it is commonplace does not diminish the danger of handling and storing it. Propane stored in pressurized cylinders must be handled with care to prevent injuries. Let’s take a look at how propane works and explore some tips for keeping your hands and fingers (as well as other body parts) safe when handling propane cylinders.
Some Simple Propane Chemistry
Remember from high school chemistry that gasses, when stored under the proper pressure, will be compressed into liquids (you were paying attention, weren’t you?). Since propane occurs naturally as a gas at room temperature and propane is sold in liquid form it must be compressed. This compression has several effects.
First, when dealing with liquid propane as it is transferred from a large tank to a smaller cylinder, you must use gloves to protect your hands from the cold. Remember also from chemistry that as the pressure inside a fixed volume (a storage tank) decreases, the temperature of that vessel decreases as well. That is why your compressed air cans get so cold when you clean out your computer. When handling high pressure gasses, you need to have proper hand protection to keep any freezing gasses that escape from hurting you – see these examples.
Once the propane has evaporated into gas form it is heavier than regular air. This means if you are kneeling down on the ground, propane leaks can actually linger where you are and make breathing difficult. Always work with propane in a well-ventilated area to prevent the chance of inhaling leaking propane and becoming sick. While propane itself has no odor, a scent is added to propane fuel so that operators can detect when there is a leak. If you smell a rotten type smell, don’t give your partner a dirty look, close all of your valves and move to a well-ventilated area immediately.
Another thing to watch out for, and an excellent reason to never work with propane with bare hands, is that the regulator mechanisms can easily catch fingers and hands in their threads.
Since propane is stored as a liquid but is consumed as a gas, propane cylinders have threaded valves on them that allow the evaporated gas at the top of the cylinder to come out. These are usually large threaded pieces.
Often the location of the two parts of the valve in relation to the cylinder is not in a very accessible place. This can cause someone installing or replacing a propane cylinder to have to “install by feel” without being able to properly see what they are doing. This can lead to pinching injuries. Gloves will help to protect your hands from getting pinching injuries.
Always remember to take great care when working with compressed or pressurized gasses. Take a look at the Superior Glove catalog for a wide selection of gloves that can be used when handling propane.
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