In April 2019, a worker was seriously burned while attempting to decommission a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tank from a motor vehicle at a workplace. It appears he was removing screws on the LPG tank using a battery-operated screwdriver which created an ignition source and started a fire.
Preventing a similar incident
Gas systems are commonly installed in vehicles, trailers or boats. They are also used in gas cookers and fridges in caravans, mobile homes and food vans.
Gases in LPG tanks are stored as liquids under significant pressure and LPG vapour is highly flammable. Some potential dangers of gases in cylinders or tanks are listed below:
- Damage to a valve or regulator may cause a failure and rapid release of the gas.
- Heating of the cylinder from heat source including fire or an impact to the pressure vessel may lead to a catastrophic rupture resulting in a rapid and large release of gas and flying shrapnel.
- An uncontrolled release of a flammable gas may lead to a fire or explosion, particularly in a confined area where potential ignition sources are present.
- Some gases, including LPG and carbon dioxide, are denser than air. On release, these gases will tend to collect in low lying areas such as pits, depressions and basements. People working in low lying areas may then be exposed to the risk of fire or explosion, asphyxiation, or poisoning or corrosive burns.
PCBU's should consider implementing higher order risk controls when installing, removing, or decommissioning an LPG gas tank for a motor vehicle. This includes a safe system of work aligned to requirements of Australian Standard 2746:2008 'Working areas for gas-fuelled vehicles'. Petroleum and gas legislation in Queensland requires that LPG gas work is only undertaken by authorised people.
When decommissioning or removing an LPG tank on a vehicle:
- have work procedures for the safe removal and disposal of the LPG system
- use the safety data sheet for guidance on what personal protection equipment should be used such as, protective goggles or gloves
- keep ignition sources away from the LPG tank as there is a possibility that flammable vapours could be present. Examples of ignition sources include: naked flames, smoking, power tools, cordless tools, mobile phones
- ensure tools used to decommission or remove the LPG tank are appropriate for the hazards present. Any power tools (corded or battery operated) used must be suitably rated for use in a hazardous environment. (ensuring used or empty cylinders are treated with the same precautions as for full cylinders, as residual hazards can remain
- remember that although reduced-sparking tools or non-sparking tools made of metals such as brass or bronze have a lower risk of generating sparks, they still generate cold sparks which can cause flammable vapours to ignite.
(Source: Worksafe New South Wales)
Each year on average there are seven workers' compensation claims accepted for burns from explosions involving gas.
Between July 2013 to June 2019 we were notified of 26 explosions resulting from gas and have issued 13 statutory notices to address the risk of gas exploding.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2015, a worker was fined $2,500 and given a training order under s.241 of the WHS Act for an incident in which he and two other workers sustained burns while attempting to control a sudden and large combustion.The worker had placed pressurised spray paint cans close to the work area on a canvas bag while undertaking welding and steel grinding activities. The bag caught fire causing the spray paint cans to explode. The defendant was instructed in and had signed his employer's safe work procedure. The safe work procedure identified hazards and risks associated with hot work and nominated that flammable and combustible items were not to be in the vicinity of hot work activities.
- How to manage work health and safety risks Code of Practice 2011 (PDF, 1.02 MB)
- AS 2746:2008 Working areas for gas-fuelled vehicles
- LPG motor fuel workshops – Petroleum and Gas Safety and Health
- Gas fuelled engines – Gas safety
- Gases in cylinders
- Guidance for managing the risks associated with end of life LPG vehicles – SafeWork NSW publication