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Forklift gas bottle ignites injuring two workers

In April 2022, two workers suffered burns when gas ignited while they were refilling a forklift gas bottle. Early investigations indicate a worker was refilling a forklift gas bottle from a larger tank when it appears they had difficulty with a nozzle. Another forklift operator came to assist. For reasons yet to be fully established, the gas ignited causing minor burns to one worker and 2nd and 3rd degree burns to the other.

Investigations are continuing.

Safety issues

Forklifts can be powered by electric motors or by internal-combustion engines running on petrol, diesel or LPG. They’re either controlled by a licensed onboard operator or they’re pedestrian-operated forklifts (POFs) with no onboard operator.

Refilling a forklift running on LPG is often seen as a simple task, but if not done properly, may have dire consequences. Compressed gas cylinders contain gas stored under pressure, presenting a fire and pressure hazard in the workplace.

LPG is a classified as a workplace hazardous chemical (flammable gas – category 1) and as a dangerous good - flammable gas (Class 2.1) for transport purposes.

Hazards associated with refilling a forklift gas bottle from a larger tank include:

  • 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
  • damage to a valve or regulator may cause a failure and rapid release of the gas
  • heating of the pressured cylinder (including fire) or an impact to it may lead to a catastrophic rupture resulting in a rapid and large release of gas and flying shrapnel.

forklift gas bottle

Ways to manage health and safety

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage risks to health and safety associated with using, handling, generating or storing a hazardous chemical at a workplace in compliance with Chapter 7 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.

Possible control measures for the prevention of similar incidents where a forklift gas bottle is being refilled from a large gas tank include:

  • only allowing trained persons to carry out gas cylinder filling tasks
  • operators must be able to demonstrate competency in filling procedures and emergencies
  • making sure operators use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • operators must be instructed not to use items such as screwdrivers, cable ties, jubilee-type clips to hold the valve open
  • establishing a safe environment for gas filling
    • identify and control hazards associated with the filling of gas cylinders (refer to the product’s safety data sheet and any other safety information from the gas supplier)
    • ensure the filling station area is a safe distance from fuel dispensers, flammable materials, tanks containing dangerous goods, public places, building entries and exits
    • ensure no ignition sources, such as electrical equipment and smoking, are in or near the filling area
    • ensure cylinders are bonded and electrically earthed to eliminate static electricity build up and discharges which serves as another potential ignition source (plastic crates are not to be used as a stand due to the non-conductive nature of their material)
    • secure cylinders to prevent movement or physical damage and protect valves against physical damage
    • ensure adequate fire protection is in the filling area (at a minimum, have a hose reel or powder-type extinguisher available)
    • locate gas filling areas in open air environments or areas with good ventilation to minimise the risk of gas building up in concentrations that can be ignited
  • developing safe procedures
    • ensure procedures are developed for safe gas cylinder filling
    • ensure cylinders are inspected periodically and are marked with a test date in the last 10 years (cylinders that have exceeded the 10-year test date must be re-tested before next use or disposed of)
    • remove cylinders that are damaged, corroded, have damaged attachments or leaking hoses to ensure they are not used
    • every cylinder should be checked for leakage after filling (ensure the cylinder safety relief device will always be able to vent the vapour space).

Safety checks should be conducted before filling a cylinder ensuring:

  • the cylinder has a valid test date
  • the cylinder is free from damage, broken fittings or rust
    • inspect the entire length of the hose to ensure it’s in good condition without cuts, significant abrasion or indication that it is pulling out of the end connections
    • inspect the threads on the dead-man’s valve and on the connection which screws into the supply cylinder
    • inspect the O-ring on the dead-man’s valve for cracks or tears
    • if any equipment is unsuitable, do not use it (have the damaged components replaced by a competent person)
  • the filling instructions have been read and understood
  • appropriate PPE (hearing, eye and foot protection) is being worn.

Before refuelling any forklift, the operator should carry out the following safety precautions:

  • ensure the fuel-isolating valve is shut off before attempting to disconnect the cylinder
  • open flames, smoking and any potential source of ignition must not be within 10m of any forklift truck being refuelled
  • if the fuel system has a leak, report it immediately (action should be taken to prevent the forklift truck from being used until the source of the leak has been identified and repaired by a competent person).

There are safe handling practices of LPG cylinders operators should be aware of when the forklift uses LPG as its fuel. These include:

  • store cylinders in the upright position (some flammable gas cylinders contain a pressure relief valve that must be in contact with vapour to function properly during an emergency)
  • do not use cylinders as rollers to move other objects
  • when moving cylinders, avoid rolling them (ensure an appropriate mechanical handling device like a cylinder trolley with a restraining strap is used)
  • wear eye protection, safety shoes and gloves in gas cylinder storage and handling areas.

For LPG or other workplaces where flammable gases are the dominant gas present, contact the Resources Safety and Health Queensland Petroleum and Gas Inspectorate regarding obligations under the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004.

More information

Specific guidance on the safe storage and handling of gases in cylinders is available from various Australian standards related to gases in cylinders including:

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