Is Propane Dangerous? : NS Labour and Advanced Education, Fuel Safety


Date: January, 2001

Used with care, propane is a safe and convenient fuel. Propane gas is not toxic and produces very few harmful emissions when burned properly. When propane burns in a properly maintained and adjusted burner, it produces carbon dioxide, nitrogen, water vapour and heat. It is, indeed, the "green fuel" of choice in Nova Scotia with over 60,000 permanent propane installations and countless propane fuelled barbecues in this province .

Propane is a very convenient fuel to use as it is transported and stored in a dense liquid state at high pressures (100 psi) and used as a low pressure (6 oz. of pressure) gas. One cubic metre of propane liquid produces 270 cubic metres of gas. Because of these low utilisation pressures, it is very ease to check for leaking fittings. One simply brushes a soapy water solution on all fittings. The one that bubbles is the one that is leaking.

Propane, in its natural state, is a colourless odourless gas and is odorised at the refinery. The ethyl mercaptan which is added gives the propane a very strong boiling cabbage/ burnt garlic smell which is detectable long before concentrations become dangerous.

An important thing to remember is that propane vapour is heavier than air and therefore, if a leak should occur, the invisible vapour will "pool" in low-lying areas. This is one of the main reasons that it is imperative that propane cylinders and tanks be used and stored outdoors only. Clause of the Propane Installation Code (a national standard of Canada) states that "A cylinder which contains propane liquid, or vapour, shall not be stored or used inside any structure". Remember that a cylinder which seems empty is still full of propane vapour and still presents a hazard if it should leak.

The installation and maintenance of propane appliances and equipment is critical to the safe enjoyment of propane. Provincial law requires that any person who installs, services, repairs or maintains propane appliances or equipment must be the holder of a valid annual certificate issued by the Office of the Fire Marshal. This ensures that only properly trained personnel install and service propane equipment. Each propane installation should be inspected and serviced at least every two (2) years.This is the greatest safety feature that we can build into our propane systems.

Propane BBQ Safety Tips

The most familiar propane appliance is the lowly barbecue. Propane barbecues are becoming a year-round source of tasty meals. They are easy to handle, easy to control and come in all shapes and sizes. The taste of the food cooked on a propane barbecue is just as good as that cooked on a charcoal barbecue but without the slow-lighting charcoal and messy lighter fluid.

While propane barbecues are fast, clean and convenient, they do require some maintenance and a few basic precautions. A little extra care and these few simple precautions should ensure the safe and enjoyable operation of your barbecue.

  • Always use your barbecue outdoors.
  • Always store the propane cylinder, whether on or off the barbecue, outdoors.
  • When assembling your new barbecue, follow the manufacturer´s instructions carefully. If in doubt, take it back to the dealer or call a certified service person.
  • After you have assembled the barbecue, install a filled propane cylinder, turn off the burner valves, turn on the cylinder valve and check all connections and hoses by brushing a soapy water solution on them.
  • Each time you change the propane cylinder, retest all fittings and hoses with the soapy water solution and, if you have an older style cylinder, check the o-ring on the fitting that screws into the cylinder. Replace as necessary.
  • When lighting your barbecue with a lighter or match, always have it lit before turning on the propane.
  • Always leave the lid up (open) when lighting your barbecue.
  • Never move your barbecue when it is lit.
  • Turn the propane cylinder valve off also when you have finished barbecuing.
  • Never use or store your barbecue within one (1) metre of a door or window and within three (3) metres of any air moving appliance (air conditioner, heat exchanger, etc.)
  • When transporting your cylinder to be filled, always secure it in an upright position in a well ventilated space. Never transport or leave a cylinder in a closed trunk, van or station wagon.
  • When the cylinder is not connected to your barbecue, it must have its valve turned off and the valve outlet must be plugged.
All propane leaks must be repaired immediately or the gas supply shut off immediately.

Propane Leak (smell of gas around the barbecue)

  • Turn off the propane cylinder´s valve.
  • Tell people to leave the area immediately.
  • Eliminate all sources of ignition. (I.e.: extinguish all open flames. Do Not turn any light switches 'ON' or 'OFF')
  • Let the area ventilate for at least five (5) minutes.
  • Search out the leak with the soapy water solution and repair it or call a qualified service technician.

Propane Fire

  • Tell people to leave the area immediately.
  • Have someone call the fire department.
  • Do not try to extinguish the flame unless you can shut off the propane cylinder´s valve first.

Have a happy and safe barbecue season.

Dale C. Stewart
Chief Gas Inspector
NS Office of the Fire Marshal