A maintenance crew was keeping a remote camp operational during the winter holidays. The camp's kitchen wing consisted of nine modular units joined side by side. After snow was removed from the roofs of this wing, the smell of propane gas was detected inside. The propane supply to the kitchen appliances, including the stove, was shut off. However, the main supply valve to the camp—buried under snow outside—was not shut off.
The next day, workers tried to find the source of the propane leak. One worker noticed a strong propane odour in the baking module, near the furnace. He turned off the furnace's propane supply valve. Shortly afterwards, the odour seemed to have dissipated, and the propane supply to the stove was turned back on so that dinner could be prepared. As the cook lifted a large pot off the stove's burner, the flame ignited the propane-laden air, causing an enormous explosion. The cook and another worker suffered burns and other serious injuries. The camp's kitchen modules were destroyed.
An investigation found that heavy snow had accumulated on the propane pipes mounted on the exterior walls, causing a leak. The propane accumulated under the kitchen's crawl space, and banked snow prevented it from dissipating.
Safe work practices:
- Establish and enforce safe work procedures for responding to potential propane leaks, including the following:
- Evacuate buildings as soon as the smell of propane is detected.
- Shut down the main propane and electrical supply lines.
- Do not turn on any appliances or touch any electrical switches.
- Call the gas supplier right away and restrict access to the camp until the gas supplier has resolved the problem.
- Conduct regular preventative maintenance inspections of all propane supply lines, including exterior shut-off valves. Ensure that regulators are equipped with hoods or other devices to protect them from the elements.
- Inform workers of the hazards of working with appliances supplied with propane.
- Install gas detection systems.
- Ensure proper ventilation of any enclosed spaces where propane might accumulate in the event of a leak.
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