Nothing goes with swimming pools and hot summer nights like grilling out. As the weather heats up, more people are getting ready for the grilling season by refilling or exchanging their propane tanks. Any establishment that stores, dispenses or delivers propane is inspected by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Standards Division.
Inspectors check to make sure the container is not out-of-date, has an overfill protection device valve, does not have any visible dents or pits in the cylinders and that valves are working properly.
Randy Renfrow, an LP-gas inspector for the department, visits about five or six locations a day in an 11-county region. Last week his visits included Costco in Raleigh, where the store offers a cylinder exchange and has trained employees that will fill tanks for a flat fee.
“We have a long list of items to check during an inspection,” Renfrow said. “These include appearance and location of the tank; training records of personnel; good condition of piping, hose, supplier and hydrostatic relief valve; and others.” Last year, inspectors started using handheld mobile devices to electronically complete inspection reports on site. These reports allow inspectors to quickly follow up with violations and track when a facility is due to be inspected again. Reports are emailed to businesses.
Companies with violations are usually given a warning and time to fix their mistake. However, some violations carry an immediate penalty. These include an ignition source within 15 feet of a tank, an invalid LP license and fueling cylinders indoors.
One concern for consumers during the hot summer months is propane expanding in the tank and causing an explosion. “All tanks have relief valves that can release built-up gas if needed,” Renfrow said. Tanks are also painted light colors, like white, to reflect heat, and small cylinders have overfill protection devices that keep them from being filled too full. “The OPD valve serves as a stopper that rises as the liquid propane is added to the tank,” Renfrow added. “Tanks that have a fill capacity of 4 to 40 pounds are required to have this safety feature.” Tanks with the OPD valve can be identified by the triangle-shaped hand wheel on the top of the tank.
Inspectors offer the following safety tips for using propane tanks this summer:
- Keep spare propane tanks away from the heat of the grill.
- Use and store propane tanks outdoors only and in an upright position so the valve is at the uppermost part of the tank.
- Never carry tanks into a house or other type of building.
- If the tank becomes corroded or loses its collar ring (the carrying handle) or its foot ring (the support ring on the bottom), replace the tank immediately.
- Do not allow young children to play with the tanks.
- Never throw away a tank that is out of date or in poor condition. Improper disposal is an environmental hazard. Cylinder exchange sites will let you exchange for one that meets all safety requirements.
The N.C. Propane Gas Association offers additional safety tips at www.ncpga.org/small-cylinder.