Propane Cylinder Fire

A recent lawsuit arose from the death of 59-year-old high school teacher Jim Albini, who was injured when propane leaking from a cylinder ignited. The California company that sold the propane to Albini settled the wrongful death lawsuit for $4.5 million. The cylinder manufacturer settled for $350,000.

Albini leased two 100-pound propane cylinders from defendant Durnall and Campora Propane and brought them back to be refilled. He drove home with the cylinders in the bed of his pickup truck. A couple of hours after he returned home, one of the cylinders began releasing propane and making a hissing noise. According to a news story about the accident, it is believed that the valve on the cylinder inadvertently opened or broke when Albini attempted to unload the cylinders or that the heat of the day warmed the cylinders in the back of the truck and caused the valve to open.

A neighbor witnessed a cloud of propane vapor venting into the air around Albini, who was standing behind the truck, either to unload the cylinders or to investigate the hissing sound. The propane cloud suddenly ignited, engulfing Albini and burning the skin off more than 80 percent of his body. As a result of the injuries, Albini was never able to speak again. He died two months after the incident due to complications from his burns.

Very simply, we don’t lay down LPG cylinders unless they are designed to do so, i.e. forklift cylinders, but only when positioned so the safety is on the up side.

The lawsuit that arose from the incident alleged that the propane provider was responsible for overfilling the cylinders, failure to provide proper training to the employee who did the filling, failure to inspect the cylinders for certification and failure to prevent the customer from transporting the cylinders horizontally. It also alleged that the manufacturer of the cylinder did not adequately warn consumers of the risks associated with transporting propane cylinders horizontally and failed to incorporate an overfill protection device (OPD) into the cylinder’s design.

It was reported that the propane filling company gave Albini regular verbal warnings against transporting cylinders in the bed of his pickup truck in a horizontal position. He had been leasing and filling his cylinders from the marketer for more than 20 years.

Things to Consider:
DOT regulations state the following: 49 CFR 173.301 (f) (2) After December 31, 2003, a pressure relief device, when installed, must be in communication with the vapor space of a cylinder containing a Division 2.1 (flammable gas) material. Very simply, we don’t lay down LPG cylinders unless they are designed to do so, i.e. forklift cylinders, but only when positioned so the safety is on the up side. That is the purpose of the indexing pin and hole on the forklift and the cylinder.

In this accident, with the cylinders being horizontal, the liquid propane was in contact with the pressure relief device and, instead of gas escaping, there would have been liquid propane. Instead of a problem, there was 270 times the problem because the expansion of liquid propane to gas is 270 times. NFPA 58 also has additional rules that GAWDA members need to bear in mind. When transporting cylinders in an enclosed vehicle, there is a limit of 45 pounds of product per cylinder and a total of 90 pounds in all cylinders transported in the vehicle.

Please note that GAWDA has issued many warnings over the years about transporting cylinders in vehicles. GAWDA has a brochure on a suggested policy and guidelines entitled Policy on Auto Transportation of Compressed Gas Cylinders. If you need a copy of this, please ask and I will send it to you. 

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Michael Dodd Meet the Author
GAWDA’s DOT, Security, OSHA & EPA Consultant Michael Dodd is president of MLD Safety Associates in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Members can reach him at 573-718-2887 and MLDSafety@hotmail.com.