Each year, around a billion gallons of propane are sold for agricultural purposes, according to the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). Uses include building and water heat, crop drying, flame weed control, irrigation, brooders, confinement barns, and refrigeration.
“Propane-powered equipment offers farmers many unique advantages over other energy sources or equipment,” says PERC director of agricultural business development Michael Newland.
Since propane is a flammable gas, however, extreme caution must be used to avoid accidents resulting in injury or death. To help ensure safety, PERC has released six new safety guides with information about code and training requirements, hazard warnings, and safety tips:
Propane safety on the farm
This general safety guide offers information on code and training requirements from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
It names specific hazards including propane handling systems being subject to damage from vehicles and equipment and wear due to age and use. It also points out that steel piping in livestock barns is susceptible to corrosion because of the moisture and ammonia-rich atmosphere.
General safety recommendations include using appropriate personal protective equipment when handling liquid propane, identifying and controlling ignition sources, keeping equipment free of corrosion, weatherizing the system, avoiding cross-contamination with anhydrous ammonia, avoiding running out of gas, and being aware of the smell of propane and how it can be masked by livestock and other odors.
Read this safety guide: Propane safety on the farm
Safety for transport delivery
This safety guide points out that the NFPA and OSHA require anyone operating a propane system must formally trained, and employers must have a formal hazard communication program.
When transporting propane, additional safety considerations include ensuring the system is protected from tampering or unauthorized access, that the system is in safe condition before transport, and that snow is cleared from the route.
Specific codes for the storage and transport of propane vary depending on the size of the container. Anyone storing more than 10,000 pounds (approximately 2,358 gallons) or more must file with the Environmental Protection Agency, local emergency planning committee, and local fire department.
Safety measures include knowing the location of emergency shut-off devices, having flammability warning signs, knowing the difference between propane and anhydrous ammonia containers, verifying loads prior to delivery, and encouraging transport drivers to immediately report any issues.
Read this guide: Safety for transport delivery
Using farm carts safely
A wheeled farm cart allows farmers to move propane tanks around the property to supply fuel for various applications. The NFPA and OSHA require transporters to be properly trained.
Containers must be inspected prior to filling. Also, liquid and vapor connections must be clearly marked, because connecting to the incorrect one could cause a serious safety risk.
Operators must make sure proper connections are made between the dispenser tank and the container it is filling. Carts should be marked with identification labels stating the tank contains propane. Carts used for agriculture can be moved on the road with more than five percent liquid volume, but only between fields using the shortest distance.
Again, it’s critical for operators to ensure there is no cross-contamination with anhydrous ammonia, avoid contact with skin, and ensure all components are working properly. When not in use, farm carts must be stored according to code.
Read this guide: Using farm carts safely
Safety for wet line dispensers
Wet line or gravity feed dispensers are often used to fill portable cylinders and other containers. They have no pump, and use a hose to transfer propane from one container to another. They can be stationary or mobile.
“Transfer of liquid propane is serious business,” the PERC safety guide states. It recommends using a standard dispenser or cylinder exchange instead whenever possible.
All users must be properly trained in using and inspecting the components and knowing how to determine the maximum filling level. Equipment must be inspected prior to each use and stored to prevent damage and tampering.
Hoses must be made of the correct material for transferring propane, under 18 feet in length, and include snap-acting valves. Containers must not be over-filled, and operators must be present during the fuel transfer and able to stop the transfer with an emergency shut-off valve.
Read this guide: Safety for wet line dispensers
Confinement barn safety
Propane is often used to supply year-round heating for poultry or swine confinement barns. Small barns may use systems similar to those used in residential homes, while larger operations may use vaporizers to supply a large load to one or more barns.
NFPA, OSHA, and DOT codes regulate the storage distance limitations between structures, property lines, and roadways. There are also specific requirements for piping and appliance installation, materials, line sizing, and protection devices. Training must be provided to anyone operating the system.
Specific concerns in a confinement barn include advanced corrosion, damage and aging of equipment, and the masking of propane’s odor due to manure and other livestock odors. The entire system must be protected from the effects of severe weather as well.
Read this guide: Confinement barn safety
Crop dryer safety
For many crop drying applications, much more propane must be stored than would be used in a typical residential application. “The drying design will likely involve a very high BTU-connected load,” the guide states. “This will require a tractor trailer to deliver one or more large propane containers for installation.” Temporary storage may be used.
In addition to the standard training and hazard communications plan that must be in place, several codes dictate system installation and use. Specific requirements address the electrical equipment that is part of the system.
Depending on the amount of propane being stored, other requirements must be followed. When storing more than 14,000 gallons, owners must register with the Department of Homeland Security in accordance with the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard. If more than 10,000 is being stored, the EPA, local emergency planning committee, and local fire department must be informed. A fire safety analysis must be completed if storing more than 4,000 gallons.
Read this guide: Crop dryer safety
“It’s imperative that propane users are properly educated on safe usage and practices to power their farms safely and efficiently,” Newland says. “We’ve created these guides to make this important safety education as simple and accessible as possible.”