During one of the recent cold nights in Johannesburg, my friend and his family decided to put on their gas heater. Shortly thereafter, he noticed a small fire around the cylinder head. Instinctively, he closed the nozzle and threw the whole cylinder out. Fortunately, that was the end of their ordeal, but they are now scared of using their gas appliances again. This story illustrates a lack of understanding about gas energy usage and underlines the importance of how this energy source can be used safety at home. With the summer already here, South Africans will be braaing and cooking at home, many with gas. I thought I would share some ideas about what people can do to use gas safely.
In South Africa, gas is less commonly used as a household fuel than paraffin and electricity. Where it is used, it is mainly for cooking and/or heating and as a substitute for paraffin.
There are three main types of gas that are used in homes, namely coal gas - which is manufactured from coal and accounts for five percent of net energy consumption; LPG - which is a by-product of petrol, oil or natural gas production and accounts for six percent of net energy consumption; and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) - a natural gas extracted from deep within the earth in a process known as ‘fracking’ and used mainly as raw material in the manufacture of synthetic fuels.
Gas is a fast, clean, mobile and convenient energy source, which is safe if used correctly. With LPG, it is easy to detect if something is wrong by the strong smell of the gas. If the stove is self-igniting, it is not necessary to use matches and this is a key safety feature.
Dangers: Gas Leakages
Gas leaks can be caused by unsafe or poorly maintained gas appliances, incorrect installation of parts or faulty and sub-standard appliances or parts, and badly maintained gas cylinders or connections, such as pipes or valves pose problems.
One of the potential consequences of a gas leak is an explosion, resulting in fire which occurs when gas does not burn properly and leaks into a space where there is a spark or open flame. Another potential result is asphyxiation which can occur if a dangerous level of gas leaks into a space that is badly ventilated due to issues such as a partly or fully blocked, clogged, cracked or corroded chimney, flue or air vent. In these cases, Carbon Monoxide gradually replaces oxygen, which can lead to Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning and asphyxiation. Signs and symptoms of CO poisoning include nausea, dizziness, headaches, breathlessness, collapse and loss of consciousness.
How Gas Can be Used Safely at Home
It is important that you check for blocked or clogged chimneys; cracked or corroded flues or air vents. Take action if there is condensation on the windows, and if there is smoke in the room. Watch out for black soot or stains around a gas stove as well as brown or black stains around the wall of a heater.
Make sure to check gas installations and regularly inspect, maintain and service gas appliances, cylinders, cylinder valves, connections, pipes and hoses. It is crucial that you do not operate gas appliances in an enclosed area without ventilation. If you smell gas make sure that you switch off the appliance and take the appliance outside and put the safety cap on. Open all the windows and extinguish all naked flames and call your LPG distributor for help immediately. If these tips are followed, chances of problems in gas usage are reduced.
- Patrick Kulati is a chief executive officer at Household Energy Safety Association: South Africa.