January 30

Plumbing Risks: Gas Explosions

Common practice used by plumbers when purging gas lines has always been to open the gas valve and, once they smell the familiar scent of gas, shut the valve off. But what if the gas has lost its odor? Then simply relying on the ability to recognize the smell of gas proves to be a dangerous and risky practice.

In 1937, after a deadly explosion at a Texas school, a law was passed to add a chemical to natural gas that would give it that rotten egg smell that has become the tell tale sign that there is gas present in the air. What is not common knowledge is that this odor can fade and even disappear because the steel and plastic piping can absorb the odor. This is known as “natural gas odor fade”. Without the ability to smell the gas, a plumber may purge a gas line before connecting a fixture allowing odorless gas to fill up an enclosed space and mix with the air. This mixture has the potential to cause a serious explosion.
To help mitigate the risk of a gas explosion occurring, remember:

  • NEVER rely on your sense of smell alone to detect the presence of natural gas.
  • ALWAYS use gas detection equipment during purging or when working on or around gas piping systems, i.e., combustible gas detector.
  • Be aware of other signs of a gas leak besides the smell: a hissing, whistling or roaring sound near a gas appliance or pipeline; a damaged connection to a gas appliance.
  • Make sure to purge gas lines in a well ventilated area, never into an enclosed space.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company

Outside of the obvious risk of injury to the plumber that a gas explosion would cause, explosions can cause serious injury to the customer and serious structural damage to the building or house, leaving a business owner opened to some severe claims being filed against them. Following the above guidelines and understanding that using only the sense of smell to detect gas is a dangerous practice, will reduce the chance of a gas explosion occurring which will result in less business risk for the business owner.

For more information on plumbing insurance and risk management, please visit PlumbingPro.

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