It can make your camp­site as com­fort­able as home, but in­ci­dents of gas-re­lated deaths have un­for­tu­nately popped up on the news radar again in re­cent months. We talk to an in­dus­try ex­pert about the dos and don’ts of gas safety.

Go! Camp & Drive - - Contents - Text Kyle Kock

Although most of us pre­fer the bliss of a roar­ing fire when we take our much-needed camp­ing hol­i­days, few of us leave home with­out pack­ing our trusty gas bot­tles. Whether we use it to warm us up on cold win­ter nights or to cook our ba­con and eggs on the skot­tel braai, gas is an in­te­gral part of camp­ing. But, as with most things, it can be ex­tremely dan­ger­ous if you’re not care­ful and re­spon­si­ble. In July this year, two high school bud­dies from Krugers­dorp died trag­i­cally af­ter they fell asleep with their gas heater still burn­ing in their dome tent. It’s in­stances like these that make you sit up and take no­tice. We thought it would be a good idea to touch base with Kevin Robert­son, CEO of the Liq­ue­fied Pe­tro­leum Gas Safety As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa, to as­sist us in help­ing you en­sure that your out­door ex­pe­ri­ence doesn’t turn into a dis­as­ter.

Quick and deadly

Car­bon monox­ide (CO) poi­son­ing is a silent killer. In in­stances where car­bon fu­els burn ef­fi­ciently, or where there is plenty of air, each car­bon (C) atom bonds with two oxy­gen (O) atoms and forms car­bon diox­ide (CO²). This poses no dan­ger to you; how­ever when there isn’t enough oxy­gen avail­able for the fuel to burn com­pletely, a sin­gle car­bon atom bonds with just one oxy­gen atom to form car­bon monox­ide. Car­bon monox­ide can quickly kill a per­son. This is par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent dur­ing fires, when vic­tims suc­cumb to smoke in­hala­tion. While there are other harm­ful chem­i­cals that are pro­duced dur­ing com­bus­tion, it’s more of­ten than not car­bon monox­ide that is the cause of death. “Any­thing that com­busts will re­lease car­bon monox­ide,” says Kevin. “Liq­ue­fied Pe­tro­leum Gas, or LP­gas, is in­cred­i­bly clean­burn­ing, so the amounts of CO re­leased is neg­li­gi­ble. The prob­lem comes when peo­ple use these CO-re­leas­ing fu­els in en­closed spa­ces. “Be­cause the flame re­quires oxy­gen, it robs the at­mos­phere of that gas which a per­son also needs to breathe. With LP­gas, how­ever, there’s a stench­ing agent that lets peo­ple know that gas is in the air. So it’s crit­i­cal that there’s an open win­dow or door for the stale air to es­cape and clean air to en­ter. The real prob­lem is not the use of the gas, but the sub­se­quent lack of oxy­gen.”

Buy right

It’s im­per­a­tive that you buy your gas equip­ment from a rep­utable dealer. Check that the seal on the cylin­der matches the brand­ing on the cylin­der. Avoid a cylin­der where the shrink wrap on the cylin­der valve doesn’t match the brand­ing – such as a generic wrap. These are red flags. Also check the con­nec­tion from the heater or de­vice to the cylin­der. The reg­u­la­tor con­tains a rub­ber seal that en­sures an air­tight seal. They can crack and per­ish, so al­ways make sure they’re in good con­di­tion. Re­mem­ber to check for leaks. Open the cylin­der one and a half turns and pay close at­ten­tion to where there’s a joint in the sys­tem. These joints open the po­ten­tial for leaks. Ap­ply a soapy wa­ter so­lu­tion to the reg­u­la­tor and the pip­ing around it. If it’s leak­ing, you’ll no­tice fur­ther bub­bling from the soapy so­lu­tion. “We no­tice this prob­lem more with the ex­change of com­mer­cially branded cylin­ders, with a man­u­fac­turer like Afrox, for ex­am­ple, not the type you pur­chase from a na­tional re­tailer, hard­ware store or an LP­gas dealer,” says Kevin. “What’s hap­pen­ing is that the cylin­ders are not re­turned to the brand owner and are in­stead be­ing il­le­gally filled by other par­ties. They’re not be­ing checked and scru­ti­nised prop­erly to en­sure that they are fit for pur­pose. “Some­thing we no­tice quite fre­quently is that LP­gas cylin­ders are in­cor­rectly un­der­filled. An un­der­filled cylin­der means that you, the con­sumer, are be­ing de­frauded. Fur­ther­more, by law, a cylin­der must only be filled to 80% of its max­i­mum ca­pac­ity with the un­der­stand­ing that if the cylin­der is ex­posed to ex­treme heat, there’s room in­side the cylin­der for the con­tents to ex­pand. “Gen­er­ally, if the cylin­der is over­filled and the con­tents ex­pand past the bar­rier, it can lead to the cylin­der be­ing rup­tured and pos­si­bly lead to a haz­ardous sit­u­a­tion.”

Rather safe than sorry

An odourant has been added to LP­gas, and if you get a per­sis­tent whiff of that fa­mil­iar spell and not just a sniff, you have a leak on your hands. When this hap­pens, close the cylin­der valve in which­ever di­rec­tion the noz­zle shuts – usu­ally anti-clockwise. Move the de­vice, be it a stove or heater, to­gether with gas cylin­der out­side. Open doors and win­dows where pos­si­ble to get fresh clean air in and elim­i­nate any re­main­ing fumes. >

The best prac­tice is to not use LP­gas in an en­closed en­vi­ron­ment, says Kevin. But with small stoves, like on the in­side of a car­a­van for ex­am­ple, you want to be ex­tra care­ful. “Campers will use gas for cook­ing, heat­ing and light­ing. Some­times peo­ple will have a gas lamp in­side the tent or car­a­van. That doesn’t mean that you have to have your doors and win­dows wide open. Just an out­let for ‘dirty’ air to es­cape and be re­placed by ‘clean’ fresh air.”

Know the symp­toms

At low lev­els, CO poi­son­ing can mimic flu-like symp­toms such as headaches, nau­sea, fa­tigue, and short­ness of breath. If you are able to go out­side and your con­di­tion im­proves, then CO poi­son­ing is a likely sus­pect. Higher ex­po­sure can lead to more in­tense headaches, vom­it­ing, im­paired vi­sion and hear­ing, and even faint­ing. At the high­est lev­els, CO poi­son­ing can lead to loss of con­scious­ness, coma and, even­tu­ally, death. Bear in mind that the symp­toms can rapidly de­velop within min­utes of ex­po­sure. Just 30 min­utes could be fatal.

TAKE PRE­CAU­TION. Ide­ally you want to op­er­ate your gas ap­pli­ance in the out­doors, where there’s an am­ple sup­ply of oxy­gen. Ac­cord­ing to the law, in a mo­bile unit de­signed for the use of oc­cu­pants, such as an off-road trailer or car­a­van, an LP­gas cylin­der is to be stored in a com­part­ment that’s air­tight to the in­side and vented to the out­side.

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