A raft of devastating vehicle explosions has prompted the HSE to issue a safety alert guidance document covering the use of liquified petroleum gas (LPG) for mobile oven cleaning services (www.is.gd/ijetul). Mobile oven cleaning services typically use a van equipped with a dip tank to soak oven parts in hot cleaning solution at the customer’s property. This solution is generally heated either electrically or by a gas supplied from an LPG cylinder carried inside the vehicle.
However, dramatic incidences of explosions caused by gas leaks have prompted the HSE to take action. In one example, a van exploded on a residential street in Chelmsford, Essex, in August 2018, which saw the driver hospitalised. Although the driver only received minor injuries, the explosion destroyed the vehicle and such an event clearly has the potential for far more serious outcomes.
This incident is far from unique and several more examples of mobile cleaning vehicles exploding may be found in the UK alone over recent years. On investigation, the HSE found that many vehicles fitted with gas-fired oven cleaning equipment are not being set up and used safely, giving rise to the risk of a gas release incident. Naturally this could result in a fire or explosion but may also have other safety implications, such as asphyxiation. This conclusion culminated in the HSE responding shortly thereafter with its new guidance.
RAISING THE GAME
According to the HSE, all users should take immediate action to comply with expected health and safety standards. In order to operate the gas-fired equipment safely within vehicles, users should ensure that the LPG cylinders being transported are carried upright in the vehicle and securely strapped.
Similarly, during transportation, installed cylinders can be stored outside the main body of the vehicle or carried in an appropriately ventilated separate gas storage locker/compartment that is fire protected to a minimum standard of 30 minutes and gas tight to the interior of the vehicle. HSE says these measures should be in accordance with the design requirements of the UKLPG Code of Practice 24 – Part 3: Use of LPG for Commercial Catering Events, Street Food and Mobile Catering (www.is.gd/ucebin).
Gas heating of liquids is only allowed when the vehicle is stationary, and the doors open for ventilation. Furthermore, due to the risk of oxygen deficiency, HSE says the driver is to be physically separated from the gas cylinder compartment, gas cylinder and gas ring by fitting a gas-tight bulkhead.
Other technical measures include fitting burners with flame supervision devices that shut off the gas supply automatically if the flame goes out. In addition, suitable hoses and clips are to be used to prevent damage, with armoured or over-braided hoses, for example. At least one quick acting gas isolation valve is to be provided to isolate any flame prior to cylinder isolation and the vehicle must also be fitted with at least one 2kg dry powder fire extinguisher.
Indeed, much of the advice issued by the HSE might be considered basic gas safety that should be common sense for every individual. As Rik Hellewell, managing director and founder of oven cleaning franchise Ovenu observes: “The HSE advice I would highly commend and highly recommend. We’ve always spent an inordinate amount of time, money and resources making sure that our franchisees are safe in the first instance, because it’s in our best interest to do so. Unfortunately, everyone tends to get tarred with the same brush if some operators have blown their van to smithereens.”
Hellewell adds: “What the HSE have published are a set of unwritten industry specific [gas safety] rules that have been in place for a very long time.”
HSE highlights appropriate training for operators, for instance, as a key measure for in-vehicle LPG safety, noting that all persons that use the gas equipment should be trained not only on how to use the equipment but also how to carry out visual checks for obvious faults.
This is a point picked up by Hellewell: “The fact that other people are being cajoled into raising their standards to somewhere where we started off in the first place won’t change our existing training programme. It won’t affect our business because we already have high standards when it comes to training of our franchisees. We teach people best practice when it comes to the safe handling and use of bottled gas.”
He adds: “We’ve always done the very best, not only with the provision of equipment, but also induction and on-going training. This is a huge integral benefit of joining a franchise network in as much as they are always kept up to snuff with all the on-going and shifting rules pertaining to all sorts of hazards, including health and safety as it relates to gas equipment.”
After the advice came out establishing good practice, Ovenu published updates on its internal platform highlighting new developments, including the new advisory from HSE. As Hellewell says: “It’s just a little nudge to remind franchisees that they are self-employed and responsible for health and safety and that if they are lacking in any of these expected standards, they should do something about that."
Alongside operator training and appropriate design, the HSE advice adds that if gas can be substituted with a substance or process which either eliminates or reduces the risk, then this should be chosen where it is reasonably practicable to do so. Certainly, some operators of this kind of cleaning equipment have adopted this approach. A spokesperson for Select Oven Cleaning notes that the company has now switched to electrically heated tanks, rather than LPG, following an explosive incident.
CUTTING COSTS, ADDING RISK
While welcoming the general drive to raise standards, Hellewell argues that any measures introduced by HSE should be established in law. “It’s all very well coming out with this kind of guidance, but it should be law, especially if this kind of guidance can be used to prosecute people. At the moment it is not compulsory, but it can be used against you in a court of law,” he says.
Indeed, the HSE document states: “The expected standards above are not compulsory to follow.” However, the document also states: “Equipment found in use that presents a risk of serious injury to the users and/or persons in the vicinity will be subject to enforcement action.” It adds that operators are free to take other action providing it is equally effective, but they note that following these specific standards would normally be enough to comply with the law. Relevant legal documents include the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, Sections 2(1), 3(1) and 6 (1) and the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002, Regulations 6 and 7, HSE says.
Hellewell argues that both falling quality in equipment supplies, coupled with a lack of training, has resulted in the increased likelihood of these types of incidents. Operators and equipment suppliers should ensure that high standards are consistently met across the industry, irrespective of the legal position. As Hellewell says: “This doesn’t just apply to the provision of gas equipment. Similar concerns can apply to electrically-heated plastic tanks and the metals used in tank construction, for example. There is a need to ensure quality and standards are maintained. Unfortunately, a lot of industry and commerce is now being driven by accountants rather than engineers. Quality very often takes a back seat and, when there is a downgrade in quality, then health and safety issues are bound to crop up.”
He concludes: “Not everybody ensures the same rigorous approach to potential health and safety issues and therefore the HSE recommendations are a welcome measure in an attempt to raise the standards of the industry as a whole.”