In the last 20-24 months the industry has seen some very serious incidents on jobsites related to propane equipment, propane storage, and the use and storage of acetone. The safety of our workers and craftsmen must be the number one priority and should never take a backseat to finishing jobs under budget and within unrealistic time constraints. There has been one death reported, two mass casualty response incidents, and two dozen jobs that have been shut down due to carbon monoxide levels inside of the buildings and schools where propane equipment is being used. We’ve also seen several close calls and jobsites shut down due to the storage of 55 gallon drums of acetone (an explosive hazardous material) as well as work trucks laden with 24 – 20lb propane bottles. Transporting this quantity of propane is illegal unless you have the proper insurance and hazardous material transport permits in place.
Those of us who have been in the industry for 15+ years have seen our fair share of incidents, but with the rapid growth, demand and influx of jobs, we are seeing more and more unsafe practices in the field as it relates to the use of propane equipment. Admittedly, electric machines are more cumbersome with their hundreds of feet of power cord and the need for alternate power sources in the form of either generators or unpredictable house power. When weighed against the possibility of death due to carbon monoxide poisoning, I would choose a corded machine every day of the week. While there is definitely a demand for propane equipment and these units do have a place in our industry, I cannot stress enough that 6-10 propane machines being run inside of a building is both dangerous and negligent.
As a business owner I would think twice about building my business solely around propane equipment and the use of acetone dyes. New security and transportation initiatives for hazardous materials that are meant to deter the growing number of terrorist threats that our county is facing will have great impact on those companies that have built their businesses around these practices. Silicone dust is next for full enforcement by the EPA and OSHA and took 20 years to get to the top of the list. The restrictions on the use of propane equipment will come much more quickly due to the fact that the effects of propane use and carbon monoxide poisoning are immediate unlike the slow development of silicosis. The growing number of incidents will only hasten the scrutiny and resulting legislation to keep our workers safe. We are fairly certain that the cost of running corded electric equipment will prove to be comparable when companies and owners consider that their propane powered machines will only have a lifespan of 7-10 years with little to no resale value, have higher maintenance costs, and will face possible changes in insurance requirements resulting in higher premiums.
Finally, I was personally on a job on an Air Force Base where two unmarked 55 gallon drums of acetone were sitting on the back of a truck to be poured into 5 gallon buckets for use in coloring a floor. When the private security asked what was in the drums, he was told concrete treatments, not acetone. If the military police had realized that it was indeed acetone, the owner and the workers would have faced serious legal trouble on a federal level for bringing what is considered an explosive onto a secured military base. Are these risks really worth taking when there are plenty of water based dyes proven to work just as well as dangerous acetone dyes and when it has been proven that electric machines are safer than propane machines? It’s time for manufacturers to step up and find better solutions for cord management and safer means and methods for coloring and applying concrete treatments in our industry.