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Natural Gas: The Silent Killer

Toby Graham /
  • Categories: EHS
On the burner

Natural gas is a colorless and odorless gas that is highly flammable. The biggest hazard that can result from a natural gas leak is an explosion; it also causes those in an exposed area to become sick. Gas companies add an odorant called mercaptan that allows a leak to be easily detected by emitting a strong sulfur, rotten egg scent. It is crucial to know how to react when exposed to natural gas in different environments.

If you are inside and smell a faint natural gas odor:

  • Turn off all burners and gas appliances completely.
  • Extinguish any ignition sources such as open flames.
  • Open all windows and doors to ventilate the area.
  • Check pilot lights on gas appliances to see if they are lit.
  • If you are unable to determine the source of the gas odor, call your gas company and report the odor.
  • Relight extinguished pilot lights only if you know how to do so safely. Otherwise, call an appliance maintenance professional.

If you are inside and smell a strong gas odor:

  • Quickly extinguish any ignition sources, such as candles, burners, or embers.
  • Evacuate the building immediately, taking all residents with you. Notify others in the area of the possible leak.
  • Do not use lights or any electrical equipment that might produce a spark.
  • Once safely outdoors and away from the building, call the gas company or 911 with a cell phone or from a neighbor’s phone to report the odor. Do not place the call from inside the building where the strong odor is occurring.
  • Do not renter the building unless instructed to do so by emergency personnel.

If you are outside and smell a strong natural gas odor or hear the sound of escaping gas:

  • Leave the area where the smell or sound is occurring.
  • Do not do anything that could create a spark, such as lighting embers, fires, or fireworks.
  • Once away from the area of smell, contact the gas company or emergency responders using a cell phone or neighbor’s phone.

KPA offers toolbox talks that educate employees on natural gas and the associated hazards. Other toolbox topics include: how to properly handle various acids and bases, carbon monoxide poisoning, and preventive safety measures.

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