gas valveA gas leak can occur for many reasons, accidents, earthquakes and faulty appliances being the most common. No matter the cause, it’s important to know what to do should you realize there is a leak. This may involve turning off the gas valve, ventilating the building, or perhaps evacuating immediately. A gas leak can be very dangerous, so there’s really no time to think.

If you get nothing else from this article, remember this: figure out your emergency plans beforehand. Here’s what you need to know.

How to recognize a gas leak 
Natural gas is actually colorless and orderless. A material called mercaptan is added to gas to help building occupants notice a gas leak. This chemical is often described as smelling like sulfur or even eggs.

What to do 
If you should happen to smell the odor of gas only when you’re by an appliance, you should:

  1. Check the pilot lights.
  2. If you find one that’s out, turn the gas valve off. Then, open the windows and doors to improve ventilation.
  3. Wait 15 minutes before trying to relight the pilot light, so that the gas can dissipate.

If you should hear a hissing or leaking sound, or if the smell does not go away, do not bother trying to find the gas valve. Instead, evacuate with everyone else. Call your gas company, and have them come and take care of it.

What not to do 
If you have a gas leak, you should never:

  1. Use an electrical appliance, including cell phones or computers, by the leak.
  2. Touch any electrical outlets, including light switches and doorbells.
  3. Smoke or use any kind of open flame.
  4. Use power equipment near the leak.
  5. Go back into the building, even to open doors and windows.

If you do need to turn off the gas valve, you’ll need to locate your gas meter and then the main gas valve next to it to shut everything off. In order to do so, you may need a 12 inch adjustable wrench or a crescent wrench. It is wise to find this out before any emergency occurs.

If you are working in a commercial building that uses industrial gas burners, lead melters or melting furnace equipment, or really anything that requires an open flame, then it’s imperative to have emergency evacuation policies in place.

Breweries, bakeries, and other such warehouses are the most susceptible to gas leaks, because of the amount of energy they use. There are more than 3,000 breweries operating in America and more than 6,000 bakeries. That is a lot of employees that need to be kept safe should a gas leak or any other kind of emergency occur. Most commercial ovens use natural gas, so it’s probable that your company is also using it. If you do not already know the emergency policies, now would be a good time to find out. It could be catastrophic if the first time employees found out about an emergency plan is during the emergency.

Procedures for all accidents should be laid out and explained during training periods. Running drills for each emergency is a good idea, so that your workers are able to picture the plan if or when it actually happens. This will keep things much more organized and the plan will be stuck to, ensuring everyone’s safe exit from the building.