Even though everyone enjoys a tasty summer barbecue, no one wants a fun time with family and friends marred by a burn injury. In 2012, ESPN sports commentator Hannah Storm learned this first hand.

On its web page about grill safety, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recounts Ms. Storm’s story. As she was preparing to cook on a gas grill, the wind extinguished the flame. When Ms. Storm tried to re-light the grill, a fireball fueled by a pool of propane gas erupted. Ms. Storm suffered first- and second-degree burns on her face, neck, chest and hands.

As this story illustrates, you should take precautions when grilling.

When Using Any Grill…

GEICO has published the following tips for grilling safely, most of which relate to the risk of damage to property or injury to people as a result of fires. Whether you use a propane or charcoal grill, you should:

  • Avoid grease fires by cleaning your grill regularly.
  • Make sure your grill is on a level surface so that it is not easily toppled.
  • Place your grill a safe distance (GEICO recommends at least 10 feet) from other structures.
  • Remove flammable materials such as those found in patio furnishings or decorations from the grilling area.
  • Have a fire extinguisher on hand and know how to operate it.
  • Dress appropriately — no loose-fitting clothing that might catch on fire.

When Using a Gas Grill…

The explosion at Blue Rhino’s Tavares plant last July clearly shows how dangerous even a single spark can be around a leaky gas grill. In an article published in February, The Orlando Sentinel cited a prosecutor’s finding that the explosion, which severely burned five workers, was caused by a spark from a forklift.

While a backyard BBQ is not likely to result in a large fire like the one in Tavares, the incident does highlight the need to take safety precautions when grilling with flammable substances.

When operating a gas grill, GEICO recommends these extra precautions:

  • Make a safety check of all connections to insure that they are tight.
  • Examine all hoses to make sure they are in good condition.

The NFPA suggests these additional safety measures for users of propane grills:

  • Once a year, before beginning your grilling season, apply soapy water to the hose in order to check for leaks. If there is a leak, bubbles will form.
  • If you see bubbles when checking the hose, or if you smell gas but do not see a flame, turn off the tank and the grill.
  • If this stops the leak, have the grill repaired by a professional before you use it again.
  • If the leak continues, contact your local fire department.
  • Do not move a leaking grill. 

When Using a Charcoal Grill…

Those who prefer to grill using charcoal must also exercise caution. A story reported by a CBS affiliate in Mobile, Alabama, in 2011 is all too common.

Charcoal embers were not fully extinguished after a cookout and fell through holes in the bottom of a grill. They landed on a wooden deck and started a blaze that consumed the deck and portions of the home, causing $75,000 in damage, according to the report. Fortunately, there were no injuries.

GEICO offers the following safety tips to those who use charcoal grills:

  • Do not place lighter fluid on coals that are already hot
  • Do soak coals in water and allow them to completely cool before moving them to a metal container.


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