Here we will take a look at the dangers of compressed gas cylinders in the work place and how to prevent accidents that can be life threatening.
Thousands of industrial accidents are recorded each year involving the use of compressed gas cylinders. The risk of accident and injury arises from the compressed gases within the cylinder and the heavily pressurised metal cylinder itself. It is for this reason there are strict regulations on the use, handling and storage of compressed gas cylinders. Everyone working with compressed industrial gases or working in the immediate vicinity should be made aware of the hazard through correct and clearly visible signage and appropriate training. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure all practicable and appropriate precautions are taken to ensure personal safety in the workplace.
Common hazards of compressed gas cylinders
Depending on the contents of the compressed gas cylinder the hazards posed could be one of several or a combination:
- Fragmentation of the metal cylinder upon explosion.
- The release of toxic gases.
- The release of flammable gases.
- Accidents caused by falling cylinders.
Inert gases are both colourless and odourless, and can escape undetected into the atmosphere, quickly reducing the concentration of oxygen in the air, which can lead to asphyxiation; high concentrations of CO2 can result in death within less than 15 minutes.
Corrosive gases are able to chemically attack various materials, including fire-resistant protective clothing, and can quickly destroy skin tissue. The release of toxic gases is a poisoning hazard with often very small concentrations being harmful to health.
All employers are obliged by law to carry out a risk assessment under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1999 if they use toxic or corrosive gases on site and within their processes. A further assessment covered by the Manual Handling Regulations 1992 must also be carried out where employees are required to handle compressed gas cylinders during the course of their duties.
Details of risk assessments must be documented and retained by the employer. The results and findings of risks assessments should include details of handling procedures, storage arrangements and security, corrective and preventive actions carried out, and training initiatives.
The main causes of accidents
Regardless of the industry, the majority of accidents associated with compressed gas cylinders can generally be attributed to any one of the following areas of negligence:
- Faulty equipment through damage or poor maintenance
- Bad handling
- Inadequate and poor storage
- Poorly ventilated working conditions
- Incorrect filling procedures
- Inadequate training and supervision
- Incorrect installation
- Lack of maintenance
Guidance for the storage of gas cylinders
Compressed gas cylinders require specific storage conditions in order to minimise the risk of accident and injury.
In addition to the specific storage conditions of certain gases, basic good practices required by industry regulations include:
- Store gas cylinders in well ventilated, covered and secure conditions
- Store gas cylinders upright and securely to prevent them from falling
- Identify and store full and empty gas cylinders separately
- Segregate gas cylinders by gas type; flammable, inert, oxidant etc
- LPG cylinders should not be stored within three metres of other gas cylinders
The storage of heavier-than-air compressed gases such as liquefied, and cryogenic gases, should take into account the dangers of gas collecting in low-lying areas such as drains, basements and ducts.
Compressed gas signage
Compressed gas cylinders must by law display hazard warning signs to increase safety awareness and help minimise risk of injury. Hazard safety signs and labels are seen as a precautionary warning for both work employees and members of the public. Hazardous chemicals including compressed gases are required by law to display COSHH warning symbols.
Compressed gas warning signs and labelling are manufactured to comply with the safety signs and signals regulations 1996 and have the potential to avoid and reduce the risk of injury; however, warning signs only highlight and show the hazard that is faced, and is not a call to action.
It is important and a regulatory requirement for employers to train staff in the use, handling and storage of compressed gas products in order that employees understand the meaning of different symbols, relevant safety precautions and personal protection requirements.
Therefore, anyone who examines or tests, refurbishes, fills or uses a gas cylinder in the course of their duties, should be suitably trained and have the necessary skills to carry out their job safely. All training should be carried out by a suitably trained or qualified person; records of training must be retained by the employer.
Compressed gas cylinder valve maintenance
Poor maintenance of compressed gas cylinder valves can lead to accident and injury if not managed in a correct and timely manner. Grit, dirt, dust and oil or water entering a cylinder valve could compromise safety by causing gas leakage. A visual inspection of cylinders and fittings should be carried out for signs of mechanical damage on a frequent basis due to handling and movement operations.
Periodic inspection and maintenance of compressed gas cylinders is good practice and helps ensure a continued safe working condition of equipment. Regular audit of compressed products usage, maintenance, and storage conditions should be carried out with records maintained of these activities.
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