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Essential Training: Compressed Gases

English: An assortment of compressed gas tanks...

The hazards associated with compressed gases include oxygen displacement, fires, explosions, and toxic gas exposures, as well as the physical hazards associated with high pressure systems. All industrial gases have properties which, if proper precautions are not followed, may cause injury, and possibly death.  Special storage, use, and handling precautions are necessary in order to control these hazards.

It is impossible to list every conceivable hazard which might occur while working with or around compressed gas cylinders. It is therefore the intent of this article to highlight a few of the associated hazards, and to provide resources where additional information might be obtained.  Chief among these resources are the OSHA standards, directives (instructions for compliance officers), and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to compressed gas and equipment. 

Although specific precautions for using compressed gases safely vary depending on the gas, there are a number of essential rules that apply to all compressed gases:

  • Use cylinders only in well-ventilated areas.
  • Keep away from heat and ignition sources.
  • Never smoke around compressed gas cylinders.
  • Make sure they are secured upright when in use.
  • Open valves slowly, making sure they are pointed away from you and co-workers.
  • Don’t try to force valves that won’t open.
  • Don’t tamper with safety devices.
  • Make sure that equipment to be connected to the cylinder is compatible with the cylinder pressure and contents.
  • Check all connections before use and periodically during use to make sure they are not leaking.
  • Keep valves closed when cylinders are not in use.
  • When a cylinder is empty, close the valve, disassemble equipment properly, replace the valve protection cap, mark the cylinder “empty” or “MT” and store it separately from full cylinders.

If you are unfamiliar with the hazards associated with a particular gas, contact your supplier for additional information.

Storage Requirements

OSHA is very specific about compressed gas storage requirements. While there is some variation depending on the gas, all must be stored:

  • In a dry, well-ventilated area. Temperature in the storage area should never exceed 120 degrees F (52 c).
  • At least 20 feet from highly flammable substances such as oil, gasoline,  flammable solvents and combustible waste material
  • Stored away from electrical connections, gas flames or other sources of ignition
  • Away from stairs and elevators
  • In locations where they are unlikely to be knocked over or banged
  • Storage area should be away from heavily trafficked areas and emergency exit routes.
  • Stored in upright positions and immobilized by chains or other means to prevent them from being knocked over
  • Acetylene and propane cylinders should be separated from oxygen cylinders when not in use.
  • With valves closed and valve protection caps screwed down
  • With the oldest cylinders placed so that they will be used first (First in, First out)

Storage rooms should be fire resistant and the storage should not be in subsurface locations. Cylinders should be stored in secure areas at temperatures below 125ºF, away from radiators or other sources of heat.

NIOSH has prepared a comprehensive Self Inspection Checklist that covers all of the requirements and directives for storage of compressed gas cylinders.

All The Right Moves

The potential for accidents increases when compressed gas cylinders are moved. When they must be moved, employees should take these precautions:

  • Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and the required training for its use. Require personnel to wear the proper PPE for each task. Locate other safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, eye wash stations, and showers at appropriate locations. Thoroughly inform everyone about the hazards of the gases they are using and how to respond to an emergency.
  • Move cylinders secured upright to a hand truck or other appropriate device.
  • Keep valve protection caps on when moving cylinders.
  • Don’t try to carry cylinders by hand; don’t roll them; don’t drag them.
  • Make sure not to bump, bang, or drop cylinders.
  • Keep them away from sparks, heat, fire, and electrical circuits while moving them.
  • Avoid handling cylinders with oily or greasy hands (oil or grease could react with the gas and start a fire, or slippery hands could lose their grip and result in a cylinder hitting the ground or another object).

Use appropriate equipment when handling portable cylinder banks. They have a high center of gravity, and extreme care must be taken during  their movement. Portable banks may fall over when being moved if they are stopped suddenly by an object or crack in the floor.

Finally, develop and implement a Compressed Gases Safety Program to address the handling, use and storage of compressed gasses in your facility. The program should cover all of the preceding points, as well as any state or local requirements.

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Categories: Safety, Training
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  1. July 26, 2013 at 12:02 AM

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